Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“Chasing the clouds away.”
-Earth, Wind & Fire (from “September”)
Closing in on Kitsilano’s Storm City Coffee, Mike points out Waterloo St. Automatically, I make a left, straighten out the wheel, but a moment too late, he says watch out. A speed bump, hidden under a carpet of fallen leaves, makes my car jump up sharply.
Times like this, I forget that my better half knows these blocks so well that his brain is a map of every curve and irregularity in these tree lined streets. For about a decade, Mike worked in Kits.
Which basically translated to a grinding hour-long commute – weaving between cyclists, buses and high traffic – that definitely summoned up some inventive shortcuts through side streets.
On Stop 142 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, he’s got a back pocket route, no GPS required, which we take for old times’ sake. Minutes later, we’re flying along Great Northern Way in East Van. Here’s a long road that has a metamorphosis in numbers. First it becomes East 2nd, turns into West 2nd, then West 6th, finally completing its transformation into West 4th Ave.
Turning left at Waterloo (look for McBride Park), just a handful of blocks later we arrive at the back door of West Broadway. Right on the corner we spot Storm City Coffee. Here is a new business that replaces the short lived, Italian Papillon Café.
We duck in, as rain falls. Storm City Coffee is bright with crisp white furniture and more striking windows than bare walls. It’s also surprisingly spacious: with seating for about thirty, pick from two-seat tables, bar stools at the window, or a communal table.
For all its steely grey modernity, Storm City Coffee has personality. A mural of a wintry mountain takes up a whole wall, hinting at our local skiing, snowboarding and hiking.
That rustic ten-foot long table, benches and coffee hutch are all custom made by Jordan Alicandro of Abbotsford. Interestingly, the idea for Alicandro’s Custom Furniture began with his wife’s simple question, “Honey, can you make this for me?”
Storm City Coffee just celebrated its three month anniversary. This Sunday morning, it’s quiet with a dad and his kids having breakfast. We head for the counter, where there are three staff: one is barista, a second is in the kitchen assembling sandwiches and a third greets us from behind a stylish counter wrapped in narrow wood planks.
The showstopper? A shiny copper back splash showcases their monster espresso machine, a Black Eagle V388 Victoria Arduino. Aesthetically, this beauty might be better placed on the front counter, so you can see its distinctly angular profile. Just a thought, that an espresso machine placed along the back wall gives customers an impersonal view of the barista’s back while they make your drink.
Delicious smells waft from the kitchen. Which leads to the big plus that Storm City Coffee makes all their food from scratch. As their website states, they have a small business making cookies, scones and cakes.
But regularly rotating cream puffs of various fillings – for example, raspberry white chocolate, Irish Cream, Nutella, strawberry mousse, Matcha – are their signature. A sign on the counter boasts of puffs, but we’re sad to see the puff display case underneath is empty this early.
In any case, if you’re confident you can consume a steady diet of these beauties, check out their cream puff card. Similar to a coffee card, eat 10 and get the 11th free. Tip: Receive double the stamps when you post their cream puff on Instagram and tag them. Check out their social media where they sometimes alert customers to a 2-for-1 puffs deal.
Still, from what we see in their display, there are other promising choices: Ultimate Chocolate Cookies ($3), Sweet Potato Pound Cake ($3.75), Bacon & Cheddar Scones ($4), Earl Grey Currant Scones ($4), Chocolate Cranberry Scones ($4) and Lemon Scone ($4). I’m not a huge muffin fan, but I like how they get creative and inject some local espresso (JJ Bean) in their Banana Mocha Swirl.
There’s also two house baked sandwiches (they make their own biscuits): Herbed Goat Cheese, Arugula & House Pickled Onion Biscuit Sandwich ($11) and Bacon, Cheddar, Egg & Kimchi Mayo Biscuit Sandwich ($11). Flavours sound creative and everything looks appealing, though prices seem high. If you’re looking for a deal, they offer a biscuit sandwich plus a brewed coffee for $6.
Some health conscious options include Chia Coconut Pudding with cranberry apple compote and toasted almonds. Also, their small batch Granola (served with Greek yogurt and raspberry coulis) is made of almonds, coconut flakes, sesame seeds and sweetened with honey, maple syrup and fresh squeezed orange juice.
With all these options, we ask the staffer what she recommends. She’s very friendly, and reflects on the choices. Personally, she confesses she’s a scone fan and points out their savoury scone with Bacon & Cheddar ($4). Mike says he’ll have that. I decide to try the Sweet Potato Pound Cake ($3.75) which sounds out of the ordinary.
For coffee, they serve Vancouver’s JJ Bean Coffee Roasters. Prices for their beans here are actually the same, if you bought these beans on JJ Bean’s website or in-store, which makes this is a convenient place for Kits locals to buy beans.
The beverage menu is on clipboards: they offer drip, espresso and French Press. Prices are slightly higher than other independent cafés in Kits. For example, Mike’s interested in trying his coffee as French Press. If you’re a JJ Bean fan, you may know this is the recommended brewing method for their beans.
Unfortunately, Storm City Coffee only offers it in the massive 34 oz ($10) which their menu describes as “great for sharing”. It’s too bad they don’t offer French Press in an individual serving.
So Mike orders a cortado ($3.60) and I have a latte $4.10 (8 oz) which we’re told will use JJ Bean’s Eastside profile. The staffer says it’s a coffee they highly recommend. They slide our drinks across the counter and tell us they’ll bring our food to our seats.
Mike comments that he likes the thick walled glass that holds his cortado. The design keeps the drink hot, plus the short glass shows off the beautifully graduated shading of espresso blended with creamy milk. We like the bright white heart sketched with perfectly steamed milk.
My latte is in a silky notNeutral cup and saucer. Eastside is a blend of beans from Guatemala, Ethiopia, Sumatra. We’d describe it as a bean with low acidity and full bodied taste. This is not a sweet coffee, and the roast leans on the darker side. A lot of bakery cafés seem to serve this type of coffee, perhaps to let the sweetness of their pastries do the talking.
I try the Sweet Potato Pound Cake which has a kind of rich savoury-sweet flavour. It has a healthy ingredient with sweet potato (it also makes a moist interior) which I like. But truthfully, the thick slather of icing with crispy walnuts is the most satisfying part.
Mike says the Bacon and Cheddar Scone is nice and moist on the inside. And it probably sets the record for the most bacon bits in any scone, ever. Actually I should mention. When we order the scone, the staffer’s tongs hover over the case, paused.
Can I say how much I love this moment of kindness, and just plain good service – as she looks up and asks nicely if we’d like this one, with extra bacon bits? No kidding, it’s early days still. But this one seems to have a head up, ready to handle what’s coming. No matter what bumps lie ahead in the road.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: JJ Bean Coffee Roasters’ Eastside (organic)
Origin: Guatemala, Ethiopia, Sumatra
Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.
Brewing method: Cortado (espresso and milk)
Roaster’s tasting notes: “Chocolate, fruit, full-bodied. Also makes a satisfying, complex drip coffee.”
Mike’s comments: Right balance of milk to coffee and the correct temperature. Dark chocolate flavour, pleasantly thick mouth feel.
- Thoughtful and friendly service that comes from a small, independent operation.
- All food is made in-house at a high standard: make a note to try the cream puffs. They do a good job of crafting their drinks too.
- Modern decor with good seating availability.
- Prices are on high side, though we’ve heard they’ve revised (and lowered) some prices recently.
Seating availability: 4.5/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.56/5
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3403 West Broadway (at Waterloo St)
Operating hours here.