The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews

Review of The Only Café: Our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee

Editor’s update (Feb 2016): This cafe is currently rotating their coffee roasters.

Author: Shirley & Mike Wong

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Kitsilano’s newest is The Only Cafe – a business run by two young owners with a strong philosophy on what a coffee shop should be. This is Stop 78 in our weekly Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee.

“Take away my name.”

-Thompson Twins (from “Doctor! Doctor!”)

As we enter The Only Café, we’re immediately greeted by one of the owners. She looks up, beams and says, “Welcome back!”

Mike explains that it’s our first time here. She’s confused us with someone else but it takes some convincing on our part, as she swears another couple – looking exactly like us – dropped by yesterday. So if you think you spotted us at your local café? Could be a couple of our doppelgängers, instead.

On Stop 78 of our weekly Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, we’d love to meet up with our coffee twins, ask them what they think about The Only Café. This is Kitsilano’s newest coffee option – definitely a standout – which just opened over two months ago.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
This sandwich board will help you find this cafe tucked into West 4th near Trafalgar St

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
No clear signage of The Only Cafe on the exterior, so lookout for their glass front shop

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Love how they offer free gluten-free dog treats to this canine-friendly neighbourhood

After we park our car on Trafalgar St., it’s a short walk along West 4th before we spot their sandwich board. There’s also a sweet sign in front of a water bowl, inviting dogs to come inside for free biscuits (gluten free, too).

Besides the owner Monica, there’s another staffer behind the counter. The other owner, David, isn’t here today. Monica tells us that they previously worked at Kerrisdale’s La Cuisson, then decided to leave to start this business.

What they took along with them: not only their extensive barista and management experience, but also a very strong philosophy on what a coffee shop should be.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Don’t be afraid of their store policy. It’s welcoming and definitely the first we’ve heard of, in that you are welcome to bring in your outside food.

In fact, if you’re wondering why this cafe is called what it is, they have a unique store policy. It’s posted prominently at their entrance and on their website – what we would call an “anti-snob” philosophy.

They have no problem if customers bring in outside food. Plus, they give you a discount if you bring in your own cup, regardless of what the branding is.  Example, they’ll even rinse out your Starbucks paper cup and fill it with their own coffee.

Maybe other businesses might allow that too, or just turn a blind eye if it happens. But these owners send a welcoming message by clearly stating it as their policy.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
An overall view of this sweet little venue with weekend customers

Another pleasant surprise? A diverse brewing menu that you won’t find at most cafes: espresso, hand drip ($3.75), French Press ($4.50), siphon ($3.75 using a Hario brewer) and Royal Belgium Pot ($9.75 for another fancy siphon).

We’re told they serve beans from Mount Pleasant’s Kafka’s Coffee; Kafka’s actually serves Seattle’s Herkimer Coffee.

For non-coffee options, they have premium teas, slushies and smoothies. And if you are a fan of nut mylk, they make their own from cashews; we even saw them making it at the counter.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
This giant cotton cloud – lit underneath – is a cute design feature

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Love the presentation of rare teas served in eclectic patterned china

When Mike decides on their specialty, Hario siphon ($3.75), the staffer shows him six Herkimer profiles to choose from: house blend, El Salvador, Colombia, Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, Burundi and decaf house blend. All are offered for “brew by the cup”.

It’s a nice surprise to have a range of profiles to choose from. For those unfamiliar with this coffee, they’ve thoughtfully included a brief description of the flavour of each (ie. bold, complex, chocolaty).

She offers to give Mike suggestions, to which he says he’d love to hear. She tells him her preference is coffees with lower acidity, and with her advice, he decides on a fruity Burundi.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Their beverage menu is diverse and full of surprises, like two siphon options

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
The Nuova Simonelli machine, which we’re told makes perfect espresso

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
The Royal Belgium Pot is a second siphon option, if you don’t mind paying more

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Handmade local soaps by Erd and some bagged coffee beans from Mount Pleasant’s Kafka’s Coffee & Tea

I decide on a Blooming Tea ($3.34) which is a rare jasmine tea made of flower buds that opens upon contact with hot water.

They have a selection of croissant sandwiches, chocolate cake, cupcakes and their own raw, vegan, gluten free cheesecake ($3.75). A fun option: colourful mini chocolate “salads” by North Van’s Coconama Chocolate.

We decide on an Almond Croissant ($3.50) and Pistachio Danish ($3.69), made by Kits’ Baguette & Co. She asks if we’d like them heated, which we think is proactive service.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Wood plank with cake display at the counter

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Sweet choices have an Asian feel. Vegan and gluten free cheesecakes are at the bottom.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Scones under glass cloche

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Sandwiches and mini Coconama Chocolate “salads” on the bottom shelf

Monica heads to the end of the counter to make our coffee. She’s very friendly. When we comment on the decor, she mentions that they worked hard on renovating this shop, doing much of the work themselves, for several months.

If you look around, it’s charming. There’s light wood on the counter, tables and bar stools. It feels welcoming with comfy sofa chairs and lots of magazines and books to peruse.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Nicely stylized with projected images, comfy seating and lots of reading

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Lots of seating in this small space

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Each table has HiFi headphones you can plug into your device

And some quirky design touches are there, which I love. My favourite feature is the giant cloud of cotton above our heads, which shines dreamily from a light buried within.

