Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“Where you go, I go.”
-Adele (from “Skyfall”)
Republica Coffee Roasters’ new downtown location – just opening a few weeks ago – actually replaces the previous tenants, a spy store. While someone out there is going to have to shop elsewhere for their wiretapping equipment, the rest of should be thanking the (land)lord.
Because honestly, if you’re looking for a good local roaster, these guys should be one under your surveillance.
In 2016, Republica Coffee won a Small Business B.C. award for Best International Trade, which recognizes them for the socially responsible practices they exercise in their business. That includes the owners individually visiting 54 countries to find the best fairly traded coffee beans.
But they’re more than focused on doing good with their business. In our opinion, they are one of the most consistent at roasting fresh coffee. If you order online or head to their stores, the roast dates on their bags are as scarily recent as the day before.
Wondering if their coffees are for you? Yes, light roasted coffee is on trend. But maybe you’re a traditionalist. If so, Republica understands you and the huge market looking for medium to dark roast beans, and a barely detectable acidity.
What’s really shocking is how affordable their beans are, for the quality you get. Online, it’s only $18/lb (plus free shipping anywhere in the Lower Mainland). In their downtown café, we found it’s an even better bargain with most profiles at $15/lb.
On Stop 110 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, we’re excited to check out their new location on West Pender, between Homer and Hamilton. We’ve visited their Langley roastery before. So we’re curious to see how a downtown café will translate.
It’s Sunday morning downtown, which is quiet without the crush of the Monday-to-Friday commuters. We walk along West Pender, scanning the buildings.
Finally we spot Republica’s sandwich board outside. This is key, as the outside of their coffee shop still has the old Spy Zone sign hanging on the building. There’s also steel security bars wrapping the windows, which conceals the view of a coffee shop inside.
The door is open. Two employees wearing Republica logo t-shirts greet us. We recognize one of the founding owners of the roaster, Ricardo Masana, behind the counter. He’s distracted. It looks like he’s fixing an appliance that’s giving him problems. Perhaps the other owner, Hiro Tsujimoto, is in Langley running their roastery.
We like the stylish feel of this location. The brick walls add warmth and character to a room filled with modern pale wood. For seating, there’s a few communal tables. Plus, there’s bar stool seating at the window and at a long counter along the wall.
The far end of the room is a chalkboard wall scrawled with charming drawings of different brewing methods: French Press, Chemex, siphon, Moka Pot.
What also attracts the eye is a large shelving unit with a very diverse selection of their beans. It’s a big surprise: on the spot, we decide we’ll be coming back. It’s reason enough to return to buy some profiles we have yet to explore.
We scan the beverage menu on the wall. Mike asks if they make Chemex – thinking the chalk drawing might indicate a range of brewing options. The young woman says no; they only serve espresso and drip brew.
For espresso, there’s a choice between two medium-dark profiles: Diabolique (Brazil, Colombia, PNG, Indonesia) and Terra Azure (Costa Rica). He orders an Americano ($2.50, small), which is a good deal. It will use Diabolique (caramel, Belgian chocolate, candied fruit).
I decide on a tea latte and she says they offer it as either Chai (Bombay or Spicy Chai) or London Fog. She’s friendly and recommends I try the Spicy Chai Latte.
Earlier, I saw they sell jars of Vancouver’s Aslan Chai, which I’ve had before at The Capilano Tea House. In my experience, the straightforward heat of the black pepper is very good. She confirms they use Aslan in their Spicy Chai Latte ($3.25), so that’s what I order.
If you’d like to explore their coffee lattes, they also make a Maple Latte ($4) and Spanish Latte ($4). Similar to their Langley roastery, they have a broad selection (10 types) of agave syrups to flavour your drinks for an additional $.50.
We remember visiting their Langley roastery and being told they don’t serve food. They do serve food at this location, but choices are limited to a few cookies and muffins.
South Hill’s Japanese-based Baker & Table Café makes Republica’s baked goods. Mike asks if they serve anything else besides pastries – in case we’re missing anything – and she tells us no.
We decide on a chocolate chip cookie ($2) and chocolate & cream cheese muffin ($3).
We take a seat by the window, which has a pleasant sunny view of West Pender, if you can look past the security bars.
Our cookie comes in a paper bag and the muffin is presented on a paper plate. For eating in, it’s a bit odd; though it’s likely they just don’t have the physical room for dishwasher. Both muffin and cookie taste fine, though not particularly memorable.
Our drinks arrive in paper cups – again, exactly like their Langley location – which surprises us. We’d like to see their drinks in proper cups, just because their quality deserves better presentation.
Mike says his coffee is good and strong – dark chocolaty and nutty. He comments how consistent Republica is with their blends. I don’t find my Chai latte very spicy. It’s a little too sweet, and I expected a drink that was more balanced.
We watch the foot traffic go by, it’s getting very busy. There’s a bus stop right in front, with a steady rhythm of buses appearing, disappearing. People are heading to UBC, Robson, Stanley Park, Dunbar.
A particular bus pulls out front, and a passenger steps out. He pokes a head inside our door. His booming voice calls out to no-one in particular, “Welcome to the neighbourhood!”
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Republica Coffee Roasters’ Diabolique Premium European Espresso
Origin: Brazil, Colombia, PNG, Indonesia
Location of roaster: Langley, B.C.
Price: $2.50 (small)
Brewing method: Americano
Roaster’s tasting notes: “Buttery caramel, dark Belgian chocolate and candied fruit.”
Mike’s comments: Dark chocolate, molasses sweetness, nuttiness, deliciously long and bitter aftertaste, low acidity.
- Very convenient downtown location to get Republica Coffee, whether to order a drink or to buy beans.
- If you love medium to dark beans, you won’t find many that are this affordable. It’s also cheaper to buy in the cafe than ordering online.
- Nice modern design. Would love to see the bars removed from their windows, which obscures much of the view.
- Highly recommend as a solid place to get consistent coffee.
- Lack of food options is a let down, which reminds us that their first priority is to be a quality roaster.
- Sorry to see disposable cups, though maybe there’s limitations we’re not aware of.
Seating availability: 4/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.25/5
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321 W. Pender St, Vancouver
Operating hours currently: M-Sun 10am-6pm. Follow their Instagram for updates.