Reportedly the world's third favourite beverage behind water and tea, coffee is a bean that has changed the world. Well, actually it's not a bean, but the seeds of the Coffea shrubs. These modest seeds have become one of the most traded agricultural products on Earth, as evidenced by the ubiquitous presence of coffee shops here in Vancouver. There are hundreds of cafés in this city, and while it seems like people are relying more and more on the big franchises with their homogeneous offerings, there's still a great assortment of independent coffee shops and roasters serving up more unique experiences with their brews. Here's a list of the ten most interesting options.
Address: 2525 Main Street, Vancouver, BC
Hours: Monday-Thursday 7am–10pm, Friday 7am–8pm, Weekends and Holidays 8am–8pm
As the name suggests, this is a pretty artsy place. Located at the bustling intersection of Main and Broadway, Kafka's is widely recognized as serving some of the city's best roasts, and it also serves as an exhibit for local artists, whose works adorn the walls of the café and are available for purchase. In keeping with the artsy reputation, Kafka's large wooden tables usually serve as a workstation for a variety of artsy types working with their laptops and notebooks.
I ask Alice, a local artist and long-time patron of Kafka's, what makes this her favourite spot. "I love Kafka's for a number of reasons," she replies. "Mainly, it has really nice lighting. The environment is fresh-feeling and natural, and the baristas are always super nice and make delicious drinks." As an afterthought, she adds, "And it usually has good art up on the walls. I really dislike sitting around bad art!"
Like some other high-caliber cafés, Kafka's provides detailed information on all its beans for the critic. Like some other modern establishments, the baristas at Kafka's employ the slow-brewing method, so get comfortable. Brightly lit and comfortable, Kafka's is a good place to sit and work — or just to relax over a cuppa Joe.
Tel: 604-255-0712 Commercial Drive | 604-559-7712 Main Street
Address: two locations at Vancouver, BC: 1806 Commercial Drive | 4295 Main Street
Hours: Monday-Friday 6am–7pm, Saturday 6:30am-7pm, Sunday 7am-7pm
Located in the heart of what has traditionally been Vancouver's Italian district, it's no surprise that Continental Coffee at 1806 Commercial Drive is often regarded as one of the city's top-notch coffee shops. First emerging on the scene in 1979, Continental initially focused on providing wholesale coffee to restaurants, but it soon expanded to sell coffee by the cup as well as beans by weight to retail customers. Three decades later, Continental is a favourite in a neighbourhood known for its coffee.
With around 20 varieties available from various regions, there's no shortage of selections for the connoisseur. And with a sleek modern design featuring minimalist but comfortable seating and clean white walls, Continental is a great place to sit down and enjoy a cup. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook Commercial Drive, while tasteful music plays softly from the stereo, providing an unobtrusive ambiance.
Unlike many coffee shops these days, Continental provides a ton of information about its coffees, going beyond merely the country where they were grown to include climatic conditions and taste characteristics. In a testament to its success, Continental recently opened a second store on Main Street, another area known for quality coffee.
Address: 2902 Main St., Vancouver, BC
Hours: Monday-Saturday 7am-10pm, Sunday and holidays 8am-9pm
49th Parallel is a well-known coffee roaster in Vancouver, and its café on Main and 12th is a showcase of its esteemed brews. The roasters at 49th Parallel develop personal relationships with farmers and pride themselves on paying above fair-trade standard prices to their coffee growers. If the quality of their coffee weren't enough to win you over, 49th Parallel has partnered with Lucky's Donuts to sell some of the tastiest pastries in Vancouver with its coffee out of the Main Street location. The donuts aren't cheap, but good donuts rarely are.
In addition to operating one of the city's favourite cafés, 49th Parallel is also known for its wholesale. Supplying coffee shops all around Vancouver and shipping their beans as far away as Montreal and New York, Michael and Vince Piccolo have made a name for themselves in the coffee world. When asked what's the reason behind their success, Vince tells me, "Our philosophy is not about marketing or publicity. For us, it's about making the best coffee we possibly can, while providing an appealing ambiance for our customers. We're very concerned about customer service, and we have great staff. Our goal is to be the best. We might not always be there, but we do our best."
In the summer months, there's a large outdoor wooden patio that's great for relaxing with friends or watching the life on Main street. And if you need to get some studying done out of the house or need that 9:00 pm shot of espresso, the doors at 49th Parallel stay open 'til 10:00 pm (9:00 pm on Sundays). There's really not much to complain about.
4. Turk's Coffee Lounge
Address: 1276 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC
Hours: Monday-Saturday 6:30am-10pm, Sunday 7am-10pm
With the slogan "non-conforming since 1992" and paintings of people in tie-dye, Turk's is on a different wavelength than its competitors with their sleeker, more modern designs. Turk's manages to pull off a counter-culture feel without seeming derived or inauthentic. Open 'til 10:00 pm, Turk's has longer hours than most coffee shops, and with its loud music and hip aesthetic, it's a great place to talk philosophy or art over a hot cup. During the warmer months, Turk's provides a space for quality people-watching on its comfortable patio overlooking Grandview Park.
With a great location, decent coffee, and a cool atmosphere, it's no wonder Turk's has built up a loyal following on the Drive.