There’s also some unexpected multi-sensory touches, like a projection of images on a blank wall. If you enjoy music, you can plug into their HiFi headphones at every table.

Besides that, they frequently feature live music at their cafe: their aim is to help local musicians get their careers started. Check out their Facebook feed for video clips of some of the talent.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
They sell a curated selection of coffee and tea merchandise, which reminds you that the owners’ roots are as baristas

 


The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
An elegant water station

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Sunny view of West 4th

She begins grinding the beans and then sets up the siphon. When people ask us to recommend a special coffee experience, we don’t tell them to order an Americano. Espresso based drinks are nice, but if you want something standout, then go and order a siphon. There’s still a lot of people who haven’t seen coffee form under the magic of a blue flame, but it should be on your bucket list.

We’ve also found siphon coffee in Vancouver – while not a common menu item – is made with a lot of skill and care.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Grinding beans in their small grinder

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Assembling the Hario siphon. Water heats under the flame in the lower chamber.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Freshly ground coffee is poured in the top chamber, where heated water has risen

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
After stirring the coffee, the flame is turned off

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Stirring the coffee again

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
As the water cools in the upper chamber, it falls into the lower chamber. The completed coffee is poured into a cup.

She tells us that she has years of barista experience, which comes across with the confidence she has making the siphon, adjusting the flame, expertly stirring the grounds into the water.

What’s nice is she comes across as a coffee fan, herself. She asks us for our opinion on local coffees and we hear her preferences too. Watching siphon being made is interesting because it can show how a barista’s people skills are; it’s clear that this owner’s strength is listening and building relationships with customers.

When the coffee is finished brewing, she pours a serving into a glass for Mike. We notice it’s a smaller quantity in that you get one serving. That is, commonly other cafes make a large quantity so there’s a cup of coffee, plus extra coffee in a carafe on the side.

But we think it’s fair to make one serving and price it economically, since siphon is normally one of the most expensive drinks. The Only Cafe’s pricing might attract more customers to try out this brewing method.


The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
A buttery Pistachio Danish

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Enjoyed this hefty Almond Croissant from Baguette & Co.

We take a seat and Mike comments on the clean and fruity flavour of his coffee, which he enjoys.

The Pistachio Danish and Almond Croissant are served heated, in individual bamboo trays, which is a unique modern touch. We’re fans of Baguette & Co, from trying their pastries before, and found these were consistent with past experiences where they’re very buttery and flaky.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
The Burundi coffee made from Hario siphon

I love the Blossoming Tea, served in a glass teapot so you can view the colourful flower bloom.

Monica explains that David visits the supplier direct in China, to ensure they get the highest quality rare teas. Every flower looks different upon blooming – they’re actually tied together in mini bundles – which is a neat experience.

The jasmine tea is a pale shade and poured into a delicate patterned teacup – a nice presentation. It tastes clean and subtle. I would order this again.

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Beautiful blooming tea served in a glass teapot

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews
Closeup of an instant mood lifter: the rare bloomed flower in the jasmine tea

I recently heard a Vancouver blogger remark that the coffee scene here made him depressed. That cynicism surprised me.

There’s a new wave of start ups created by young baristas that want to do things their way. It’s a big credit to Vancouver that people are embracing a new generation with big ideas and innovation. If they’ve got something to say, let’s hear it.


VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW

Name of coffee: Herkimer Coffee Roasters’ Burundi Mikuba (courtesy Vancouver’s Kafka’s Coffee & Tea)

Origin: Burundi

Location of roaster: Seattle, WA

Price: $3.75

Brewing method: Hario siphon

Roaster’s tasting notes: “Sweet red seed fruits, cherry, and pomegranate. The acid profile also features some floral rose-hip adding to the juicy fruit. Ultra clean texture with a soft creamy body.”

Mike’s comments: Clean tasting and juicy with fruity sweetness. Some nutty flavour.

 

The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee shop reviews


Best moments:

  • Surprisingly affordable Hario siphon ($3.75). Also love how they offer an alternative siphon (Royal Belgium Pot) that’s not a common menu item.
  • Coffee knowledgeable staff with confident service.
  • Fan of their blooming teas which make a special experience. Liked their pastries from Baguette & Co.
  • Charmed by this sweet cafe with a unique personality. Thought it was a big mood lifter.
  • Recommend checking them out when they have a live band, for a different ambience.

Low moments:

  • After we got home, noticed we were mistakenly charged for an item we didn’t order. We called, the owner apologized and promptly reversed the charge. Thanks for the worry-free experience.

Coffee: 4.5/5

Service: 5/5

Ambience: 4.75/5

Seating availability: 4.25/5

OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.62/5


The Only Cafe Vancouver Barista best new cafes coffee reviews

 


Related posts:

Vancouver Barista’s Top Cafe Picks in The Georgia Straight

Review of Kafka’s Coffee & Tea: Our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee


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2678 W 4th Ave

Operating hours here.


The Only Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

One thought on “Review of The Only Café: Our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee”

  1. I popped in a couple of weeks ago and chatted with David. Living in the hood, I had been watching with growing horror the MONTHS it was taking for them to open. Glad it hasn’t set them back too much. I’ll pop in for a Hario one of these days. Nice to have a proper coffee shop back in the hood after the closure of Momentum.

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