Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“Heaven sent hell away.”
-Soundgarden (from “Black Hole Sun”)
At Beyond Bread, I sink my teeth into a sacristain. If you haven’t tried, it’s an absurdly long twisty pastry – about as long as my forearm – deliciously dusted with icing sugar. Oddly resembling a knotty branch, or maybe a wizard’s gnarled wand.
On Stop 117 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, there is something peculiarly magical about Beyond Bread. Although they’ve been a fixture in Kits (at Alma and West 4th Ave) for several years, we kick ourselves for discovering this local gem only recently.
To understand what they’re about, they’ve even drawn a picture so you get the idea. And we do. This Sunday, we spot Beyond Bread’s sandwich board: in carefully drawn chalk is a dreamy promise of frothed milk poured into a latte heart. Here a one-two-punch of a talented local bakery that is equally passionate about coffee.
A neighbourhood secret, that’s for sure. Observing the foot traffic this early morning, amazingly, not many locals pass. Most pause and step inside, forming a steady lineup. The popular breakfast – pastry and coffee.
It’s a small and comfy place with more seating than you’d expect, even some outside. A woman reads a book in an olive leather armchair in the corner. At the communal table, a girl scrolls down her phone: beside her, a bag of coffee beans, a latte and a fat pastry on a plate.
They also rotate fair trade and organic coffee from different roasters for their other brewing methods. At the time of our visit, they display beans by both Social Coffee and Phil & Sebastian Coffee. A special promo is Social’s Sumatra beans (12 oz) for $10.
We observe the barista’s meticulous care executing orders, and every detail in between. There’s some very methodical cleaning of the espresso machine and frothing wand. Our impression: here’s someone that takes pride in his work.
For brewing methods, they serve drip, espresso and French Press. Also a nice surprise: a coffee fresh sheet.
For drip, pick from Social Coffee’s Ethiopia (vanilla, bergamot, vanilla zest) or Guatemala (citrus, toasted nuts, chocolate). For espresso, there’s house espresso (Peru, Guatemala, Colombia – toasted nuts, dark chocolate, grapes) or Sumatra (berries and cream, spices, baker’s chocolate).
Mike picks French Press and the barista says it will take about six minutes. That’s a good heads up for customers who might expect this coffee to be a quick order.
He’s told he can also pick from any of the beans. He selects Ethiopian. I order a latte and decide on the house espresso.
Before you visit, we suggest reviewing their complete bread, bakes (pastry) and bites (sandwich) menus online. They’re reputable as some say their baguettes/croissants are one of the most authentically French in the city.
We’re in the mood for something sweet. So we order what looks delicious in the pastry case: sacristain ($2.75, flaky puff pastry twist filled with royal icing and sliced almonds), Monkey Bread ($3.75, a croissant-based pastry with a filling made of brown sugar, cinnamon, orange zest and essential oils) and boterkoek ($2.50, a Dutch butter cookie). Surprisingly, pastry prices are very reasonable, considering the quality you get.
Mike’s favourite pastry ends up being the monkey bread, which pulls apart like petals off a flower. The flavours are very distinct: carmelized brown sugar, orange and cinnamon. He says it reminds him something we used to buy in a patisserie we frequented in Paris.
I can’t decide which is the best. The sacristain is flaky and light, and I love how it looks different from anything I’ve tried before. But the boterkoek is mouth watering, with a toasted butter taste and dense rich crumb. Even love the little fork marks scoring its golden brown top are gorgeous. Their creations have a pretty artisan touch – ones you eat with your eyes.
When my latte’s ready, Mike slides it across the counter, commenting “Look at the cute heart.” The latte art is good, with milk perfectly textured. The espresso is on the darker side and it goes well with the sugary breakfast.
Mike has a sip of his coffee. It’s thickly syrupy with lemon and floral flavours, which he really enjoys. He says it’s the best Ethiopian coffee he’s had, and Ethiopian isn’t his usual favourite. The barista remarks later that he likes French Press for this particular profile.
From our window seat, we watch idyllic West 4th. Which is kind of like reading sheet music, a tune about Vancouver weekend life. A family rides by on bicycles (one on tandem), a bus stops in front to cough out passengers, a golden retriever, a teacup pup, joggers, seniors.
Actually the quirky soundtrack to this scene is the most charming feature of Beyond Bread. During our visit, we hear a cool rotation of songs with ukuleles. No joke, this is old school, classic Hawaiian-style strumming.
Makes me think of a particular movie scene. On the night George Bailey and Mary miss their exotic tropical honeymoon, George comes home to find his wife. She’s setup a Hawaiian record singing on a rotating gramophone – which also happens to cleverly turn a roasting fowl in their fireplace.
That was from It’s a Wonderful Life. Which in a day full of surprises, it kind of is.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Social Coffee Roasters’ Ethiopia
Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.
Brewing method: French Press
Roaster’s tasting notes: “Blueberries, homemade strawberry jam, cola.”
Mike’s comments: “Deliciously syrupy texture. Flavours of lemon citrus and floral, with a slight nuttiness. The best Ethiopian coffee I’ve had yet.”
- Authentic European baking with strong patisserie quality.
- Friendly barista with attentive and technical coffee skills.
- Not typical of bakery cafes, you pick your coffee from a selection of profiles. Don’t miss trying this local roaster.
- Simply and charming decor. The quirky music takes it to another level.
- No lows. If we lived in Kits, we’d be here all the time.
Seating availability: 4.5/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.63/5
Subscribe to Blog via Email
Want to visit?
3686 West 4th Ave (at Alma St)
Operating hours here.