Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“Now I’ve got you in my sights.”
-Eric Carmen (from “Hungry Eyes”)
Kitsilano’s Aroma Coffee just launched a new look – probably after taking a deep breath. You see, the Vancouver coffee world can be pretty scathing, as these guys have surely reflected, after suffering some brutal online reviews.
To be fair, bruising comments were made about this café under another life. They were talking about a coffee shop under a different moniker (Sweet ‘n Aromatic Coffee) and different management – long before Aroma Coffee’s soft re-opening in January.
On Stop 118 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, there’s something else interesting about Aroma Coffee: they serve JJ Bean. JJ Bean is a longtime Vancouver roaster. They also happen to be a chain with several locations around town and three in Toronto.
Although we do love the independents, we recommend trying a JJ Bean. With consistently high coffee standards , easy-drinking low-acidic blends and a customer-centric philosophy – they’re one of the best managed companies around.
In fact, founder/owner John Neate Jr. told us years ago that pour over is something that he’s not interested in. While it works for many independents, he doesn’t feel it’s the right fit for his cafes. Simply because it would be a compromise on time (getting the customer through the lineup quickly) and quality (delivering the same great coffee every time).
It’s Sunday morning when we pull up to West 12th and Arbutus. Aroma Coffee is right on the corner of a very busy intersection. Though really, it’s not so much about cars.
Arbutus Greenway is steps away, next to a closed railroad track, which means plenty of cyclists on an early ride. Then there’s the ubiquitous joggers, jaywalkers. And several dog owners are out, training their well-groomed pets on good manners. We watch this peaceful day unfold from inside the very large, bright windows of Aroma Coffee.
It’s airy and spacious here. There’s a large communal table, multiple bar stools along the windows and individual tables.
We like the modern design with cool little elements of coffee here and there. As we enter, there’s a shelf featuring Chemex and Hario equipment for sale. Head further to the back: check out the creative display of coffee beans in glass tube dispensers.
There aren’t any customers besides us. A lone staffer comes from the back to greet us when we head to the counter.
There’s an electronic menu board, which makes choices easy to read; though style-wise, it’s feels kind of food-court.
On the plus side, there’s plenty of choices on how you want your coffee: espresso, siphon, pour over, drip, cold brew. Another thoughtful touch: a coffee fresh sheet with five featured profiles when you order siphon (Hario) or pour over (Chemex).
Slow brew prices are competitive. There’s not many places you can you get a siphon or pour over at $4.50 – $5.50. Though our necks did snap back at a double take: JJ’s Blue Mountain as a pour over ($15) or siphon ($16).
Mike opts for pour over ($4.50, 12 oz) using JJ’s Carmo Estate. It’s a Brazilian single origin (mellow, dense cocoa, roasted nuts, touch of winy complexity).
I order a latte ($3.95, 12 oz) which the staffer says will use Espresso JJ. That’s a low acidic blend made of mostly Brazilian and Guatemalan beans (toasty, caramelized nuts, cocoa).
There’s a small selection of food here. In the display: a few pre-made panini, doughnuts, cinnamon buns and croissants. We pick a cinnamon bun ($3.75), glazed doughnut ($2.50) and ham & cheese croissant ($3.50).
It’s good she heats the food first. Some cafes don’t even take that extra step, even if they have the time. Still, we find the pastries taste average. While nothing is terrible, at the same time, there’s is no standout here.
Then she begins making my latte at the Nuova Simonelli espresso machine. When she finishes pouring the heart, she apologizes for the latte art, which she says she’s still trying to improve. The milk hasn’t been heated to the right temperature, so it’s not the right texture.
But the coffee flavour is very nice, with no sharpness. Mike comments that it tastes sweet.
At the end of the counter, you can watch them make pour over/siphon. If you want some water, go to the stylish tap built in to the counter, with glasses stacked beside it.
She begins the pour over using a Hario Buono kettle to pour hot water over the paper Chemex filter. Then she sets up a scale and Chemex brewer, pouring in the ground coffee.
She’s soft spoken but friendly. We take it as a sign of good customer service that she attempts to fill the silence. She asks if we’ve had pour over and if we’ve tried JJ Bean before. As a coffee fan, her favourite JJ coffee is the one she’s making with Carmel Estate.
Mike tastes it when she’s done, remarking on a pleasantly nutty flavour, like almond butter. The temperature is slightly off, not quite hot enough.
Anyway, if you head here, we hope you feel welcomed. They’re trying hard here. Kind of like those paperbacks at the back of the room that you can peruse. Which basically says, we hope you like us and stick around.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: JJ Bean’s Carmo Estate
Origin: Minas Gerais, Brazil
Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.
Brewing method: Chemex pour over, paper filter
Roaster’s tasting notes: “Mellow, dense cocoa, roasted nuts, touch of winy complexity.”
Mike’s comments: Caramel, almond butter and syrupy chocolate flavours. Temperature seemed off; not as hot as it should have been.
- Slow brew options (at affordable prices) and a coffee fresh sheet – those score big points. Think of it as an opportunity to experience JJ in a different way.
- Bright and modern space with lots of seating. A serene oasis to do some people watching.
- Pleasant and friendly service.
- Very limited food options, which tasted average.
- Technical execution of coffee: a work in progress.
Seating availability: 4.75/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.44/5
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2797 Arbutus St. (at West 12th Ave)
Operating hours here.