Victoria is a city that often takes a back seat to another Canadian city that starts with a V. But if being the capital of British Columbia isn’t enough to show off its pride, its coffee scene follows suit by delivering cafes and coffee quality to rival any other city, including its friendly competitor on the mainland. Victoria is a beautiful town by any definition, and its island culture—along with a local university and a “support local” mind-set—has created an overwhelming concentration of high-quality food and drink. Based on the number of coffee shops alone, and without speaking a word to a local, it is abundantly clear that the locals care about the coffee they drink and are motivated to proudly support their baristas and cafes.
2% Jazz Coffee
For more than 20 years, 2% Jazz Coffee has been ushering along a specialty coffee presence in Victoria and has evolved to become a prominent cafe here. The business first opened as an outdoor kiosk in 1996 and aimed to develop a brand and identity in the local community. The growth was slow and strategic and the team eventually began roasting their own beans in 2006. It was a natural progression for owner Sam Jones, as it allowed full control over his entire coffee program. He was constantly searching for exciting beans on the market, and his blends and rotating offerings provide a wonderful combination of easy drinking tastes and exciting new flavors. Their wholesale business is continuing to grow as well, displayed cleverly by a helpful map on the 2% Jazz website showing all local businesses currently brewing their coffee.
The roastery and cafe were built in 2012 in a developing corner of downtown, furthering Jones’s desire to support the local community. The space effortlessly manages to be both a neighborhood shop and third-wave specialty cafe. As general manager Tristan Bacon puts it, “2% Jazz is a third-wave cafe with a second-wave feel.” With friendly staff, board games stacked on the shelves, and a delicious cup of coffee, it’s no wonder Victoria can’t seem to get enough of this place.
Bows & Arrows Coffee Roasters
For a company that has quickly become one of the most well-known brands in Canadian coffee, it is amazing to think that Bows & Arrows Coffee Roasters is only six years old. The cafe began roasting in January of 2012 and opened its space in the same warehouse several months later.
From an outsider’s perspective, the neighborhood feels industrial and this roastery and cafe fits the bill. But Bows & Arrows have managed to achieve a lovely atmosphere of comfort in what is clearly their commercial workspace. The space itself is split in two: A navy blue Probat roaster sits in the center of one half in front of piles of burlap sacks filled with the season’s best offerings; the other half of the room houses their cafe, which has masterfully separated itself from the larger roasting and storage area (to the designers’ credit). A La Marzocco Linea PB and Mahlkönig PEAK grinder sit on a long white bar lengthened by boxes of freshly branded coffee beans. There’s a piano next to the only table in the cafe for patrons along with a charming collection of knickknacks. It is always exciting to see where an acclaimed business has planted its flag, and with this space and a knowledgeable staff, Bows & Arrows has certainly lived up to its reputation.
Hide + Seek
It’s not surprising that many tourists and locals spending time in Victoria never make it out of the downtown core. With the incredible options available in such a small area, your tastes and needs will absolutely be satisfied. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is all Victoria has to offer. Just a 15-minute cycle away from downtown is Oak Bay, and a coffee shop you do not want to miss.
Hide + Seek Coffee is located on the quaint yet bustling Oak Bay Avenue in the beautiful Southeast corner of Victoria. This shop is a dream that was 10 years in the making for owners Jamie and Jesse Owens. The beautifully bright cafe is accentuated by highlights of colorful artwork and plants—almost as if the design is a direct reflection of their bubbly personalities. It’s difficult to decide what is more enticing, the options available for coffee on their rotating feature board or the delectable selection of pastries. Their concept as a multi-roaster focuses primarily on Canadian roasters, but occasionally features American brands such as Camber and Sightglass. Luckily, their dream didn’t stop at coffee as they regularly host Waffle Sunday, knitting nights, and an Origin Book Club that pairs coffee with a book from the same growing country. After just one visit, you will forever have an excuse to explore Victoria beyond the city center.
When it comes to modern-day coffee shops, there are certain design features that one could argue are all too common. Potentially chief among them, the exposed brick wall. But every once in a while, you stumble across a place that is so stunning, so fitting, you realize that all clichés have to start somewhere. When it comes to exposed brick, look no further than the beauty of a two-story interior wall in Chinatown’s Habit Coffee.
Located next to the infamous Fan Tan Alley, Habit’s first location opened during the unofficial Victoria coffee boom of the mid-2000s and has been passionately serving the community ever since. Bows & Arrows coffee is enjoyed by customers in this wonderfully cavernous space. Cushioned nooks, a wall of magazines, and crazy movie posters highlight a room that has you constantly scanning while enjoying your drink.
Owner Shane Devereaux’s exciting goals for 2018 include plans for a new location under a different banner. Although keeping his cards close to the chest, he shared that “we intend to bridge together our coffee talents with a grab-and-go high-volume takeout coffee bar and a 60-seat all-day bar and eatery.” It sounds as if next year will provide even more excitement for a city that continues to raise the bar.
Hey Happy Coffee
“Hey Happy is about an experience as a whole,” says owner Rob Kettner. To him, coffee and Hey Happy are about more than just the multitude of internationally renowned coffees he has on offer. He also believes that food, music, design, creativity, and people are just as important. “This is where you can rest assured you will have a true coffee experience,” he explains.
Although Hey Happy has a small footprint in terms of square footage, the place definitely packs a punch. The cafe is a multi-roaster supplying the likes of Tim Wendelboe, Heart, Drop, and Madcap, to name a few. These names instill a sense of anticipation and quality that are matched by the service and product provided by the staff and the owner.
Kettner is constantly trying to push the envelope in his own shop, but he’s also pushing the boundaries of taste in the coffee industry. Sarsaparilla lattes, espresso mint juleps, and maple cashew con panna are just a few of his innovative creations. Simply saying you’ll be visiting Hey Happy means that you’ll be met with a barrage of recommendations for Kettner’s latest inventions. Whether you’re picking up a bag of beans, a seasonal pour-over, or a crazy concoction, this shop will rival any others you deem best in show.
Peter de Vooght is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Read more Peter de Vooght on Sprudge.