Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“Hang the sign upon the door.”
-The System (from “Don’t Disturb This Groove”)
Modus Coffee opened a few weeks ago in Mount Pleasant – a feat that did not get accomplished overnight. After other possible locations fell through, young owners Sharif and Jessica persisted before finally landing their current location at West Broadway and Manitoba.
Judging by its previous life, this space seems a bit unlucky in that it seems nothing has stuck. One year, it was a bubble tea shop. And previous to Modus Coffee, it was a deli. By the way, whomever those Italian owners were, they were in a real hurry to get to the exit. The evidence: abandoned shelves of extra virgin olive oil, canned San Marzano tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, pesto, dried figs, artichoke pâté, olives, tomato paste, truffle salts, etc.
Instead of hauling the condiments home for years of consumption, this is what they did. Called into action, Modus Coffee launched a 2-day fire sale alert on Twitter for $2 per bottle: “Don’t ask why just take advantage of this exotic deal [insert crying/laughing emoticon]. I’ll be here. Tell your buddies.”
Resourceful thinking seems to come second nature to these guys. When they needed to raise $20k for renos, equipment and green coffee beans – well, maybe in the old days you’d dial up your banker on a rotary phone, show up in your best suit and plead for a loan – but with modern ingenuity, Modus Coffee went a step further.
They started a crowdfunding campaign. In exchange for contributing money towards their project, Modus Coffee offered customers perks. This ranged from a coffee card (for a $20 donation) to booking their space for your own event (for chipping in $500).
By the way, Modus Coffee isn’t just creative in the area of financing. That modern wooden bench along the wall? Yes, they made that too.
More than that, they also handled their own renos. Fortunately, the previous space had an existing kitchen layout that worked for them. So they saved by using the existing footprint and using their budget (plus sweat equity) to give the space their personal touch. Even those tiles along the high ceiling were installed by Sharif getting up on a ladder.
That retro pink wall behind the counter will be a conversation starter, but don’t make assumptions. It was Sharif’s left-field idea and Jessica finally warmed up. As if to prove it, a phone comes out of Sharif’s pocket. He passes it over to us to show a dark “before” photo of the same wall painted black. That was just too “office-y” for our taste, he explains.
On Stop 138 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, you may not have heard of them but Modus Coffee has actually been around a little while. As a specialty micro roaster, they’ve been working hard to get their name out. Maybe you’ve seen them pouring AeroPress at farmers’ markets, operating a pop-up at Push Pull Café, or just recently, networking with coffee folks at Railtown’s Beanstock Coffee Festival.
It’s raining when we come in and see them greet us. They ask where we came from and we say from outside Vancouver. Graciously, they thank us for coming in to check them out. Sharif (who BTW has a striking resemblance to goalie Roberto Luongo) says he has to step out but will come back.
This early, there aren’t any customers but us. So we can take our time reviewing the coffee menu on a clipboard. They serve espresso and pour over. Off the mark, it’s nice to see specialty coffee that’s competitively priced.
Mike is interested in pour over and Jessica reviews his four choices: Dom (Colombia), Latif (Tanzania), Bare (Brazil) and Opus (Kenya). Modus Coffee’s beans are all single origin and light to medium roast.
As she explains, Dom (raw cacao, nougat, subtle roasted fruit, mellow) and Bare (cinnamon, malt, mulled spice, raw cane, honeys) are similar in that they’re more approachable and easy to drink.
Latif (fruited and full, juicy, colorful, easy on the acidity) and Opus (delicate and tea-like, tropical fruits, floral sweetness) are also alike in that they are both tea-like.
Her explanation is helpful. What you see here is something very deliberate. They focus on carrying a short, curated (and not overwhelmingly huge) selection of beans.
Mike orders the Latif in pour over ($4.25). Note: As of Jan 2/18, pour overs are $4.
All pour overs are 12 oz. If you’d like a larger size coffee, they have 16 oz for take out.
I order a latte ($4.25) and they’re using the Dom for their espresso. If you’re wondering, any profile in their lineup can be used for espresso or pour over.
