Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“So this ain’t the end.”
-Heart (from “Barracuda”)
Aperture Coffee Bar is now on Main St in Riley Park. You heard right: it’s their second location. The friendly barista asks if we’ve been to their first at 243 West Broadway.
We have. Has he worked at the other location? He nods; we clue in. Charming smile materializes. He asks our names introduces himself as Ryul Kwan, Aperture Coffee Bar’s owner.
Meeting the creative brain behind a well respected, cult favourite in this town – that is a nice surprise. Because if we could get a supply of physician’s prescription pads, this is what we’d do.
Uncap a ballpoint and let the ink fly, for starters. Rip off a page, then recommend a visit to Aperture Coffee Bar to remedy this common and painfully incurable condition: darn picky, loudly complaining people in your life who can’t be pleased by any coffee they try.
While Ryul pours a coffee, he explains why he launched a second Aperture Coffee Bar. Enemy of its own success, people would show up at Mount Pleasant’s Aperture Coffee Bar – wanting to stay, but quickly walking out – because of a lack of available seating in their small café. Losing customers on a regular basis couldn’t have been easy.
If you know Aperture, you’re familiar with their ideals: technically executed coffee (from Intelligentsia), jazz tunes, food that speaks of comfort, thoughtful art/photography and reliably zippy Wi-Fi.
On Stop 133 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, we drive along Main St and pull over at King Edward Ave. Way back, Mike would actually make a regular 45-minute bus ride to this part of East Van.
He went to school in East Village and played on the tennis team for four years. How did kids get to their matches at other schools? You’d think, maybe comfortably delivered by riding a school bus. But that’s not the case. In those days, it was up to students to make their way to matches on their own. The skinny kid at the bus stop by himself? That was him.
Starting in grade eight, he caught the Hastings bus near Nanaimo, headed west into Strathcona, Downtown Eastside, then stepped off into Chinatown at Main. Crossing the street, swallowed into the Main St bus. When it finally spit him out at King Edward Ave, it was a short walk to the outdoor courts at Tupper (Sir Charles Tupper Secondary).
Backpack slung over a bony shoulder, two racket handles sticking out, growing into his own skin. At the starting line, at the beginning of something.
As he got taller, those bus rides stopped. The tennis didn’t. He blew out sixteen candles and shortly after, passed his driver’s. When he lucked out with a part-time job, much of it went to a rusted-out Mustang that kept the tank full of gas.
Not far from Tupper, we spot Aperture Coffee Bar and a new white sign with crisp black letters. A hands-on business, this was one of many DIY projects.
On the glass below their name, reads “f/1.2”. A photography term – just like aperture – that in the simplest terms, refers to the measure of lens speed.
Like everything about this business, you can interpret what Aperture Coffee Bar expresses or exhibits in their space at face value. Or you can reflect on its meaning in your own terms. Their artistic side makes them so interesting and outside the lines.
If you’re wondering, the latest Aperture Coffee Bar features signature touches that are similar, but not carbon copied, in a much larger space.
Though admittedly, we don’t immediately notice the expanse of the room. It’s misleading to the eye. The front of the shop, smallish and compact. There is more to see, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Their design is a calming simplicity, helped along by plenty of plain wood furniture. Longtime Aperture Coffee Bar fans will detect visual echoes of the original. Unique touches that don’t try too hard, like a collection of someone’s favourite things from home, keep this from being an ordinary space.
The classic Yamaha motorbike parked at the front, for example, looks like it’s had good times. But it has the polish buffed up by an admiring owner. Just above, a full set of wrenches is nailed to the wood paneled wall. On the shelf: helmet, gauges, parts.
A dried out skeleton (maybe an elk) hangs over the self-service area. A thirsty thing, he could have used a drink from Aperture Coffee Bar’s glass water dispensers below.
The most memorable part of the first Aperture Coffee Bar was its imaginative counter, constructed of handy shelving custom-built by owner. Glasses, a shiny Victoria Arduino espresso machine and coffee equipment bloomed inside the jungle of pipes and wood. Like a living vine, the contraption crawled toward the ceiling. Somewhere between the branches was a barista. Most of all, their Hario V60 pour over stand fit in perfectly. Screwed into the counter, an extension of the fauna.
