Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“Make the rules.”
-Prince (from “Cream”)
Caffè Di Beppe, Gastown’s stylish, lush new coffee shop just opened at the right time. January is the time to map plans, bloom ideas, imagine beginnings. Indeed, your first resolution of 2018 should be to come here.
Part the curtains, because it all starts with that outgoing barista behind the espresso machine. He sports a plain white tee and comes forward to take our order.
Cheerfully, he introduces himself by first name. We realize a minute too late he is actually Chris Giannakos who is co-owner of Revolver. As the newly minted director of coffee at Caffè Di Beppe, Chris is noticeably hands on. This Sunday morning, he’s put to the test when we request a special, off-the-menu drink seen on Caffè Di Beppe’s Instagram.
Nodding, he rubs his beard and reflects. It’s quiet and we can almost hear him formulating a plan. Finally, he triumphantly says he can do it, but first has to check if there’s cream, which is apparently one of the key ingredients.
He disappears, then rushes back. I tell him we can order something else, if it’s too much trouble. His response: “Guys, I can run out and buy some cream. If you don’t mind waiting a few minutes.”
Maybe you’ve experienced outstanding service from your barista? Sorry all, but this moment might be the contender to trump all other encounters.
The larger room right next to it – push past the dark curtain – that’s their sister restaurant, Di Beppe. It piques our interest too, as an eye candy space which serves up artisan pizza, pasta and antipasto.
As Chris explains, Caffè Di Beppe is open throughout the morning and into evening. When Di Beppe opens at 5pm, Caffè Di Beppe remains open and doubles as an area for customers to comfortably wait for a table in the restaurant. So if you’re asking, yes you can still order a coffee in the cafe at night.
And what else is so charmingly thoughtful? They don’t throw you out if you’re a slow eater (like me). Case in point, check out the restaurant operating hours on their door: Open til 10 pm or until you’re finished.
Modern and convenient as Caffè Di Beppe seems, it still interestingly retains a distinctly old fashioned charm. From the mini hexagonal tile on the floor, to the classic wooden European chairs, it just makes us wonder. Could be that any café that calls itself Italian – well, it must surely swear on a nonna’s grave to vow to hold up some traditional elements.
On Stop 139 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, their chalkboard coffee menu is remarkably tiny, with the number of options countable on one hand. Still, we respect how they stick to Italian authenticity. As they say, do as the Romans do.
After all, would you ask an Italian grandmother to make you a soy latte with two and a half pumps of vanilla? In the same way, you will not find the following on the Caffè Di Beppe coffee menu: Americano (too American), lattes, tea lattes, cold brew, drinks with dairy substitutes (ie. coconut, almond or soy), drinks with health benefits (ie. coffee with grass fed butter), smoothies, or a library of flavoured syrups. Just a suggestion that if those drinks are what you’re looking for, it’s probably best to head elsewhere.
But if you want something classic and uncompromising – with no apologies – this is the place. It’s in the form of espresso drinks: cappuccino ($3.75, no latte art but a stunning “scooped” cap of foamed milk), mocha ($3.75) and corretto ($5, espresso with a touch of booze). There’s also affogato ($5, a spiraling gelato served with espresso).
If that inspires you, show up here in a fedora and polished shoes. Order a lone shot of espresso ($1) or two ($2), and throw it back, Italian-style, standing at the counter. Tip: If you order an espresso shot and pay cash, Caffè Di Beppe will cover your tax.
Mike orders the Caffè Nico, an off-the-menu-drink made of espresso with cream, a spritz of orange and dash of cinnamon. Since there’s no latte, I ask for The Real Mocha ($3.75).
Caffè Di Beppe’s display case has an appetizing selection of rectangular slices of pizza. When ordered to go, these are casually folded in half and eaten straight out of the paper bag.
Then there’s the pizza dough sandwiches that include fascinating dough flavours like mortadella and pistachio. We order one that looks to be stuffed with romaine, mortadella and ham. Price is determined by putting the sandwich on a scale and weighing it.
Don’t miss the delicate dolci (desserts) like panettone (Italian Christmas bread) by the slice. Their version is made by award-winning pastry Vancouver chef Emiddio Isernia, originally from Naples). Isernia started a reputable panettone business by partnering with the owner of Yaletown’s Small Victory.
In glass jars, we spot traditional bites, names written in Italian, on cards. Like almond sbrisolona (slices of crunchy almond tart), cantucci (almond cookies) and torta (pieces of cake).
