Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
Read on for our picks of the best Vancouver coffee shops of 2017 and our predictions of what’s to come. With the coffee scene evolving, there is a café that will appeal to everybody’s personal taste.
As this year closes, we want to say thank you for your continuing support! That old saying that “it’s about the journey and not the destination” is everything this blog is about. So our new year’s wish is to keep supporting our independents on their journey because they’re definitely not taking the easy road.
Wishing you all a happy holiday and new year!
Shirley & Mike
For the first time, we’re seeing mechanical pour over – or what we call A.I.B. (Artificially Intelligent Barista). Newbies Quantum Coffee and Spade are some of the first. But when you see veteran Revolver eliminating manual pour over, this is a trend that’s only going to get a stronger foothold.
Biggest Pet Peeve:
Paper coffee cups. Although Vancouver is known for its environmentally conscious values, too many single use disposable items still end up in a garbage can, then the landfill. If you drink a lot of coffee, you can’t help but feel you’re partly responsible.
If a city-wide recycling program isn’t feasible, we’d support a complete ban on paper cups. Until then, we give thumbs up to businesses that setup incentives to be green; like discounts for customers to bring in their own reusable cup.
Most Influential Roaster:
In 2016’s Georgia Straight Best of Vancouver, we described this East Van business as the most underrated. Today? They are one of the most instrumental roasters in B.C. Unselfish with their time and expertise, if there’s a local coffee event, you can bet Agro is behind it. In a nutshell, they’re all about building the strength of Vancouver’s coffee community.
Best Roaster to Stock Up On Beans:
Coffee can be expensive but it’s affordable to make café-quality drinks at home. With Republica’s new downtown location (they’re originally from Fort Langley), finding well priced beans couldn’t be more convenient. Pick up a pound of coffee at Republica, most for only $15.
Besides price point, not many roasters can beat their fresh roast dates. Sometimes it’s just the day before, literally still breathing. They also ship free anywhere in the Lower Mainland.
Best Roaster Hosted Event:
Moja Coffee Roasters’ 1-Day Open House Sale (twice a year)
Our favourite time of the year? A coffee insider’s true cheap thrill. June and December, when it’s Moja’s B.C.’s largest coffee sale (just off the Second Narrows Bridge). Though this event still flies relatively under the radar, every year it gets bigger; this year, customers lined up half an hour before opening.
Although the lineup is long, these guys are pros at running this event. Like Black Friday that comes twice a year, we’re happy this roaster gives back to its loyal customers with generous deals: 400 g bags for $10 and $25 gift cards for $20. Their sale was just last weekend and it’s the easiest holiday gifting for family and friends.
Best Roaster Educator:
Karen Lopez is the passion behind this new concept. More than a café and micro roaster, they are also the home roasters’ source for buying small quantities of green beans. Don’t miss the tasting bar and cupping/roasting classes in the works.
Micro Roaster To Watch:
If you haven’t heard of them, check out your local café. Though they just launched in November, but their coffees are already sold at select coffee shops like The Birds & the Beets. The owner used to be a roaster for Elysian Coffee, so you know this one has enormous potential. And their roasts? Digging the cool names like Disco Marmalade.
Roaster of the Year:
Expansion doesn’t necessarily mean better, but we think it does in this case. This East Village prodigy has all grown up. We love how their new cafés are all different styles, fitting perfectly into each community, but you still get a consistent experience wherever you have your coffee. And big kudos to their barista training which is a gold standard in the city.
Best ‘Hood for Service:
Isn’t it a sorry moment when the person serving your coffee is grumpy and seems to hate their job? Not here, where we can depend on a cheerful attitude, surprising kindness and plain old friendly conversation.
Best ‘Hood to Hangout with Locals:
Don’t know what people have against hipsters (and this ‘hood is where you’ll see the most). But to us, this stretch of East Van is the last place we’d call boring. People are eclectic, interesting and there’s always a story to tell.
Best ‘Hood With Coffee Potential:
North Road (Burnaby) / Koreatown
If you haven’t noticed the young Korean talent slaying the coffee scene, then you probably haven’t been to Koreatown. This is a generation that’s got big entrepreneurial ideas, very little fear and plenty of drive.
Best Kept Secret:
If we could keep this one quiet, we’d save it for ourselves. This recently opened café is a delicious find. Hidden on Powell St, we’re betting you’ll fall hard for them too. They serve Agro Roasters, and execute their espresso perfectly.
Sammy Piccolo’s latest project is the sweetest one, fresh and creative. Spade masquerades as a café by day (with a small but artisan breakfast/lunch menu) and transforms to a bistro at night (with online reservations). He’s finally launched his own line of coffees; try them as affordable (and efficient) pour overs on the Seraphim.
Genius Coffee N’ Espresso Equipment x Kunie Inaba
Learning how to pour a tulip and heart has never sounded so inspiring. This local Burnaby company hosts small latte art classes taught by award winning barista Kunie Inaba from East Village’s Platform 7.
