Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“You’re plugging into me.”
-Serena Ryder (from “Electric Love”)
At the new Handworks Coffee Studio this hazy summer day, we drowsily sip our hot drinks, listen to music. We watch the owners’ little girl peer at us curiously, eyes dark under heavy bangs on a bowl-cut. She darts under chairs, tables, making her own game of hide-and-seek.
Suddenly, Mike’s finger points to an old gramophone on a shelf. I hear him say in surprise: “Is music coming from that?”
Despite appearances, it’s not a vintage item rescued from a garage sale. A modern invention, called a Bluetooth Gramophone, actually uses wireless technology. Only deceptively fashioned to look like something snatched from a bygone era.
On Stop 122 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, hanging out at Handworks Coffee Studio can play tricks with your mind. Perception of time and place: it’s altered. Look around and see for yourself this local time warp, a small room on the corner of 6th St and 13th Ave in Burnaby.
Handworks Coffee Studio’s mismatched chairs line the walls. I pull up a seat and suddenly I’m my childhood self again. Visiting my aunt’s house with my brother and sister. Carefully perched on a chair, feet dangling, a plate balanced on my lap. Mother leaning over, ordering me to sit up straight.
But the adult in me is charmed by what I see. Wallpaper depicting animals and royalty living in the forest. Two tables are covered in tablecloths in the middle of the room.
They invite you to explore: a vintage brass espresso machine, ceramics, Japanese knicknacks, stationery (washi tape, pins, pens, buttons), a rocking horse with a furry mane, classic children’s books. They call this more than a cafe: it’s place to find zakka, or as they describe it, anything to improve your home.
I love those natural touches. A lone pine cone on its side, fir bough in a gilded frame, a tree stump coffee table to rest your mug. A handful of pussy willow branches filling an empty coffee can.
You could say their coffee accessories blend in seamlessly into this eclectic environment. If you are a fan of Japanese Kalita products, they have an excellent selection which surprised us. They’re beautifully made, with an warm artisan feel not commonly found on cafes retail shelves.
Mas (Handworks owner along with his wife Yuriko) tells us later that they (or their parents) bring back these items from Japan to sell in their shop.
You can also buy Handworks’ whole beans here ($10 for 8 ounces) or online. Check out their own Cold Brew Coffee Bag ($6). Put the bag in a jar full of 3 cups of water. Leave the bag for 10-12 hours. When it’s ready, discard the bag and store your cold brew in the fridge.
If you shop at farmer’s markets, you might remember Handworks Coffee Studio under a tent from way back in 2011. That was when they ventured into the coffee world, serving pour overs before a lot of cafes did.
In 2012, they decided to become a small batch roaster. To this day, they still maintain a painstaking thorough process. That is, they hand wash and hand sort (removing any with defects) every green coffee bean before roasting. Their philosophy is this care makes their coffee healthier and tastier.
They developed a reputation in East Village in 2015, operating a hand-pour coffee bar inside Basho Cafe (a Japanese cafe now closed). When they left in April 2016, they began searching for a place to open their own coffee shop.
Which is what brings us to present day. We step through their old fashioned door – door knob and all. Yuriko looks up with a smile, welcoming us in, she’s playing with their daughter. It’s lovely, very homey here, kind of like visiting family.
We see Mas behind the counter, making coffee for a customer. While we’re waiting, we look at the wall beverage menu. They serve espresso, pour over (Japanese dripper) and cold brew.
When we get to the front, Yuriko sweeps past the patterned curtain, reappearing to take a place next to her husband. With her daughter gripping her leg, she empties a box of Pocky into a glass and pushes it across the counter. She warmly invites us to have some. It never changes: offering something to eat is how you make people feel welcome in your home.
Mike orders a #20 pour over (a steal at $2.75). You can choose from #20 Mild or #24 Bold Strong. Mike curiously asks what the numbers mean. Mas looks straight at him, says it’s how many grams of coffee he’ll brew. That strikes us as amusing, nothing complicated going on here.
I’m tempted to have a Matcha latte ($3.75) today: it’s obvious this is the place to get the real thing. But I’m curious about their coffee, so I order a latte ($3.75).
Mas tells us both drinks will use Handworks’ DICE Medium Blend. As their signature profile, it’s a blend of 100% fair trade and organic beams from Brazil and Honduras.
The counter is crowded with random snacks. Like a homemade convenience store: loaves, tiny cookies under a glass cloche, chocolate covered almonds in foil. We decide on one of each spelt cookie ($0.75): Matcha, Earl Grey, Lemon. I have a taste. They are mildly flavoured, with a slightly crispy exterior.
Mas makes my latte first, on a compact espresso machine. If it was a child’s toy, I’d believe it. He says a small one serves their small space, especially since their specialty is hand poured coffee.
Still, he expertly tamps and pulls the shot, pouring precisely foamed milk into the espresso. It tastes sweet, smooth, balanced.
Mas makes the pour over next. He uses a metal dripper we don’t recognize and he says it’s from Japan. The grind of the beans is very chunky, as he pick up a silver kettle to pour hot water over them. His daughter watches at his elbow, maybe one day she’ll take over the family business.
Handworks is known for their low acidic coffee. In fact, if you find coffee hard to digest, many people say their coffee is easier on the stomach. When asked about this, Mas simply says it’s because he personally prefers to drink that type of coffee.
If you’re wondering, making their coffee just the way they want it, hasn’t been easy. He explains it was hard finding a place that would agree to custom roast their beans, but they finally found Counterpart Coffee, a small roaster based in Squamish. Handworks also custom roasts some beans themselves, creating a process which allows them to closely control quality.
When he’s done, he pours the coffee into a handmade ceramic mug. Mike is surprised at the coffee, which tastes very different from others he’s had. It’s a light coffee with caramel, butter and nuts. Yet it has a thick mouth feel.
As we take a seat in some chairs, Mas heads over with two small glasses. He says it’s a new cold brew he’s been working on and wants to know what we think. (Maybe he’s half mad coffee scientist, half old school barista.)
His cold brew stands out from others, some floral flavours jumping on the tongue. Mas explains he’s added Earl Grey tea to the brew. Mike says that is interesting because the brew is very tea-like.
If you think of the average coffee chain’s workings – fast, predictable, big, impersonal – Handworks Coffee Studio is the exact opposite. This is not your usual cog in the wheel.
This little space proudly occupies a niche. It won’t be everything to everyone. But think about it. Those small secret places, hard as they are to find, are like tiny sparks. They fill the darkness with signs of life.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Handworks Coffee Studio’s DICE Medium Blend
Origin: Brazil and Honduras
Location of roaster: Burnaby & Squamish (Handworks roasts some beans themselves and Squamish’s Counterpart Coffee also custom roasts some beans)
Brewing method: pour over, Japanese metal mesh filter
Roaster’s tasting notes: “The taste is rich and sweet, low in acidity.”
Mike’s comments: “Low acidity. A very light coffee. Flavours of light caramel, almond butter, a little nuttiness. Thick mouth feel. Different from many coffees I’ve had.”
- If you like old fashioned, homey and cozy, this place will feel special to you.
- Superb selection of cult Kalita brewing products.
- Coffee knowledgeable and kind customer service.
- Highly recommended for coffee fans who love slow brew.
- On paper: limited seating and food (simply snacks). But the customer experience translates as something much more.
Seating availability: 2.5/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.25/5
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Want to visit?
7706 6th St, Burnaby (at 13th Ave)
Operating hours currently: Tues (11am-6pm), Wed-Fri (9am-4pm), Sat (10am-5pm), closed Sun/Mon/Stat holidays. Follow their Instagram for updates.