Looking for some of the best coffee shops in Vancouver, BC? Look no further.
Situated on the unceded traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, Vancouver is a city rich in longstanding cultures mixed with contributions from its newest immigrant waves. According to the latest census, 42% of Vancouver residents were born outside Canada, with strong representation from China, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and India. A popular tourist destination, the city welcomed 1.25 million cruise ship passengers in 2023.
The city is surrounded by the raw beauty of the ocean and mountains, and its downtown-adjacent Stanley Park (one-fifth larger than NYC’s Central Park) is a natural gem known for its gardens, totem poles, forested trails, and pristine seawall, shared by walkers, runners, and cyclists. Robson Street and South Granville remain popular shopping destinations while varied cuisines can be found in restaurants in Yaletown, Gastown, and on Main Street. Locals enjoy the city’s many beaches, including Kits Beach, Spanish Banks, English Bay, and nudist-friendly Wreck Beach.
Vancouverites, like all Canadians, often feel overshadowed by their neighbor to the south. Seattle has a worldwide reputation as a coffee capital, but a light now shines on Vancouver’s coffee scene as well; the time of Starbucks on opposite street corners is a novelty of the past while local roasters and finely curated cafes continue to pop up and thrive. There are plenty of reasons to grab a coffee to go, but cafes have put considerable thought and planning into creating inviting interiors since there are times when it’s nice to get out of prolonged patches of rain and settle in for a chat or a quick work session.
Each location of Nemesis offers a prime Instagram moment, but its showstopper site, which opened in 2021 in Vancouver’s emerging False Creek Flats, is nestled alongside the campus of Emily Carr University of Art + Design. The wood-based rose-petal structure bloomed from the vision Perkins & Will architects while the interior conveys a soft elegance with birch plywood, a fabric fin installation extending from the ceiling, and intricate lighting designed by ThinkL. Just off the 15-mile Central Valley Greenway bike route, an extensive brick-paved plaza invites patrons to have a seat and stay awhile on sunny days.
Ultimately, it’s about the coffee and Nemesis does a masterful job, roasting green coffee beans sourced from individual farms visited in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Brazil, and India. Nemesis strives for ongoing relationships and accepts fair trade pricing set by the estates. At the cafe, Nemesis offers top-level pour-overs and lattes. The vibe here is elegant and, fittingly, arty. Orders are brought to the table. Pastries including cookies and an ever-changing array of artful croissants (lemon, thyme, and caramel; rhubarb crumble) are made fresh daily by Dope Bakehouse, located in the Nemesis cafe in North Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery. Brunch items are also offered.
It’s an embarrassment of riches for arts students as, just a two-minute walk from the signature Nemesis cafe is Kafka’s with a homier vibe to welcome students, profs, and professionals seeking a more relaxed spot to linger. Opened in 2018, this location draws in passersby with its warm, eye-catching wood slat façade. Upon entering, patrons are welcomed by a black and white mural, extending from the floor to two floors up, designed by Vancouver Island’s Pellvetica, the husband-and-wife creative team of Steve and Sandy Pell. The mural’s swirly patterns are inspired by latte art.
There are several seating options on the main floor where walls are adorned with rotating artworks on exhibition. The loft upstairs offers more tables plus a long counter for students and writers to settle into a solo space.
Kafka’s sources single-origin beans from a variety of countries, supporting small farms whenever possible. Their espresso is its signature blend with hints of rich, sweet chocolate and just enough acidity to create a balanced cup while a pour-over of Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Kochere contains flavors of jasmine, citrusy bergamot, with enough sparkling acidity to complement the sweetness. The cafe also serves sandwiches and salads and is known for its cookies, the chocolate chip a reliable favorite.
It can be hard to spot Prototype Coffee despite being on a busy street, its entrance obscured by a concrete and rust metal cylinder encasing a three-story stairwell. Walking in, the space feels like a lush cave with moss-covered walls, dark wood furnishings, and sharp angles on mirrors and partitions suggesting stalactites and stalagmites.
Owned by Matt Johnson, who got his start on the Vancouver coffee scene at highly regarded Revolver, Prototype opened in 2019 and is a cafe to forgo one’s standard drink to try a special creation, such as a steamed coffee (cold-brewed for 12-18 hours, then textured with steam and served warm), a molasses chai, or one of up to 20 pour-overs on offer at any given time. With four small Aillio Bullet R1 roasters behind the coffee bar, Prototype is able to create small batches, tightly controlled, ensuring higher quality, and encouraging experimentation since waste is minimized. Prototype staff pride themselves in tailoring their recommendations by asking customers about preferred flavor profiles. Currently, Guatemala Puerta Verde is a versatile roast that has a broad appeal. The cafe also makes waffle donuts in-house, with a rotation of glazed toppings such as pistachio spice and orange cardamom.
Pallet Coffee Roasters
With several locations in the city, Pallet Coffee Roasters maintains its headquarters, roastery, and a cafe on Alexander Street in Railtown, a mixed-use neighborhood where fashion design students, start-up employees, loft residents, and the unhoused coexist. The building’s façade is unremarkable, typical of warehouse businesses in the area, but patrons immediately experience a bright, clean welcome upon stepping into the front foyer with wall-lined plants, a sign that says, “We filter coffee not people,” and firefly Bocci blown glass lights leading them to an open industrial space with exposed wood trusses lining the high ceilings. Spun copper pendant lights dangle above the coffee bar, behind which lies the roastery, featuring a recently installed 60-kilogram Joper roaster from Portugal.