Best Service / Best Service By Owner
This is friendly and personalized service on a completely different level – from the person taking your order, to the barista, to the staffer delivering your food. They understand every moment makes a big impression.
Best Crowd Magnet / Crowd Management:
Nobody steadily attracts and professionally manages a big crowd like 49th. They have experience running their other packed venues in Kits and Mount Pleasant, so yes expect a lineup downtown, too. But you also get high energy, friendly service, skilled baristas.
Best Café for Picky Coffee Drinkers:
This is where we want to send everyone who stuffs our inbox with silly complaining. There isn’t much these guys aren’t doing right: old school jazz, beautiful photography/art, generous seating and Timbertrain Coffee brewed to perfection.
Best Place to Get Work Done: (Tie)
Work comfortably for hours with zippy Wi-Fi, plenty of seating and a relaxing atmosphere.
A priority of their last major renovation? Install plenty of plugs for laptops and other devices. They love students and the local business crowd.
Best Cheap Thrills (Coffee):
Save the change in your pocket for a handcrafted pour over from this Japanese micro roaster. Just $2.75 for mild coffee or $2.95 for a bolder flavour. They handpick their own beans to make a smooth brew with very low acidity.
Best Cheap Thrills (Food):
Can you beat an all day breakfast for $6.50? That’s two eggs any style, 2 toasts and coffee. Add ham or turkey for $1.
Best Coffee at your Local Grocery:
Sometimes it’s just easier buying coffee the same time you’re shopping for eggs, milk and butter. Agro’s mind-blowing beans can be found not only at their Strathcona roastery. They’re also at Donald’s Market in East Village (sells out fast) and Be Fresh Local Market .
Best Specialty Coffee:
This specialty micro roaster has a home inside Fife Bakery, which is a space so tiny you might end up standing at a counter while sipping your coffee. But the sublime coffee is worth the visit and stands out from the rest.
Best Pour Over:
With a custom designed pour over stand and copper dripper-with-no-name (from Asia), you’ll have an artisan drink hand poured by one of the owners, Edmund. He’s funny, coffee-knowledgeable and appreciates first timers as much as regulars.
Though they don’t have the space for pour over like their Gastown café, their espresso is impeccable and, specifically, memorable. Our favourite? The Depot Blend that’s only served at this location.
Best Latte: (Tie)
A great latte comes down to amazing espresso, perfectly steamed milk and a barista that’s equal to the task. Hard to pick, but you can understand the quality control when the owners are often your barista – at both of these locations. BTW Timbertrain holds basic latte art classes too.
Best Latte Art: (Tie)
Good latte art isn’t everything, but frankly it counts for a lot. Latte art that falls apart in your drink is usually because the barista hasn’t foamed the milk properly. And when you’re paying a whopping $4 for a latte, flat milk is a massive disappointment.
On the other hand, well crafted art by a well trained barista simply takes a drink to new heights. It actually makes me happy. These two coffee shops consistently bang out beauties that make two toonies a good investment.
Best Dog Friendly Café:
While you can’t bring your pooch inside, they welcome you and your furry friend to make yourselves at home on their expansive outdoor seating area.
Best Cyclist Friendly Café:
Have no fear of Vancouver’s wily bike thieves. They’re one of the only places that welcomes customers to bring their bikes inside and actually have built-in stands for them. Many people who frequent this place are actually cyclists and this is their regular coffee pit stop.
Best Jaw Dropper:
Although their service can be spotty, it’s one of the most talked about coffee shops in 2017. This enormous, gorgeous venue was actually an auto body shop in its former life.
Best Transformation / Design:
Another amazing, gigantic space that’s must-see. Hard to believe their old location was a narrow clubhouse-style space where you entered from an alley. This new venue houses the owner’s huge collection of cycling memorabilia, which feels like you’re in a bike museum. They also have unique features like a Pinarello bike rental program and a store with limited edition cycling gear.
Best Coffee Bag:
Their coffee bags are different and so beautiful, you can frame them for your walls. Each has a haunting effervescent beauty cast in muted sunset tones.
Whether a coffee shop plays 90s hits or classical tunes, it sets the mood and subtly tells customers what you’re all about. On our visit, Timbertrain was playing something completely innovative and different from other cafés, which we loved. Mike called it “modern meditation”.
Best Food Destination:
If you’re bringing guests to town to impress, this high brow café should be at the top of your list. With unique menu items that include duck and waffles, they make our wish come true: a place where coffee and food are the ultimate.
When you’ve got hunger pangs for brunch, comfort food at The Gray Olive is the solution. While it’s a tight space, they have stellar qualities that make it worthwhile. Service is fast, prices are good and their signature potatoes are tops.
A tough one for sure. But if we could eat one thing, it would be Timbertrain’s mouth watering, buttery and flaky scones.
Barista With Best Accent:
Maybe baristas with a good accent have an unfair advantage. Buiron is plain charming and his spicy French lilt helped win us over.
This team of young owners happen to be top notch baristas with a clear passion for coffee.