For the pour over setup here, we spot a common acrylic V60 stand with drippers. Maybe this setup isn’t up to the owner’s creative standards. Because when Mike asks if he can order a pour over, Ryul regretfully says they’re not offering it yet.
For now they serve drip and espresso. So Mike orders an Americano ($4, mall) at an elevated price that takes us by surprise. I order a latte ($3.50, 12 oz) which on the other hand, is a very good price. We expect a higher cost for the latte because of the milk, but that’s not the case here.
You might think that Aperture Coffee Bar would change the roaster so it’s same for both cafés. However, it’s not true. Ryul confirms the Mount Pleasant location continues to serve the Intelligentsia.
If you’re wondering why, it’s not complicated. As Ryul puts it, he thought it’d be nice to try out a different roaster at this location. As a first for a Vancouver coffee shop – a different roaster at each location – and we love the open choices. Depending on which roaster a customer loves more, they can head to their favourite location to support it.
We also appreciate that they offer hot breakfast at a good price point. There’s grilled cheese ($4.50) with optional ingredients ($1 – $2.50) like bacon, avocado, cheese or tomato. Or a breakfast egg sandwich ($5 – 6) for veggie, avocado or prosciutto. We order a plain grilled cheese ($4.50) and breakfast egg sandwich with avocado ($6).
If you head here for lunch, they also have sandwiches ($8), wraps ($8.50), soup ($5) and salad ($5).
Olivia Wu, sole proprietor behind Richmond’s Cannele & Honeybun, makes all of the baked goods here. We’ve tasted them at the other Aperture and they’re very good. She makes small batches with mostly natural ingredients, using no artificial preservatives or colours.
There’s big glass jars of her cookies today (all ingredients usefully listed): Gluten Free Hazelnut Chocochip, Gluten Free Chocochip, Tree Hugger, Smoked Vanilla and Salted Caramel. We also order the Salted Caramel Cookie, which is deliciously thin and crispy on the outside, but chewy in the center.
A special thing about Aperture Coffee Bar is they care about details and even do something a bit extra. Both of our sandwiches are heated nicely, where you can taste every ingredient. They always include a little dish of their signature in-house-made hot sauce.
Mike’s Americano is “deconstructed” – a shot of espresso in his mug with a glass Hario pitcher of hot water on the side – which is his favourite way. It’s not for everybody. Not every customer will know you don’t need to pour all of the water into your mug.
But if you’re particular about the strength of your drink, this thoughtful presentation was devised by someone who is pretty specific about how their coffee should be.
Mike pours about three quarters of the water out of the pitcher, as he likes his Americano strong. He really enjoys the well balanced drink that has some stone fruit flavour and slight acidity. My latte is just as on point: perfectly creamy, mellow and a good value at $3.50.
When Ryul mentions there’s some extra seating at the back (the understatement of the year), we head around the counter.
If you don’t know Aperture Coffee Bar, this room is your open book. It’s an enormous space with generous seating, lots of large tables, banquet benches. Welcoming and made for socializing.
Our eyes are drawn to a raised platform upon which stands an upright piano. A set of wooden speakers stands on a shelf. Mike used to be obsessed with speakers (it’s a music thing) and comments they look custom. Jazz albums lean against the wall: Chet Baker, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson.
A saxophone or two bubbles in the background somewhere, a ghostly jazz session between the greats. The legends have passed on, every life has its conclusion, but this is far from the end.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Timbertrain Coffee Roasters’ Caliber
Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.
Price: $4 (small)
Brewing method: Americano (“deconstructed” presentation with hot water served separately from espresso)
Roaster’s tasting notes: n/a
Mike’s comments: Really like how they serve the hot water and espresso separately so you can control the strength of your drink. Well balanced and fruity. Stone fruits like peach and some citrusy acidity.
- Friendly service by owner and technically executed drinks. Pour overs coming later.
- The “deconstructed” Americano: perfect for those super particular about their coffee.
- Exploratory concept of a different roaster served at each of their locations.
- Comforting, freshly made food here. Breakfast is a cheap thrill.
- Artsy decor, jazzy tracks and generous seating are a big draw.
- Americano with a high price tag.
Seating availability: 5/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.81/5
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4124 Main St (at King Edward Ave)
Operating hours here.