For tea drinkers, all of their teas are by Cultivate. We’re glad to see them support a Vancouver company and Jessica says it’s important to them to help other local businesses. In fact, that philosophy also applies to their food. Their chocolates are sourced by Gastown’s East Van Roasters.
Plus they carry a small but beautifully curated selection of pastry made by baker Danny McCash of Mainstay Kitchen. His kitchen is inside Mount Pleasant’s The American, where he creates baking for local East Van eateries. He’s made a name for himself: we remember he made bread for Prado at one time and it was very good.
Danny’s cookies and scones are laid out on a sheet of parchment. We order a kimchi scone ($3.75), pistachio cookie ($2.25) and chocolate ganache cup ($2.75). She asks if we mind having the cookie and ganache cup on the same plate, which we think is considerate. The plates slide over and we can’t help but try them out.
Every bite is intense and flavourful. The kimchi scone has a building heat that we don’t expect, but it’s delicious. The pistachio cookie is a flower-shaped sandwich cookie stuffed with jam, and has a dusting of finely chopped pistachio. Perfectly airy and buttery, it’s lovely. The ganache cup, a tart filled with chocolate, is my favourite. The rich chocolate is balanced by a savoury crust.
Jessica begins making the latte at their La Marzocco espresso machine. She does a good job foaming the milk, and pours the drink in a handmade ceramic mug from Japan. I like the mellow cocoa and deep fruity flavours.
Then she starts on the pour over, which is a Kalita ceramic dripper on top of a glass server. We’re fans of Kalita products (they’re not that common in cafés) so it’s nice to see them used here.
That’s when we notice the smartest design element of Modus Coffee, their barista bar. We take a seat at the bar stools so customers can converse with the barista and watch them make drinks.
Open and positive, Jessica says she used to work at Rocanini. Her experience in the coffee industry shows. When she talks about her favourite Modus Coffee, the description of flavours is articulate and thoughtful.
Not that you can expect just coffee talk around here. Pointing out the tiles wrapped around the counter, she asks if we can spot the imperfections in their DIY project. We compare notes on the frantic, panic-filled process of applying mortar before it sets and dries.
When Sharif returns, he joins us and learning more about Modus Coffee and the process behind their beans. It’s clear this is a guy with a technical knowledge about coffee and could spend hours discussing it.
Since they don’t have the luxury to personally visit coffee farms overseas – like the bigger roasters in Vancouver can – Modus Coffee purchases specialty green beans from a few carefully screened coffee importers. Then Modus Coffee roasts once a week on their 3 kg roaster in East Van.
If you want to learn more, we recommend checking out their website. Sharif’s the author of Modus Coffee’s straightforward posts which hit the mark at demystifying exactly what specialty coffee is. As he explains, it comes down to how the bean is graded. On a 100 point scale, specialty coffee is 80 and above. Modus Coffee’s philosophy is they will never buy a bean lower than 86.
Mike tries his coffee and really enjoys it. It’s a sweet, light brew with a juicy tropical fruit taste. If you lean towards easy-to-drink coffees with only slight acidity, this is worth a try.
In conversation, they also share that Sharif recently went on a trip to Japan to tour the coffee scene. As Jessica describes, they both have a great admiration for all things Japan and maybe how that culture takes care with all that they do.
At one point, they even thought about the possibility of opening their café in Japan. With how things worked out, perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Modus Coffee’s Latif
Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.
Price: $4.25 (12 oz)
Brewing method: pour over, Kalita Ceramic Dripper 102
Roaster’s tasting notes: “Fruited and full, juicy, colorful, easy on the acidity.”
Mike’s comments: Sweet tropical fruit flavour, light and easy to drink. Slight acidity.
- Welcoming and charming owners. Coffee knowledgeable service.
- Pour over bar with ringside seating. Specialty coffee is competitively priced.
- Artisan pastries that are special little bites.
- None: big impression that they fill the niche of a micro roaster that makes specialty coffee approachable.
Seating availability: 4/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.56/5
Subscribe to Blog via Email
Want to visit?
112 West Broadway (at Manitoba St)
Operating hours here.