Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews

Review of Alchemy Coffee: Our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee

Author: Shirley & Mike Wong

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
Alchemy Coffee in North Van is launching a coffee program that hopes to compete against Vancouver coffee shops. It’s Stop 141 on our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee.

“Tryin’ to stay hip.”

-Billy Idol (from “Eyes Without A Face”)

The new Alchemy Coffee is in a part of North Van that’s very familiar. Just across the street, I used to exhibit and rent out my paintings for years at this beautiful little art gallery. For some reason, days that I was scheduled to drop off art were always pouring rain. That meant I would carefully wrap my canvases in a tarp, then hurriedly dodge traffic to cross busy Lonsdale Ave.

Another thing I remember about this neighbourhood is the discouraging parking situation. Prepare yourself to circle these blocks, and if Lonsdale is full, try the blocks just behind. But you should know that most spaces are strictly residential parking, since this area is densely populated with apartments.

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
This area of North Van has lots of potential to draw customers who want to support a local coffee shop.

Maybe because of all those distractions, I never noticed a café here before. Before Alchemy Coffee opened in this space, it was a place called Puchi. This cozy place had welcoming owners, a massive coffee menu (scribbled on a blackboard) and good paninis. From what I hear, it was a well-loved, Italian-style neighbourhood coffee shop.

It’s obvious that Alchemy Coffee has a huge opportunity here. There’s a massive contingent of coffee drinkers on the North Shore, who aren’t interested in heading to the Starbucks just down the street, and only care to support local. So while downtown Vancouver is reliable for good coffee, not everybody has the time or energy to leave their neighbourhood to get it. Fortunately, with so many options these days, nobody has to anymore.

On Stop 141 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, we spot potential when we see the sandwich board outside Alchemy Coffee. It informs us they are renovating and announces, “All our coffee is fair trade, organic and locally roasted.”

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
Alchemy Coffee at Lonsdale Ave and East 4th

We step through the door, and early as it is, there’s already a few customers here meeting up with friends. Throughout our visit, business is surprisingly steady and that’s proof that word has gotten out.

Comparing old pictures of the previous resident, the biggest transformation in Alchemy Coffee is the expanded seating options. The addition of a built-in banquet that wraps the walls, plus some individual tables and counter seats, makes an efficient seating plan for a pretty small footprint.

A young woman behind the counter looks up when we enter and pleasantly greets us. There’s some cardboard boxes stacked on the counter, which suggests the owners are still unpacking in their transition phase. (Like a lab experiment, they describe this process as “transmutation”.)

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
A new built-in banquet expands the seating options

Another element of Alchemy Coffee’s transition phase is their coffee program. The day we visit, they serve ReSIProcate Coffee: if you haven’t heard, it’s a coffee that’s both socially conscious (proceeds go to charities) and environmentally aware (organic and fair trade). It’s also roasted by Burnaby’s Canterbury Coffee.

The staffer tells us they are planning to switch their coffee offerings to include Timbertrain Coffee Roasters, Agro Roasters and Pallet Coffee Roasters. Those are local favourites, but not widely offered in North Van, so it sounds like they have done their research.

Their coffee menu shows they offer drip, espresso, AeroPress and pour over (Hario V60). However, we’re told they aren’t serving AeroPress and pour over just yet. We’re disappointed, but our impression is that at this stage, staff are still in the learning how to make coffee. We order an Americano ($2.90, 12 oz) and latte ($3.70, 8 oz).

Another thing we conclude is that the owners have a desire to retain the business of old customers, and not change too dramatically. The new coffee menu looks similar to the old, with multiple sizes offered. Regulars will recognize legacy items like the Yerba Mate Latte (3.95-$5.10) – even the familiar panini – on the menu. As a plus, prices are now generally a few cents lower than their predecessor’s.

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
Alchemy Coffee’s beverage menu

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
View of their espresso machine

For food, the Alchemy Coffee menu lists breakfast sandwiches ($4.25 – $4.95), butter croissant sandwiches ($3.95) and panini ($8.95 – $9.95). There’s also a selection of pastries on the counter: vegan banana loaf and breakfast cookies, scones, muffins and biscotti.

Their Instagram, as of late, has been posting teasers of mouthwatering, double baked almond croissants from Edgar the Breathtaker. Sadly there’s none here this morning. So we order a berry scone ($2.75)  and Ham, Swiss & Egg Breakfast Sandwich ($4.95). We’re told they don’t have any more ham, so they will substitute it with bacon.

Another thing that doesn’t escape our attention is a second employee, a fellow who spends most of his time sitting in a corner, studying his phone. Occasionally, he reluctantly heads behind the counter to help out the young woman when the lineup builds, then quickly returns to his seat to stare at his phone. Sad to say, that poor girl is the lone employee putting in a huge effort to make this work.

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
The berry scone

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
The savoury menu features sandwiches

The woman slides a plate across the counter, which has our giant berry scone. We head to a table to try it. It’s chilled and an unpleasantly doughy texture. When she comes to our table, I ask politely if it’s possible to get it warmed. Heating it up won’t fix it, but it will taste more bearable.

Kudos to her, she smiles, not bothered, and says that’s not a problem. She slips the scone in their small toaster oven while we have our drinks. The Americano has low acidity with chocolaty milk and nutty flavour. Mike comments the temperature is not quite hot enough, which maybe shows their inexperience.

My latte doesn’t have milk foamed to the right texture. The coffee is flavour is on the darker side, but comes across as one dimensional. If there were other roasters offered, I would have picked a different coffee.

