Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn.”
-Aerosmith (from “Dream On”)
On our first ever café “test drive”, we were on these same blocks, drinking coffee outside on Commercial Drive. Instead of a picturesque experience – like enjoying the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee – we were seated beside a gentleman in a BC Lions jersey, defiantly chain smoking under a clearly marked, non-smoking sign.
A year later, some things haven’t changed. For one, this unique anti-establishment neighbourhood remains Mike’s favourite place to visit. Maybe this strip has slightly gentrified over the years. But beneath the surface? It’s the same reassuringly undiluted, take-it-or-leave-it attitude that’s the never-boring signature of East Van.
On Stop 60 of our weekly Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, we’re at busy intersection of Commercial and 1st Avenue, visiting The Drive Coffee Bar, a new café that just opened in late 2015. If you’re not familiar with them, they are the same owners of Commercial Drive Coffee. (We recognize their bagged coffee from the coffee aisle of our local London Drugs.)
As we pass a small street level patio, we push open the door to a sweet looking coffee shop. The walls of this long narrow café sport colourful work by artist Paul Gent. There’s bright red iron chairs, wooden tables and a little bench at the back. Although it’s early, many seats are taken by locals reading the paper. The Drive Coffee Bar is comfortable and modern at the same time, which isn’t an easy design feat.
As we head for the long counter at the side, a staffer greets us warmly. They serve drip and espresso brewed drinks, with most having a unique option of small, medium or large size.
Mike orders a medium Americano ($3.25) and I have a small latte ($3.75). When he asks what profile they are using, she tells us it’s their regular medium roast. Commercial Drive Coffee carries a few medium roasts, but we think this is the Continental Medium Roast. It would have helped if she brought over a bag of their coffee or told us the name of their profile.
For food, they have a good selection of Italian pastries – torta, tiramisu, cannoli – which is a refreshing change from our norm. Besides that, there’s café standards like cakes, muffins and loaves. For savoury: wraps, sandwiches and breakfast wraps.
We ask for her breakfast recommendation and she suggests something authentically Italian – the tiramisu ($4.99). She mentions that they buy from the Drive’s legendary La Grotta Del Formaggio. We go with her suggestion and add a big chocolate dipped biscotti.
She tells us she’ll bring our drinks to the table. As we take a seat, more locals drop by. We overhear conversation and find the two staffers are consistently friendly and outgoing, always asking how customers are doing.
Our drinks arrive. Mike finds his coffee is not his type: one-note, very dark, with not a lot of dimension. I also find my latte very strong tasting in dark coffee. Mike says this could be because I ordered a small latte with more coffee than normal, proportionate to milk, than one that would be served in a larger cup. The texture of the milk is very good – dense, creamy – although I wish there was more of it in my drink. We agree that in both drinks, the medium roast coffee tastes like a dark roast.
We sink our forks into the tiramisu and it wows us with its creaminess, deep coffee flavour and freshness. The biscotti oddly spongy, with a dry texture.
The staffer passes by our table and asks us how we’re doing.
Mike says he’s going to the back of the room to get a closer look at some of the art. He doesn’t come back for several minutes. When he returns, he explains some friendly locals were talking to him about a particular piece of art he was looking at. I don’t think you’ll find another neighbourhood as genuine as this.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.
Price: $3.25 (medium)
Brewing method: Americano
Roaster’s tasting notes: none available online
Mike’s comments: Low acidity, a very dark roast, nutty chocolaty taste and some burnt wood notes. Thought it lacked depth of flavour.
- Local art, Italian atmosphere. Welcoming and eclectic.
- Friendly and proactive service.
- Lots of seating.
- Authentic Italian food made on the Drive is a strong feature.
- We can’t speak for everybody, but this style of dark coffee wasn’t our personal preference.
Seating availability: 4.5/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.38/5
Want to visit?
1670 Commercial Drive
Operating hours here.