Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“Turn it on.”
-Toronto (from “Your Daddy Don’t Know”)
Toronto-based Quantum Coffee just opened their second location, stretching their legs into downtown Vancouver at Granville & West Hastings. For the coffee-curious, this is a must-try. Simply because you gotta check out what we’re calling A.I.B. (aka Artificially Intelligent Barista).
With only twenty machines operating in the world, this Vancouver location is home to just the second Poursteady in Canada. Ahead of its time, Quantum Coffee’s flagship café on Queen St also introduced this country’s first in 2015.
If you’re unfamiliar, the revolutionary Poursteady is a high-tech machine that achieves precise automated pour overs with the touch of a button. At the same time, it’s scarily simple. No joke, if you know how to use a tablet, anybody can do this.
It looks easy, with a staffer leaning over the counter to show Mike how they program pour over “recipes” on an iPad. Amazingly, you can set the speed, size and shape of the spiraling water being poured.
A year ago, if you had asked me what I thought about this Brooklyn-based gadget, I would have been wary of technology that could replace a barista. But with time, my mind has opened to possibilities.
Today, there’s a place for smart technology in the right market, which can satisfy the demands of a business and customer. This might be the hero that saves you from a sour experience. After all, it’s sad when you want to support an independent café, but end up disappointed. (ie. How about a painfully long wait, then subpar coffee?)
What better place to test out this theory – that a barista machine can be a potential solution – than in our very own busy downtown?
No question, Poursteady is made to serve a crowd with up to five drippers fitting in the machine.
But what impresses us most about Poursteady, is the fact that it allows a café to personalize coffee to how they like it. Besides detailed water programming, they control other variables, like which roaster and dripper to use (ie. V60, Chemex, Kalita Wave etc). Plus, the barista still grinds the beans separately.
It’s Thanksgiving Sunday when we head to Quantum Coffee on Stop 131 of our Search for Vancouver’s Coffee. We drive. But if you jump on Skytrain, it can’t get any more convenient. They’re just steps from the entrance to Waterfront Station on Granville.
And similar to Toronto, Quantum Coffee in Vancouver is located inside BrainStation. This building is one several worldwide satellite campuses that teach digital skills. So you might see some students enter Quantum Coffee, then disappear down a hallway at the back.
This morning, we push open glass doors to a large, airy space with high ceilings. It’s bright and modern. First thing we notice is how tall the windows are, facing out to Granville. It’s clear weather, so we get a regal view of the Birks heritage building across the street.
Take a seat and you may notice there’s less foot traffic outside on weekends. Downtown is the busiest on weekdays when people commute to work. Still, Granville is a street with growth potential, as one of the busiest corridors serving as a bus loop.
With its tech home, Quantum Coffee prides itself on being a sort of creative hub: that’s an idea also implied in their shared seating arrangements. A customer passes us and opens his laptop at their communal table. There’s also a round table with chairs in a corner.
White and V-shaped, their counter looks innovative and beautiful. Angular points stick out 3-D, like their logo’s origami-like symbol, come to life.
Behind it are three staff: one is cashier, a second is barista at the espresso machine and the third is barista for pour overs. Later in our visit, two more employees arrive, so they’re more than adequately staffed for a small operation.
We peruse the pastries first, which look appetizing and professionally done: their website says they cater. There’s croissants (ham & cheese, chocolate, almond); banana coconut loaf (vegan); muffins (apple crumble, pumpkin walnut spice, berry chai, parmesan sun-dried tomato); and cookies (cranberry coconut pecan, chocolate).
We order the pumpkin walnut spice muffin ($3.60), almond croissant ($4.60) and mini banana coconut loaf ($3.60). Prices lean on the high end.
Tea drinkers will appreciate their tea menu. Pick from a dozen choices from Harney & Sons: classified as seasonal, black, green and herbal.
For coffee, there’s drip, espresso, pour over (Hario V60) and cold brew. For something different, they have a regularly rotating drink feature called Quantum Planck (prices vary). A staffer describes the current one which sounds good with fruit flavour. Since it’s cold today, we pass on it since it’s iced.
Instead, Mike orders a pour over. Prices vary according to the bean you choose. He has a choice of four on their daily fresh sheet. There’s two from Quantum Coffee (also a roaster): Brazil Peaberry ($3.50) or Ethiopia Yirgacheffe ($5).
