Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“We hit the town.”
-AC/DC (from “Thunderstruck”)
Count on 49th Parallel Coffee & Lucky’s Doughnuts to bring in – and calmly manage – massive coffee crowds like nobody else. Just saying, as they opened a new location in downtown (corner of West Georgia and Thurlow St). For 2017, this is the force to be reckoned with.
Although most know 49th Parallel Coffee for their popular and hipster Mount Pleasant café, this gutsy venture into Vancouver’s striped-suit district is pure saavy. Their actions speak volumes against those who say downtown Vancouver is slowly dying. In fact, we’re betting this 49th Parallel Coffee will fill a huge gap and kick start new life into this business-type neighbourhood.
On Stop 129 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, somebody out there must agree. Because only days old, 49th Parallel Coffee is already a hurricane. This is the place to go for aficionados seeking good local coffee and killer handcrafted doughnuts.
How smart are these guys? 49th Parallel Coffee opened on the main floor of a business tower, which means they are an ant hill of foot traffic. Pick one of the three entrances to this café: from the foyer of the business tower, from the main entrance outside Thurlow or the side entrance at the end of the counter.
At 9 am this weekday morning, we enter to find about eighty customers here already. A snaking lineup to order is at the farthest left. Then there’s a crowd waiting to pickup their doughnuts at a space at the end of the cashiers. Another group waits to pickup their coffee orders at the far right of the counter. The lineup swells, disappears, then builds again every few minutes.
Customers are already seated at those small marble-topped tables. A bonus space? Their outdoor seating which is perfect for when you want a little more privacy while gossiping about the boss.
We’re familiar with this corporate building, which was a non-functional, lifeless space before this. And yet 49th Parallel Coffee, literally overnight, has injected adrenaline and energy into this space.
There are some familiar elements to the newest 49th Parallel Coffee. The sweetest sight: when lining up, just like their Main St location, there’s a window to watch a baker making doughnuts. Today an aproned woman glances up smiling, then dips fried dough into a bowl of peanut butter glaze.
On a practical level, this transparent look at their kitchen shows customers that 49th makes their products fresh onsite. Because if you think about it, they could have taken a shortcut and just shipped doughnuts from their Mount Pleasant location.
But from a personal perspective, you can’t help but notice staff at 49th look like they’re having fun. Also, staff here seem clear on their role. At some places, a short lineup or even a simple question can easily fluster staff. Not the case with 49th Parallel Coffee, where they’re usually well trained and staffed to handle capacity.
As we inch closer to the front, we get a good look at their huge display of doughnuts. Just like Mount Pleasant’s 49th Parallel Coffee, they show them off in stylish wooden shelves like a library of flavoured dough. If you’re assigned to bringing doughnuts to your morning meeting at work, 49th does brisk business selling boxes to go.
By the time we reach the cashier – there’s two today – we’ve decided on the Mango Passionfruit doughnut ($3.50 – mango passion filling, raspberry glaze, mango sprinkles) and Pistachio Glazed Ring ($3 – classic yeast raised dough with pistachio glaze). All doughnuts are priced $3 – $3.50.
A friend of mine once told me “hipster doughnuts” like this are overpriced. I disagree. Just like any indulgence in your life, it’s not something you have every day. And if you love doughnuts, these are a fairly priced for the high quality.
Frankly, I’d rather pay more for something local, unique and handmade with care. That’s a lot more appealing than eating something mass produced and bland from a big chain.
The difference between this 49th Parallel Coffee and their other locations: an expanded food menu that’s available during certain hours (see below). It’s all made-to-order, which we love.
Check out their wall menu (prices include tax):
- Brunch plates (7am – 3pm): baked eggs ($14 – 2 eggs, bacon, tomato base), keto plate ($13 – 2 eggs, bacon, avocado), full breakfast ($15 – 2 eggs, bacon, bread, mushrooms, potato).
- Egg burgers (7am – 3pm): The Cascadia ($9 – eggs over easy, cheese, maple bacon, honey mustard aioli), The Doug (scrambled eggs, chives, cheese, carmelized onion, maple bacon, garlic aioli).