Address: 325 Cambie St.,Vancouver, BC
Hours: Monday-Friday 7:30am-6pm, Saturday 9am-6pm, Sunday closed
Named for its revolving selection of coffees sourced from small boutique roasters from around North America, Gastown's Revolver offers something a bit different than other coffee shops in Vancouver. A far shot from the fast-food coffee you might expect from the big commercial chains, Revolver believes in the experience of slow coffee. As such, the coffee here is brewed by the cup.
Revolver features a dozen different brewing methods, It offers two different versions of what it calls "flights" for the connoisseur. A "brew flight" allows guests to taste the same coffee brewed using three different methods, where a "taste flight" gives guests three different coffees brewed the same way.
Revolver is a place to go for a classy coffee experience. Unsurprisingly, given its location and niche, Revolver isn't an inexpensive café, ranging from $3.50 to $5 per cup. But it always has a "featured" drink, which it sells for $3.50, regardless of the regular price. The biggest drawback to this place is that it isn't open on Sundays. This is a place for real coffee freaks.
Address: 2766 West 4th Avenue,Vancouver, BC
Hours: Monday-Friday 7am-6pm, Saturday 8am-7pm, Sunday closed
Perhaps not as well known as some of the other coffee shops on this list, Momento is an extremely friendly little shop just off MacDonald on 4th. This café regularly impresses me with its friendly service and delicious pastries, and its coffee is sourced from organic beans roasted by Origins on Granville Island, supplemented by roasts from Vancouver's Matchstick and Victoria's Bows & Arrows. With ample seating, including a spacious table for groups, Momento is a great place to go get some work done out of the office or to study for that next exam.
One of the best things about Momento is the friendly staff. I asked senior barista Sophie what she most enjoys about her job. "For me," she says, "The best thing is the customers. We get lots of regulars, locals — everyone comes in the morning. It's like a family."
While Momento doesn't do its own baking or roasting, it prides itself in sourcing locally from providers with an orientation towards organic and socially just ingredients. It also carries a selection of vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free baked goods for those with dietary restrictions.
Tel: 604-874-5909 West Broadway | 604-734-1778 West 5th Ave.
Address: Two Vancouver, BC locations: 590 West Broadway | 1778 West 5th Avenue
Hours: Monday-Friday 7am-7pm, Saturday 9am-7pm, Sunday 10am-5pm
Named for the afterlife of ancient Greek heroes, Elysian is a high-end coffee shop with one location near Cambie and Broadway and another at Burrard and 5th. The Broadway location is almost always busy, in testament to the popularity the café maintains despite its rather steep price. In keeping with Italian traditions, baristas at Elysian will typically throw in a free sparkling water for you to clear your palate before indulging in the café's reputed coffee — a gesture that goes a long way.
While Elysian is well respected for its coffee, its baked goods are nothing to shake a stick at either. With traditional Italian fare such as amaretti as well as typical muffins and scones, Elysian is worth a visit even for those who prefer to avoid caffeine.
In addition to operating two cafés, Elysian also sells equipment for making your own coffee at home from its online store.
Address: 1340 West 4th Ave.,Vancouver, BC
Hours: Monday-Saturday 7am-5pm, Sunday closed
Another coffee house that patronizes the arts, Innocent Coffee is located on 4th Avenue, near Granville Island. It's owned by a brother-sister team responsible for brewing the coffee, baking the pastries, and decorating the unique little shop. Boasting roasts from BC's Origins and Bows & Arrows roasters, and with a reputation for great coffees, this shop manages to balance quality and class while maintaining very reasonable prices.
The café is rather small, though it occupies two storeys of a small detached house. The upper level serves as additional seating as well as a small art space, which is occasionally used for exhibitions supporting local artists. This shop is great in all areas except its hours, closing at 5:00 pm and all day Sunday. Still, as a true embodiment of independence and personality, Innocent Coffee is a breath of fresh air.
Address: 1938 Commercial Drive,Vancouver, BC
Hours: Monday-Sunday 7am-8pm
It might not be surprising that three of the top 10 coffee shops would be in Vancouver's Little Italy, and the list would be incomplete without Prado. With a sleek, modernist design, Prado is a favourite on Commercial Drive. It's perhaps no coincidence that the successful shop is run by Sammy Piccolo, brother of 49th Parallel owner Vince Piccolo and four-time Canadian Barista Champion.
Famous for its white walls and expertly made coffee, Prado also has delicious pastries and some fancy tea diffusers for those who prefer a milder drink. Prado is always busy, and the outdoor benches are a great place to sit and chat while enjoying the scenery of the Drive.
Address: 2200 Arbutus Street,Vancouver, BC
Hours: Monday-Friday 6:30am-7pm, Saturday-Sunday 8am-6pm
Easily boasting the most picturesque exterior of any coffee shop in Vancouver, Arbutus Coffee occupies a heritage building that has stood at the corner of Arbutus and 6th since 1907. Arbutus Coffee has a nearly religious following in the Kitsilano neighbourhood, largely owing to its decadent home-made desserts.
Adorned with wood panels and lighting provided in part by a big brass chandelier, Arbutus Coffee offers a kind of quaint charm that's unique among the cafés on this list. One complaint that many Yelpers have is that the baked goods tend to sell out fast. Inconvenient, maybe, but it speaks to the tastiness of this little hidden gem.