Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“It starts with one thing.”
-Linkin Park (from “In the End”)
At the new Timbertrain Coffee Depot in East Van, we end up talking with a group of fully kitted out roadies. The Depot looks a lot like a high end garage. Which makes it all the more appropriate that their expensive carbon bikes are safely parked inside, leaning against a concrete wall.
Timbertrain Coffee Depot is their pit stop of choice this morning for a leisurely breakfast. We ask where they’re headed. They pause in between bites of flaky pastry. Maybe Burnaby Mountain, or Seymour Demonstration Forest, or downtown, we’ll see where this day goes.
That conversation is telling. Because when people hear about where this café is located, might think first – why open here?
At first glance, Timbertrain Coffee Depot is off the beaten track. Walk these blocks and find a mixed residential (mostly older homes) and industrial (think metalwork and restaurant supply businesses) neighbourhood.
Although hidden, it’s not hard to get here. The easiest way? Start from Clark Drive, turn in at Frances St, continue two blocks. When you see McLean Drive, turn left and find Timbertrain Coffee Depot at 551 McLean Drive.
But those roadies make a good point. This is actually a central centrepoint that’s pretty accessible to downtown, North Van, surrounding communities. And the business rent? Likely more affordable then many neighbourhoods already densely populated with coffee shops.
On Stop 124 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, we spot Timbertrain Coffee Depot’s sandwich board and a big grid of windows, just like an auto body shop. We enter and are surprised to find a brisk lineup of early birds.
This is a weekday morning and the crowd is primarily 20-something: young professionals on the way to work, a skateboarder with a customized board, well dressed students and plenty of cyclists. It’s an interesting mix which gives this place a good energy.
If you’ve been to Timbertrain’s Gastown café, you may have expectations you’ll get the same things at this East Van location.
Actually, it’s not the same thing. Which is refreshing because you get the distinct message this is a new project where they want to experiment, work on #coffeegoals. It’s also a smart concept. Simply because customers in East Van are different from the downtown crowd.
One big difference from their other location? They don’t offer pour over here which has long been a signature of their Gastown location. For explanation, we ask Jeff, a founder of Timbertrain. He’s one of two staff behind the counter and he gestures to the limited counter space. They just don’t have the room for the setup, he explains.
They serve espresso and drip coffee. If you’re looking for a deal, check out their soft opening special: drip coffee and cookie ($5). That saves you $.75 from ordering items separately.
Mike orders an Americano ($3.25) and I have a latte ($4.50). Jeff says our drinks will use a special blend (Ethiopia and Colombia) that’s only offered at this location. It’s not even sold on their shelves, so it’s pretty new.
Timbertrain recently started making most of their own food and we give kudos to any business that takes on this challenge. It really shows they care about controlling the quality of what they serve.
There’s cookies ($3), muffins ($4 including gluten free) and scones ($4) in their display case. There’s also cardamom crunch breakfast cereal ($5) and chocolate granola ($5). Everything looks appetizing with a saffron-golden hue and crisp baked surface. Although it’s a small selection, since it’s early days we expect that choices will eventually expand.
We order two scones ($4): one is savoury with herbs and cheese, the other is sweet with berries. They’re heated then plated on those rounded rectanglar plates by notNeutral, just like in their Gastown cafe.
We take a bite and they’re delicious. Moist and intensely buttery. They’re sharp with flavour, especially the savoury scone which tastes strongly of herbs.
They call out that our drinks are ready. The Americano comes in a sleek matte black notNeutral mug, different from many places that have the glossy white. Mike really enjoys his coffee, which is very different from others he’s had. He comments on the bright cherry flavour and low acidity.
My latte uses the same beans and I think it’s a winner. Not bitter and dark, but medium roast that’s sweet. If they end up selling this blend in bagged beans, I’ll come back and buy them.
The coffee goes well with the milk, which is the perfect bubbly texture and holds the expertly executed latte art in place. I like the handcrafted beige ceramic mug that keeps my drink at a constant heat. If you like them too, they sell similar Depot stamped mugs with a finish the colour of pistachio.
Timbertrain has never taken shortcuts on presentation, and it shows they haven’t forgotten little sensory details make customers happy.
In case you forgot, Timbertrain is also a local roaster. If you walk to the back of this long room, you’ll see that most of the space is occupied by bags of green coffee beans, equipment and a large roaster that’s vented out of their high ceiling. They have a roastery in Langley, but the Depot location will also serve as a central roastery.
It’s neat to see the roasting process exposed, a story told in a stylish industrial setting. We pass a long communal table with a lineup of cups filled with coffee; staff are cupping coffee. Jeff says that seating isn’t available right now but they plan on opening it up after soft opening.
There isn’t much conventional about this place. Take for instance, the two rows of bleacher-style seating at the front of the room. It’s an absolute first for Vancouver. You may love it or hate it. If you’re the type that prefers a seat at a regular chair and table, studying your laptop, this arrangement may puzzle you.
But it is provoking and outside the box. Instead of watching sports, you’ve got a front row to the action of the baristas working and coffee roasting.
And their cool music – which Mike describes as modern “meditation” – is something I haven’t heard. It may cause you to reflect. I can’t think of a better time or place, than now and here, to watch this all unfold.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Timbertrain Coffee Roasters’ Colombia & Ethiopia blend (exclusive to Depot)
Origin: Colombia & Ethiopia
Location of roaster: Vancouver, B.C.
Brewing method: Americano
Roaster’s tasting notes: N/A
Mike’s comments: Light caramel flavour with the brightness of sweet cherries, but not much acidity.
- Expert baristas and exceptional coffee.
- Hip, unconventional design with music to match. Recommended venue for people watching.
- In-house made pastries that wowed.
- Limited seating, table space. But plans are to open up extra seating after soft opening.
Seating availability: 3.75/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.38/5
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Want to visit?
551 McLean Drive (at Frances St)
Soft opening hours: M-Sat 8am-2:30pm. Follow their Instagram for updates.