- Baguettes (11am – 2pm): veggie, beef or chicken ($10)
In addition, they have their usual daily specials. Today it’s grilled cheese ($9 – sourdough, bacon jam, carmelized onion, mozzarella, swiss) and flatbreads ($5 – meat or veggie).
Mike orders the Full Breakfast ($15).
For coffee, they offer espresso, drip and cold brew. Check out their fresh sheet for featured coffees. The best deal will always be their Coffee and Doughnut Combo ($5) featuring the drip coffee (12 oz) of the day and any doughnut.
For something different, consider their specialty coffee drinks menu: Keto Coffee ($5.75-$6.75 for espresso, MCT oil and grassfed butter) or Shakerato ($6.50 – espresso, housemade cashew milk and fresh cardamom).
Mike tries a third option, the Venezuelan Coffee ($4.75, small) which is made of espresso, carmelized milk reduction, steamed milk. I order a latte ($4, small).
A staffer tells us they will both use 49th’s Old School Espresso (dark chocolate aroma, cocoa, caramel, molasses).
We’re handed a wooden number sign and plate of doughnuts. They will deliver the brunch plate to our table, so Mike looks for a seat.
I join the crowd of office workers at the espresso machine. There’s two baristas. Efficiently, they put saucers and spoons up on the counter, ready for each drink. Then they pull the espresso shot, steam the milk, pour latte art. Each one is done methodically then called out. They’re resilient, with not one look of panic despite the mob.
Our drinks are done, minutes after ordering. Mike loves the Venezuelan Coffee (his first try) for its textured milk and balanced flavours. My latte is nicely executed and consistent with other lattes made at 49th. Mike’s drink has better latte art, with a complex design that pops in white against a dark background. But I can’t complain: the milk in my drink is perfectly done.
An aproned man from the kitchen heads to our table to deliver the Full Breakfast. He thanks us when we tell him the food looks great. Pleasant and relaxed, he looks us in the eye, in no rush to dash off.
We’re trying something different by introducing a new food program, he explains. He kindly asks if we need another fork and knife so we can share, and says he’ll be right back.
We start with the doughnuts. The Pistachio Glazed Ring is good, with the best part being the tasty yeast dough with a moist texture. I love pistachio though I don’t think the nut flavour comes through clearly on this doughnut.
Our favourite is the luscious Mango Passionfruit. 49th is very good at making fruity doughnuts (all natural flavours from the fruit). The raspberry glaze tastes sharply sour and juicy sweet, just like the berry.
Mike begins on this breakfast. He enjoys the hash browns which are crisply textured. The bacon is thick and chunky, like old fashioned slices you might find in a diner. I think their homemade bread is the highlight: soft, crispy and fresh. The only downside? Eggs that are supposed to be over easy; but the yolks are cooked through, more medium than liquid.
If you work downtown, maybe your typical day looks like this. You stop at the same coffee place every morning, with exactly the same order. It’s gotten so that the café staff recognize your face, memorize your order. That’s Coffee #1, for before you get to the office.
Hours later, you head out for Coffee #2 on your mid-morning coffee break. Your last stop of the day is is #3 during an afternoon lull. Sometimes it’s a matter of habit. Or caffeine addiction. An excuse to get out of the office, socialize.
A good local coffee shop can earn its rightful spot in your daily routine, if done right. From the looks of it, 49th Parallel Coffee is winning.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters’ Old School Espresso
Origin: Guatemala & India
Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.
Price: $4.75 (small)
Brewing method: Venezuelan Coffee (espresso, caramelized milk reduction and steamed milk)
Roaster’s tasting notes: “Dark chocolate aroma, round, flavours of cocoa, caramel and molasses.”
Mike’s comments: Excellent textured milk with a sweet caramel finish. Well balanced and not too sweet. Well executed latte art.
- Fast and friendly service. Well trained staff make an efficient experience.
- Newly expanded food menu, made-to-order. Drinks are expertly executed, consistent with other 49th locations.
- High energy atmosphere from the business district. This venue fills a gap in the downtown coffee scene.
- Coffee prices are on the high end. However, they earned every penny on our visit.
Seating availability: 5/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.81/5
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689 Thurlow St (at W. Georgia St)
Operating hours here.