Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“But I can’t speed up the time.”
-Guns N’ Roses (from “Patience”)
The opening of Pacific Coffee Roasters in downtown Vancouver, at the end of April, has been quiet. But my I-spy-coffee-eye happened to spot them, shyly tucked in the spiraling shadow of the central Vancouver Public Library. If you’re in the area bordering Yaletown-downtown, their new flagship café is at Robson and Homer St.
Although their name is unfamiliar to most, Pacific Coffee Roasters’ philosophy stands apart from many roasters. Their philanthropic approach to business is what they call an Earth Alliance program: meaning, a portion of every purchase you make goes toward two local causes close to their heart.
First, 5% of profits from coffee goes to The Pacific Streamkeepers Federation – a non-profit that helps streamkeepers take action through support, education and building partnerships.
Another 5% is donated to The Ancient Forest Alliance, an organization the protects endangered old growth forests and supports sustainable forestry jobs in B.C.
Pacific Coffee Roasters also isn’t a newbie to the coffee business. They’re actually a Delta-based roastery with an Abbotsford café. You might have also seen their organic, fair trade beans at retailers like Save-On-Foods.
What may also impress you about this small independent, is their huge range of beans. Their website features: one light-medium roast, three medium roasts, 17 medium-dark roasts (!) and three dark roasts. In other words, they have lots of interesting flavours to explore.
That got us very interested in visiting their new location – and curious about how Pacific Coffee Roasters would translate into a downtown venue.
This Sunday morning, we walk up Homer Street and immediately see their sandwich board. On Stop 115 of our Search for Vancouver’s Coffee, it points us to a seemingly small coffee shop, with the entrance on Robson St.
However, the outside is misleading. While it’s not a big, they actually occupy a very long and narrow room with a well-thought-out seating areas: bar stools at the window, couches, two-seater tables and a communal table nestled in its own room.
Modern and meticulously clean, it’s bright with light woods, aqua colours and artsy-shaped chairs. Someone must speak coffee, because there’s a shelving unit displaying Chemex brewers, Espro french presses and bagged beans (Sumatra, Peru, Ethiopia, Kenya and Colombia).
The best feature of this place? Several unobstructed views of the downtown: today, it’s sunny, the weekend and perfect for people watching.
And Pacific Coffee Roasters was savvy to get this central location. This is a block that gets a high volume of foot traffic. We join the lineup and observe a very steady stream of customers coming in. Some locals, a lot of tourists, a few business types. Most order an espresso-based drink to go.
There’s two staff behind the counter (one to take orders, the other to work the espresso machine). But it looks like they could use a third staffer to help manage the busy lineup. At times, it seems overwhelming and we kind of feel for them.
We look over their food options, which are limited to baked goods (muffins, scones, croissants, brownies, bars, biscotti) and some pre-made sandwiches. We order a butter croissant and almond croissant.
The beverage selection is complicated with multiple menus: espresso, non-caffeinated, infused espresso, traditional espresso, brewed coffee. Maybe they’re overthinking this. Simply put, they offer: drip, espresso, French Press and pour over (Chemex).
Mike orders a pour over ($4.25) and the young woman tells him it will take about four minutes. That’s a good idea to warn customers. Sometimes people don’t realize it takes longer to make than other coffees. And in this area, grab-and-go coffee seems be what customers are expecting. When we ask, she says they rarely get an order for pour over.
I order a Spanish latte ($3.95, 12 oz). She’s friendly and presents us a card for one free coffee beverage with any purchase. She tells us we can use it right away – it’s nice my latte is free – and then gives back the card so we can use it again.
When we ask which beans they use in our drinks, she says the pour over is Sumatra and my latte is espresso. Later, we lookup Pacific Coffee Roasters’ website and figure out they’re using Heritage Espresso Fairtrade Organic (bold, heavy body) as espresso. It would have been helpful, and good promotion for their brand, if she knew the name of their coffee.
She gives us our pastries that have been plated. The other staffer pushes my finished latte across the counter. She asks us to take a seat and the pour over will be done shortly.
We head for the communal table with our pastries. The croissants are okay and somewhat forgettable. They would have tasted better warmed, which wouldn’t have taken too long for them to heat in between customers.
Unfortunately, my Spanish latte doesn’t have milk with the right foamy consistency. The latte art bleeds and falls apart in the coffee. However, I find the coffee flavour delicious: very pleasant and mellow.
After a while, we’re checking the time. So begins our wait for Mike’s pour over. What was originally described as a four minute pour over turns into a painful 30 minute wait. The two staff are having trouble managing a busy crowd.
While it’s hard to get pour over done properly in this kind of environment, they could have poured the hot water over the dripper in between serving customers and other tasks. We’ve seen this done at other coffee shops. And while it’s not ideal – it’s certainly not a pretty experience – the barista survives by getting the job done in minutes.
Also heartbreaking: the barista brews the pour over behind the counter, next to their kitchen sink. With her back to you, you’re not getting a dedicated view of the slow brew.
On a positive note, they fulfill the technical steps of executing Chemex: cleaning the paper filter with hot water, freshly grinding the beans, monitoring the scale and using the right temperature water. Mike also enjoys the Sumatra, commenting on its low acidity and spicy flavour.
Our visit comes to the finish line when we bring our empty cups and plates to the counter. The young woman’s face is the last thing I remember. Her words are, thank you. But her expression, sorry.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Pacific Coffee Roasters’ Sumatra Fairtrade Organic
Location of roaster: Delta, B.C.
Brewing method: Chemex pour over. paper filter
Roaster’s tasting notes: “Full bodied, floral, with spicy tones, low acidity, very good aroma, and a sweeter cup.”
Mike’s comments: Spicy dark roast with floral and caramel flavours. Long, clean taste with low acidity.
- Chance to experience a new coffee roaster. We like the variety of profiles available and would be interested in trying more.
- Like that they offer a variety of brewing techniques (espresso, drip, French Press, Chemex) which isn’t common downtown.
- Modern, very clean venue with pleasant views of downtown. Good variety of seating available.
- Cheap thrill: free latte using a coupon.
- Half hour wait for pour over. Less patient customers would have left. This would have been the perfect time to not charge for coffee.
- Pour over process is hidden, behind the counter.
- Limited food options.
Seating availability: 4.5/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 3.88/5
Subscribe to Blog via Email
Want to visit?
Unit 101, 345 Robson St (near Homer Street at Vancouver Public Library)
Temporary soft opening hours: Mon-Thur 7:30am-8pm, Fri 7:30am-11pm, Sat 8am-11pm, Sun 9am-8pm. Follow their Facebook for updates.