We love that they also have a featured roaster that is rotated regularly. Just check out their clipboard.
Today, we also have two choices from Montreal’s Saint-Henri Micro-Torréfacteur: Nicaragua Las Termopilas ($5) or Kenya Gathaithi ($5.25). Mike opts for Saint Henri’s Nicaraguan coffee (apricot, orange blossom, chocolate milk, vanilla, caramel).
I order a latte ($4.50). When I ask which bean they use on espresso, she helpfully brings a bag from their shelf. It’s Quantum Coffee’s signature house roast, Riserva Espresso (ripe fig, toffee, buttery finish). That’s one of four house roasts in Quantum’s collection.
They put two stamps on a coffee loyalty card and you get the tenth coffee free. It’s made of brown cardboard which is earth-friendly. Other green thoughts: customers can sort their garbage conscientiously here: compost, paper, plastic or waste.
Most of all, kudos to Quantum Coffee for choosing to roast beans with technology that uses almost 80% less carbon dioxide emissions and fuel than other roasters.
They plate our food immediately. None of it is heated, which is too bad. The almond croissant is very good, with a delicious almond cream filling. It’s crispy with sliced almonds and flaky texture.
Their pumpkin walnut spice muffin is pretty good. The taste of pumpkin and seasonal spice comes through, and the crunch of nuts on top is pleasant. We find the vegan banana coconut loaf is passable, but not memorable.
One barista starts my latte right away; so yes, you still get espresso drinks made by hand. Friendly, he briefly chats about Quantum Coffee, which is great because not many people around here will know their story.
I like their sharp-looking, silver Victoria Arduino espresso machine. He’s efficiently steams the milk to perfectly thick texture and pours good latte art. Their cup and saucer are stylishly stamped with their gold quantum logo, like a little lightning bolt.
I have a sip and it’s surprisingly complex. It’s a medium-dark roast, but not bitter, slightly smoky with buttery finish.
At the same time, the other barista is making Mike’s V60. Aesthetically, the Poursteady machine looks like a larger, fancy pour over stand. No corners are cut here. Quantum Coffee uses all-copper Haro V60 drippers in their machine, which is as about as luxe as you can get.
The machine requires a good amount of counter space, but it’s not a monster. You can still see the barista’s face when they’re behind it and it’s virtually silent when in use. Hot water drips from a little tube into the V60 dripper, through the hole in the shelf, then into the mug below it. It’s a steady stream, then a pause before more pours begin, all following the programming on a tablet.
When Mike has a taste, he’s taken aback. Delicious with clear flavours and very well balanced. Then I hear him comment this is actually better than some – but not a lot of – pour overs by baristas.
Contrary to the sophisticated tech here, I find what’s most memorable about Quantum Coffee, is their humans. Maybe oddly, they seem happy to be working here despite the long weekend shift.
In coming years, undoubtably A.I.B. is heading for great success, like a starship rocketing into cosmic orbit. But there’s no need to be concerned; don’t panic and put your baristas on life support yet. Because from my planetary view, some things still can’t be replicated.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Saint-Henri Micro-Torréfacteur’s Nicaragua Las Termopilas
Location of roaster: Montreal, QC
Price: $5 (price varies according to bean chosen)
Brewing method: pour over with Hario V60 copper dripper, using Poursteady machine
Roaster’s tasting notes: “Apricot, orange blossom, chocolate milk, vanilla, caramel.”
Mike’s comments: Well balanced with a blend of sweet blackberries and milk chocolate. Flavours came through clearly. Slight acidity that was not overwhelming. Surprised it was better than some pour overs I’ve had from baristas.
- Learning about a Vancouver first, the Poursteady. The “human touch” here was memorable with warm service.
- Luxe, artisan drinks – from both human and machine. Surprising variety of curated beans to try.
- Upscale decor and a feeling they’ve spared no expense.
- Deliberate eco-consciousness: from how they roast beans to how the customer can sort their garbage.
- Prices on the high side.
Seating availability: 3.5/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.38/5
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Want to visit?
455 Granville St (at West Hastings St)
Operating hours: M-F 7am-7pm, Sat-Sun 8am-7pm. Follow their Instagram for updates.