Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“All the way across town.”
-Green Day (from “When I Come Around”)
Finch’s Market, if you haven’t been, hides in one of the most fascinating and historic parts of Vancouver – that would be Strathcona. Although this neighbourhood is transforming, you’ll still find something rare here: the oldest, untouched houses in the city.
It’s early morning, so we head out on a walk. We head for the dotted line of the Union-Adanac bike route, an easy two blocks south. Listen and there’s only fragments of sound. Birds nesting, bike wheels spinning, a squeaky gate opening.
Although it’s a sunny day, we’re shaded by huge leafy trees. We pass homes, tightly packed. Chipped paint, rooftops coated in moss, faded bikes chained to a rusty fence. Somehow they are beautiful in their brokenness. Perfect deterioration from exposure to time.
And front yards? Closely clipped grass, squared off lawns aren’t common. Instead, informal gardens with wildflowers or sticks laddered with climbing vegetables. This is where people fill an open space with personality, make it their home. Kind of the opposite of closed-off condo living. We circle back to Finch’s Market. In many ways, you’re looking at the heart of East Van.
On Stop 123 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, it’s 10 am and Mike leans in the open door, asks if we can come in. A young woman calls out yes, walking across the wood floor to move the sandwich board blocking the door.
If the name Finch’s sounds familiar, you may have heard of Finch’s Coffee and Tea House. After their downtown location grew to a huge success, the family-owned business decided to open Finch’s Market in 2012.
Still, Finch’s Market couldn’t feel farther from the slickness of downtown. This is an artisan grocery that’s gone old school. Wood barrels and crates of onions, lemons, pears. Built like a Ford truck is the General Motors Frigidaire. Pull open the door and you’ll find (on the pricey end) are butter ($6), free-range eggs ($6.50), kombucha ($6.50).
Showstopper feature? That glorious wall of library shelves filled with canned tomatoes, olive oil, canned beans, roasted vegetables. And even a sliding ladder which has a sign – likely devised after some memorable accidents – that says “Before moving LOOK.”
The vintage feeling here is lovely. Stained glass windows as stand-alone art, faded wood ladders, a cabinet as the self serve area. And there is more seating than expected: a few communal tables and individual desks with lots of yard sale chairs.
Their little welcoming touches are nice surprises. Like those two fat silver pitchers for water, one packed with sliced cucumbers, the other lemons.
We head for the counter and order from a chalkboard menu. There’s three staff there today: one assembling breakfasts (way at the back), a second taking orders and a third is barista.
For coffee, they simply serve espresso. An eye-catching Italian Elektra espresso machine sits like a shiny trophy on the counter – but it’s simply for looks. They use a basic Gaggia espresso machine to pull their shots.
Mike orders an Americano ($3.25, 12 oz), while an aproned young woman carefully writes down our order on a piece of paper. Which is so cool. You never see that in cafes anymore, everybody uses an iPad now.
He asks which coffee they use and she points behind him to the coffee bags behind us. They’ll use Finch’s Proper Espresso. Friendly, she pauses to mention that this espresso is her favourite. She has it as French Press at home.
Small as this operation is, Finch’s Market smartly carries their own organic, direct trade and Vancouver-roasted coffee. There’s three profiles: Proper Espresso, Left Coast and Morning Glory.
From their wall of tea, I count over twenty massive tins behind the counter. It’s hard to pick betwen interesting choices like Bella Coola or Orchid Oolong. But I decide on a new one, Cherry Blossom ($2.95).
They’re proud of their leaves. A homemade printout on their counter, bound with raffia, talks about the different kinds they carry.
At the back, there’s a chalkboard menu of their famous sandwiches ($8-11), salads ($12) and breakfasts ($6-$12). If you’re looking for value, the house breakfast ($8) is the best deal. You can also view Finch’s Market menu online.
We order their signature sandwich, the Pear Baguette ($11). It’s made of pear, prosciutto, blue brie, roasted walnuts, olive oil and red wine vinegar.
The counter displays their Banana Bread ($3.50) with six organic bananas and cookies ($2.25). We also get an Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie. They make all their own food and cater.
At the counter, a little sign explains local businesses prefer when customers use cash, so they don’t have to pay high fees to credit card companies. It’s something most already know, but it’s a good reminder. So we reach for cash instead.
We find seats near the window and our food arrives. The woman notices I don’t have my tea yet. She returns with a steaming mug. Inside is an oversized loose leaf tea bag in hot water. Cherry Blossom tastes okay, very neutral, but not what I expected. I prefer a tea with bolder flavour. Mike has a sip of his coffee. It’s milk chocolaty with nuts.
Their food presentation is sweet. Our cookie comes on a gilded china plate. It’s delicious with a rustic, chunky texture.
The Pear Baguette is plated on a big sheet of brown parchment. Although the sandwich isn’t huge, there is a generous amount of ingredients neatly lined up inside the bread. It’s professionally done, with pear slices neatly fanned out. We can taste each fresh ingredient, sweet and salty.
Someone’s turned on some garage punk. Unspoken, the clock passes 10, and it’s like everybody shows up for the party at the same time. Outside, a guy crosses the street. A voice calls out, his tattooed arm comes up, waves to a friend.
If you’re the type that likes to make plans, or even if you’re not, come by. Some people read leaves at the bottom of their cup, see what their future holds. That’s not me, but what comes next Vancouver, I’m open to it.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Finch’s Market Café Proper Espresso
Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.
Price: $3.25 (12 oz)
Brewing method: Americano
Roaster’s tasting notes: n/a
Mike’s comments: “Milk chocolate with nuttiness and woody taste.”
- Hidden East Van cafe with old school touches. Where to go if you want to hang with locals.
- Welcoming service, even if you’re not a regular. Orders arrive with surprising quickly efficiency despite a busy crowd.
- Lots of tasty food options, beautifully presented. Their own locally roasted coffee.
- Food leans on the expensive end, though we were impressed with the quality.
Seating availability: 4/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.44/5
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501 East Georgia St. (@ Jackson Ave)
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