Canada is a big place. And though we claim only a handful of distinct regions compared to our neighbor to the south, each province has its prominent stereotypes. Fishing in the east, the agriculture of the interior, the mountains to the west. And when you get down to the granularity of each city, there are some stereotypes that continue to ring true. For Vancouver, it is the coffee.
The current Vancouver cafe landscape is a strong point of pride for locals and absolutely lives up to the hype, even giving its Pacific Northwest brethren south of the border a run for their money. With everything from established local roasters to internationally renowned multi-roaster cafes to high-quality one-off shops, there has never been a better time to experience everything the city’s coffee bars have to offer. The list that follows is purposely intended to be used in conjunction with the cafes previously featured on Sprudge, as together they give a wonderful representation of Vancouver in 2017.
49th Parallel Coffee Roasters
When many people around the world think about Vancouver coffee, whether they're a coffee professional or a casual consumer, the first name that often comes to mind is 49th Parallel. With their recognizable light teal packages found on shelves across North America and other countries around the world, 49th has been a great ambassador for helping to put this city on the map. But it's the coffee itself to which the brand owes its success. You would be hard-pressed to find a barista connected to the Vancouver scene who wasn’t intimately versed in the difference between their Old School and Epic espressos. And with their dedicated focus on sourcing, their rotating selection of offerings are deliciously consistent and don’t miss a beat.
If becoming a staple in Canadian coffee wasn’t enough, to every customer's delight the 49th team developed another in-house brand that puts them in a best-in-class category: Lucky’s Doughnuts. A classic coffee and donut combo is too tantalizing to pass up with the incredible selection beckoning through the glass. With exciting plans in the pipeline for Vancouver, don’t sleep on this established veteran to continue to earn its reputation.
Elysian Coffee Roasters
Quietly established as one of Vancouver’s most popular local roasters, Elysian Coffee Roasters is continuing to grow its presence across the city. Their newest location is located in The Burrard hotel, with a large front patio drawing foot traffic from Burrard and providing an excellent locale to enjoy the sun and some friendly people-watching. The shop itself is a fantastic coffee upgrade for any hotel to offer to its guests. With an adjoining door to the front lobby, one can only imagine how excited the hotel staff must be to recommend a cup.
The cafe is classically styled. White walls are accented by design features like the chic wooden furnishings and a chalkboard poster of Canada. The cafe’s front sign is, too, alluring: the background is Elysian's now-signature illustration of a mountain range that inspires thoughts of tranquil growing regions nurturing the delightful coffees presented inside.
Propaganda is your favourite barista’s favourite coffee shop. The place just oozes cool. When you walk in the door you will undoubtedly hear jazz playing over the speakers while you observe an array of trendy locals sitting amongst elegant furnishings and minimalist decor. When ordering your beverage—sorting through a mix of both standard and innovative offerings—your eye is drawn across the counter to Vancouver’s only Modbar. A menu of creations curated by owner William Wang focuses on Canadian roasters and the highest quality preparation. With agreements in place with specific roasters, Wang will often purchase entire lots of a given roast and be the only local source for a sought-after coffee.
Vancouver’s constantly changing Chinatown neighborhood is a perfect location for Propaganda, as the owner and the menu follow a similarly dynamic approach. Seasonal offerings and special coffee creations aside, it is Wang's innovative ideas that really set this place apart. What would it taste like to have an espresso out of a keg? Or—have you ever seen an old-school milkshake mixer in a specialty coffee shop for an espresso milkshake? Regardless, if you are looking for a basic espresso or whatever idea Wang will come up with next, rest assured you will long remember having visited Propaganda.
Timbertrain Coffee Roasters
These are exciting times at Timbertrain Coffee Roasters as owners Jeff Shin, Peter Kim, and Min Shin have just opened their new “Depot” location to extend the business beyond their original Gastown cafe—a local favorite on its own in recent years. The Depot space is stunning, with a beautifully sharp, painted wall drawing the eye from the front door to the back of the warehouse space. The new location allows them to expand their operations into new and exciting territories, bringing roasting—previously done in Langley, BC—closer to home. Even their homemade baking has been able to move within this extremely functional space.
The Timbertrain team hopes this new location will be a natural extension of its business and an opportunity for growth while providing the ability to interact even more closely with the local community. Rather than opening a carbon-copy second cafe, Timbertrain has succeeded in delivering a new and exciting space to the city. Look for cupping events, latte art classes, brew method training, and roasting tutorials here in the near future.
Revolver Coffee has managed to accomplish a feat that every athlete, every student, every professional, and every business continually strives for: sustained excellence. More than six years after opening its doors, Revolver is still seen by many as the benchmark for coffee in Vancouver. The Giannakos family has managed to consistently master the multi-roaster concept by bringing in an impressive array of coffee from roasters all around the world—like Heart Roasters, Phil & Sebastian, and Ritual Roasters, to name only a few. By partnering with these roasters, whether through water testing, taste exploration, or customer feedback, Revolver has stayed atop the heap and taken it upon themselves to always be looking forward.
The shop still rivals any that have come after it in terms of design. From the tall ceilings with dramatic front glass windows, the industrial and rustic features and furnishings to that one unbelievable piece of finished wood sprawling the length of the bar, take one look around and it is clear why this place has set such a high standard.
Revolver has inspired a cohort of serious coffee drinkers and is a—well—revolving door for a bright future of coffee professionals. This is the type of place that brings on emotion when you experience it in person. Simply put, you look forward to visiting, and cannot wait for the opportunity to come back.
Peter de Vooght is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Read more Peter de Vooght on Sprudge.