The woman returns to our table, carefully carrying the scone and breakfast sandwich. Shyly, she presents us an Alchemy Coffee coffee card. She explains how it works – buy any 9 drinks and get the 10th free (it already has two stamps for our drinks) – and that strikes us as thoughtful service.

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
A latte made with ReSIProcate Coffee

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
Their coffee card

Although the scone is warm, it’s still bland. And unfortunately, the breakfast sandwich is even worse. Mike says the egg – pre-cooked, then warmed up – is flavourless. The bacon is soft, soggy and under cooked.

As we’re leaving, we clear the plates from our table. Arms full and hovering near the counter, we don’t see an area to put dirty dishes. Finally, I turn to the guy in the corner and ask him. Remaining seated, he points to the side of the counter and says that will do just fine. Though really, he couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews
The breakfast sandwich

 


VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW

Name of coffee: ReSIProcate Coffee (profile not available) 

Origin: n/a

Location of roaster: Burnaby, B.C.

Price: $2.90 (12 oz)

Brewing method: Americano

Roaster’s tasting notes: n/a

Mike’s comments: Chocolaty milk and nutty flavour. Low acidity, easy drinking. Temperature wasn’t quite hot enough.

Vancouver Barista Alchemy Coffee North Vancouver's best cafés coffee shops reviews


Best moments:

  • Discovery of a North Shore cafe that will be featuring a variety of local roasters and brewing methods.
  • Surprisingly efficient seating in a cozy space.

Low moments:

  • Service can be either friendly or indifferent: it depends on who you get.
  • Staff try hard to get their drinks right, but they’re not there yet.
  • Food wasn’t fresh and was treated like an afterthought.

Coffee: 3.75/5

Service: 4/5

Ambience: 4/5

Seating availability: 4/5

OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 3.94/5


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Want to visit?

338 Lonsdale Ave (at East 4th St), North Van

Operating hours are currently 8am-5pm daily. For updates, follow their Instagram.


 

6 thoughts on “Review of Alchemy Coffee: Our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee”

  1. I’ve had great coffee from Alchemy (tried a latte and a white chocolate mocha) and they both were the perfect temperature. Temperature preference is all relative, so you shouldn’t really be basing your review on that. If you need extra hot coffee, you need to ask for it! Also, they are still under renovations so maybe you should redo this one once they are done. Just a thought!

    1. Hi Kate, Thanks for your comments. Glad to hear you had a good experience at Alchemy. Just thought we’d give you our input which is that coffee should be served hot when you order it. We didn’t ask for it to be piping or extra hot, just a “normal hot temperature”, if that makes sense. Unfortunately, in this case the coffee was tepid and not close to hot enough. And a customer shouldn’t have to make a special request to get coffee served right. We have also had coffee “piping hot” which also isn’t quite right if you’re burning your tongue. To be frank, most cafes actually serve it at the right temperature and the ones that don’t are usually the ones that are still learning to do it right; the fact that the latte was also not foamed properly also adds to our case. In this review we mentioned the temperature because we do in every case we notice something is not quite right. If you check out Yelp or Google reviews, yup people will notice things like temperature being off and will definitely comment on it. Temperature is a part of the total experience, and while it may not be a big deal for some people, we speak from our personal coffee experience – so yes it will be something we’ll make a point of commenting on every time.
      As for your suggestion that we should redo this review, we’d love to re-do every review for every cafe that didn’t do well, but it’s not always possible. We actually got some feedback from people that said we should have rated Alchemy even lower than we did. Which is fine but we don’t alter our view to please every reader that doesn’t agree. We also check out some blogs, Yelp and Google reviews but we’ve never felt we should tell people to change their reviews because we don’t agree with them. If anything, a diversity of views is better for everybody.
      In summary, it’s a plus you’re loyal to your new favourite coffee shop and we wish Alchemy well on the areas they need to work on. But it’s up to our readers if they want to give them a chance. As mentioned in our post, they are in transition and under renos, so hopefully they will get things right.

  2. I’m getting the impression that Alchemy is more akin to a second-wave coffee shop rather than third wave like Pallet or Timbertrain (or Moja, which I think is the only third-wave shop in North Van).

    UBC used to serve ReSIProcate at some of their AMS cafes, and I wouldn’t compare the coffee to the likes of the aforementioned microroasters, either. It’s about on the same level as Ethical Bean, or another comparable higher-end grocery store-level coffee.

    Patrons of Waves, Starbucks, or Blenz (probably their old clientele) may find this local, independent shop a nice alternative, but those seeking a third-wave experience may come away disappointed.

    1. That’s an interesting perspective! Thanks for the insight on ReSIProcate.
      We give thumbs up that Alchemy is at least trying to do something different by trying other roasters outside of ReSIProcate and will be offering a variety of brewing methods. If they can master their training, they might be a good addition (and very different type of offering) for the North Shore.

      1. Hi Mike & Shirley,

        Thank you for the review, we really appreciate the constructive feedback, and you taking the time to visit our little shoppe! Right now, as we work towards our grand opening we are excited to announce a few updates that occurred after your visit- such as a new food display, finalized upcoming food menu, and our soon-to-be-annouced official roster of roasters!
        Just an fyi, ReSIProcate was a brand that we inherited in our takeover, and while we support their charity endeavors, we chose to introduce the menu of local roasters to bring the coffee that we love to the North Shore!

        Looking forward to seeing you at our grand opening!

        Thanks,

        Team Alchemy

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