Top coffees include roasts from Ethiopia and Colombia in the cafe’s Adventurous and Motive Series while a recommended drink is a long black with single-origin espresso. Pallet has introduced larger kitchen concepts at its downtown Palate establishment in the century-old Jameson House and its original Semlin Drive cafe, but the Railtown cafe sticks to fresh pastries such as the raspberry lemon loaf and a strawberry chocolate scone.
Varied seating is arranged in sections in the large, open area, an inviting space for conversations or to fit in some work beyond the home office.
The husband and wife team of Kento and Rika Kitayama have gained a loyal following as another quality coffee provider in the city, first operating as Iktsuarpok from a walk-up window in Gastown, then switching to a larger East Vancouver space as Oidé Coffee before keeping the name (which means “come here” in Japanese) and relocating last fall to a prime spot just outside of Vancouver’s tourist magnet, Granville Island, in a sleek, concrete, multi-use structure known as The Waterfall Building, designed by Arthur Erickson. Coming from Japan, the Kitayamas strive to bring a greater sense of fun mixed with sophistication to Vancouver through their business.
The baristas are friendly and immediately volunteer details about the day’s featured coffee, sharing the tasting notes they detect, not from what’s written on the packaging but from their own in-house brewing. This is intended to inform the customer’s palette in advance, creating the potential for a more enjoyable tasting experience. Featured coffee beans rotate, with recent offerings coming from Edmonton’s Rogue Wave and Amsterdam’s Dak Coffee Roasters. Loose-leaf tea selections are from Tokyo’s Norm Tea House, the roasted green tea a recommended option. Patrons head down a set of stairs to the guest space and a barista brings their drink to them.
The hip vibe is immediately apparent, a recent visit including a cyclist with bike in tow texting as a poet sat cross-legged on a bench, writing in his journal, and others worked on laptops at a counter-sized standing desk. In keeping with the building’s character, the space is sparse with concrete floors and concrete slabs alternating with white walls. In lieu of tables and chairs, basic light-wood benches line the perimeter. Royal blue is the sole punch of color, featured on the tops of side tables and monotone framed canvases.
Di Beppe Caffè
There are many places to grab a cappuccino and watch a televised soccer match in Vancouver’s Little Italy on Commercial Drive but, for a quieter, more charmed cup of Italian coffee, Di Beppe Caffè in the city’s historic Gastown is worth a visit. Half the space operates as a coffeehouse all day while the other half serves as a restaurant at lunch and dinner, offering pizza al metro (rectangular, cut into squares) and handmade pastas.
Stepping into the corner cafe, the dark wood tables and black framing are brightened by orbs of light dropping from the ceiling, the blue and white mosaic floor, butter yellow stools, and ample natural light from large windows.
In addition to five-ounce mochas and lattes, you can order an affogato (a shot of espresso poured over gelato) or corretto (double espresso with a teaspoon of sugar and half an ounce of grappa, a grape-pomace liquor). Just as Italians may use bread to sop up the last of a tasty puttanesca, you can order an espresso and then order a wine pomace known as grappa to swirl it, il rimorchio (“the trailer”), mixing it into what’s left in the cup for a sweet finish. Each coffee is served with an amaretti cookie adorning the saucer.
When the first Small Victory location opened in Yaletown eight years ago, it felt like a gamble with high rents, large square footage, and big, open kitchen meaning less seating for patrons. Was it a bakery that served coffee or a cafe that happened to make top-notch pastries? As it’s evolved, the question is irrelevant. It does both equally well and the workspace and customer area are typically abuzz.
The wood-beamed ceiling, soft lighting streaming from industrial pendant lights, hardwood floors, and white walls with geometric designs formed by brass rods give the cafe a cozy vibe, each marble-topped table its own hub while the screw stools lining the wraparound counter invite laptop users and texters to have a seat glimpsing baristas tending to pour-overs espresso drinks from Canadian roasters such as Moving Coffee, Rooftop, and Subtext.
With in-house baked bread, including seeded whole-wheat and artisanal country, food options like almond butter banana toast for breakfast or a chimichurri chicken sandwich for lunch are good bets if you can resist sweets like passionfruit cheesecake and the pain au chocolat in the display case you must pass in line.
Turk’s Coffee Bar
The sign above the entrance says, “Non-conforming since 1992,” enough to make Turk’s Coffee Bar a neighborhood favorite on Commercial Drive, which is ironically anti-commercial in terms of big business, and home to a diverse array of restaurants, produce markets, and cafes. Turk’s draws heavily on foot traffic, including people passing time at Grandview Park across the street. The Turk’s vibe is low key, the dark bar and wall menu seeming to fade to black as patrons chat amiably at a community table or fit in an hour of work at a two-top space.
After learning the craft from their basement under the tutelage of Milano Coffee’s master roaster, Francesco Curatolo, Linda and Brian Turko opened Turk’s, seeking to welcome a broader clientele than the traditional cappuccino bars that dotted The Drive. A series of vertical art banners on the walls depicts the sort of people who might drop in from the neighborhood: a senior bocce ball player, a gender-ambivalent Asian skateboarder, a guy in sandals and a tie-dyed t-shirt toting canvas bags, and a mom on a city bike with fresh bread and produce in her basket, a youngster strapped in and peeking out behind her.
The Turkos took over Milano Coffee which now has cafes throughout Vancouver. Turk’s uses the same beans, though branded as Turk’s at the Commercial location. The original blend, Conca d’Oro, is served at the bar along with other rotating blends. Milano has won fifteen gold medals from the International Institute of Coffee Tasters, the most recent being a 20-bean blend called Turks Crown.
Gregory Walters is a writer based in Vancouver and Seattle. Read more Gregory Walters for Sprudge.