Photo credit: Suzanne Rushton
In Vancouver, “coffee culture” means so much more than ordering a double-double at Tim Hortons. And while you’ll certainly find lots of Starbucks locations—in fact, a higher density of them than virtually anywhere else on the planet, Vancouver offers plenty for the serious coffee enthusiast, whether they’re looking for a perfectly-pulled espresso, a single origin pour-over, or lovingly crafted latte art.
Well before Starbucks set up shop in Vancouver in 1987 (the chain’s first international location), the European immigrants that settled in the city after the Second World War brought their moka pots and espresso habits with them. They eventually set up their own coffee roasting companies to ensure a steady supply of beans meeting their high standards. You can still visit some of the original coffee houses down on Commercial Drive: Café Calabria, Joe’s Café, Continental Coffee and others. Expect to find televisions showing an AC Milan game, older gentlemen watching the game or just arguing about it, and a strong cup of coffee.
From these roots, Vancouver’s coffee culture has grown, first embracing specialty drinks and the talented baristas that brought latte art to the fore. One of the pioneers was Caffe Artigiano, where one of the original owners, Sammy Piccolo was a four-time Canadian Barista Champion and three-time finalist at the World Barista Championships. You can still visit Caffe Artigiano for an excellent coffee at one of their eight Vancouver locations, while Sammy now owns Prado Café, with locations on Commercial Drive, in Gastown, and on Fraser Street.
Bridging the city’s traditional European coffee heritage with the current scene is Milano Coffee. The company’s roasting history stretches back to 1984, and since 2004, Master Roaster Brian Turko has been at the helm. Brian’s espresso, which has won a total of seven “Best Espresso” gold medals at the International Coffee Tasting Competitions since 2012 can be sampled at Milano’s three Vancouver cafes. They’re the only cafes in Vancouver where you can sample eight different espressos at any one time, each of which can contain up to 13 different single origin coffees, blended to strike the perfect balance.
Beyond the preparation of your coffee, the sourcing and roasting of the coffee beans themselves has grown in importance to coffee enthusiasts. Along with the Commercial Drive originals, the city has seen a number of new roasters pop-up, putting a focus on the quality of their coffee, sustainable and traceable sourcing of beans, and fine-tuning the roasting process itself to bring out the best characteristics of the coffee. Owned by the team originally behind Caffe Artigiano, Forty Ninth Parallel was one of the first of these roasters in the city. Along with supplying cafes such as Bel Café in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia and Beaucoup Bakery, they also have two of their own locations. Nowadays there are also a number of micro-roasters with attached cafes for you to sample the goods on site. Matchstick Coffee is a great example, with three locations including one in Chinatown, along with Elysian Coffee in The Burrard, and Timbertrain in Gastown.
Of course, these days espresso has to share the focus with brewed coffee, with pour-over coffee taking the spotlight as the new kid on the block. Gastown’s Revolver Coffee is one of the city’s best places to try out a number of different coffees from boutique roasters around the world, even offering “flights” so you can taste different brews right next to each other for comparison. Other places to try pour-over coffee include Kafka’s on Main Street, at Timbertrain, and Matchstick’s various locations. But one thing is for sure: if you’re in search of coffee, you won’t have any trouble finding a good cup of joe while you’re in Vancouver.