We order a hazelnut meringue which looks like a white Turtles chocolate. Then we add a traditional apollini. It’s a long, spiraling pastry shaped like of a lobster tail, which they freshly fill with vanilla pastry cream at the time of the order. Similarly, there’s the sfogliatelle which they also fill with ricotta cream.
Chris asks if we’d like our drinks made together. We do, so he says he’ll make both when he returns with the cream.
Looking around, we head for a table by one of the tall windows with a sunny view of people walking by. There’s counter seating with bar stools, cool high tables with no seating (you stand there for a quick bite) and a few elegant tables for two, topped with marble.
This place, it’s intimate in the best way. Understated, quiet sleepy slow jazz plays. Today, it’s Norah Jones crooning and stroking the keys, the morning ahead seems to stretch to nothingness.
They plate the food first, with nice presentation. The pizza dough sandwich is placed on a sheet of brown paper, topping a metal tray. The bread tastes flavourful like foccacia and it’s a refreshing change from a typical sandwich.The cheese, meat and lettuce made a good combination of textures, although it would have been a plus if it was heated.
The hazelnut meringue reminds me of nougat. It’s crunchy, sweet and the hard nuts snap loudly when I chew. Consider if you have strong teeth before you order this. Our favourite order is the apollini. It’s so flaky that it explodes in millions of tiny fragments with every bite, crumbs scattering on the table. The vanilla cream is fluffy, silky, not too sweet.
Chris comes back and quickly makes our drinks. My mocha is a light chestnut shade and is remarkably creamy and rich. Details are sweet at Caffè Di Beppe, where drinks are accompanied by the European signature: a miniature Italian almond cookie served on the saucer.
But it’s the Caffè Nico that arrives as a work of art. It even has the tiniest latte art, carefully drawn in milk with a light touch and dusted with fragrant cinnamon. The best touch might be the cup and saucer which are painted with the Ferrari logo and Italian colours. Understandably, it’s delivered to our table with a look of pride.
On the saucer, there’s another almond cookie and bright twist of fresh orange peel. Visually, it’s a moment of pure indulgence. Drinking it, Mike tastes a sweet combination of Mandarin orange and rich butterscotch.
The sight of the Ferrari logo sparks something. We talk about the longtime Italian passion for three sports: sports car racing, cycling and soccer.
A classic tube TV mounted to the wall catches our eye. Then we spot some old soccer photos. Framed, they’re faded like someone took them down from a teenage bedroom and put them up here. A staffer nods; they are fans of the Whitecaps.
That’s when Mike tells me a short history of Vancouver-born Dominic Mobilio, the former Whitecaps FC player. In 2004, he spent a few hours at a friend’s house, probably casually kicking a ball around. Minutes after leaving in his car, he died suddenly of a heart attack at age 35.
You know how you look at someone and wonder where they’re from? Well, with Dominic and his two brothers, there was no doubt. Here was a family that looked and acted unquestionably Italian in every way.
But what Mike remembers the most, was that even before Dominic became a soccer star, he was kind. As you may know, when Mike was a kid, he spent a lot of time playing tennis. Those days, he remembers many times seeing Dominic – a handful of years older – ride his bicycle through East Van.
Then the wheels would slow down. He could pass by. Instead, the Italian boy stopped, said hi, dropped his bike. Joining Mike on the court, they talked and took turns hitting the ball until the sun went down. Back then you see, there was time to kill.
They say that every language seems has words or phrases that are not completely translatable, the true meaning only understood by native tongue. So to the Italians out there, our apologies if we could not fill in those gaps. But can you relate? Maybe in the same way, there are some things you feel, that cannot be explained.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Carraro 1927 Organic Coffee
Location of roaster: Italy
Brewing method: Caffè Nico (off-the-menu drink made of espresso with cream, a spritz of orange and dash of cinnamon)
Roaster’s tasting notes: n/a
Mike’s comments: Mandarin orange and sweet rich butterscotch flavours. I normally don’t like orange flavour in my coffee; but the contrast with the creaminess of this drink surprised me and I really enjoyed it.
- An amazing barista that was up for any challenge. Chase down a milkman to get our drink right.
- Uncompromising, authentic coffee menu earned our respect. Drinks are beautifully executed and presented with care.
- Italian bites that are the real deal – in a gorgeous, modern-meets-vintage setting.
- Limited seating. But on the plus side, the ambience is intimate and private, perfect for reflection.
Seating availability: 3.75/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.63/5
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Want to visit?
2 West Cordova St (at Carrall St)
Operating hours here.