It’s pretty much universally accepted at this point that Seattle and Portland have destination coffeehouses, but their Pacific Northwest neighbor to the north – Vancouver – has developed a vital coffee culture of its own. My most recent visit included eight coffee stops, all based on advice from locals. Several cups yielded compelling results.
Last August, former Caffe Artigiano General Manager Dejan Bozic opened an espresso bar and bistro in Shaw House, one of the first homes built on Vancouver’s Fairview Slopes, in 1894. In Italy, a Cittadella is a fortified city on a hill that’s protected from marauders, and the goateed owner added that since they’re surrounded by modern buildings, people can come for an escape. Bozic lived in Bologna for 16 years, so the coffeehouse has somewhat of an Italian aesthetic, including a three-group Victoria Arduino espresso machine with glowing lettering. Each shot of 49th Parallel espresso comes with a small bar of 72% dark chocolate, and pastries are baked in-house.
Alistair Durie debuted the Elysian Room downtown about 12 years ago, and almost a decade later, he followed up with Elysian Coffee on Broadway. His modern, glass-fronted coffee bar features banquette and counter seating and a clear emphasis on education. One-sheets describe La Tortuga and El Machete coffees from Intelligentsia, laid out on the curved bar, along with bowls of roasted beans and photos of coffee sorting line the walls, all designed to build dialogue. Baristi like Nate, who’s been with Elysian for three years and is studying painting at nearby Emily Carr University, pull shots on a three-group espresso machine. They also brew coffee on twin Clovers and sell Kones, but during my June 3 visit, they were on the verge of removing the Clover machines and switching to a Kone pourover bar.
The company leading the Vancouver coffee movement seems to be 49th Parallel, which was founded by Caffe Artigiano co-founder Vince Piccolo and supplies a lot of other top area coffeehouses. They roast beans in Burnaby, and have a single coffeehouse, in Kitsilano, with a brown and sky blue color scheme, high ceilings, banquette seating, and a deluxe three-group Mirage machine, engineered by Kees van der Westen in Holland. They’re apparently opening a second coffeehouse in 2012, in a still undisclosed location.
The company that kickstarted the specialty coffee movement in Vancouver was undoubtedly Caffe Artigiano, founded by brothers Sammy and Vince Piccolo (who now owns 49th Parallel) in 2000. The Piccolos sold the company to Earl’s restaurant chain exec Willie Mounzer in 2006. Mounzer and former Earl’s exec Todd Pollock have since expanded the Italian-style coffeehouse chain, the location of which I was at features chandeliers and a pastel blue scooter.
They have 10 Caffe Artigianos in Vancouver, including four downtown, plus two in Calgary – which Pollock called “the coldest place in the winter” – and one in Victoria. They run La Marzocco espresso machines in every store and Anthem grinders, plus French press and some cafes with Clovers. Pollock said that given the current coffee climate, “There’s more of a connection with the cup than what you’ve seen in the past.”
Naj Daher executed this contemporary Gastown coffee project for Tao Design – a company with offices in L.A. and Dubai – collaborating for two years with 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, which he described as ” “the top coffee roaster in Canada.” He also sourced a three-group Mirage espresso machine from Kees van der Westen, and this version is even more elaborate, with each group hosting individual lever controls.
The Coffeebar space previously housed a garage and features a glass front, stainless steel tables and counters and plenty of reclaimed wood. Pastries are made in-house in the “Montreal style,” including bacon cheddar scones, cinnamon swirls and fudge brownies. Tempered chocolate from Vintage Plantations is perpetually in motion near the Mirage, fueling mochas and hot chocolates.
OTHER VANCOUVER COFFEE OPTIONS
Another coffeehouse stop was at Wicked Café, which features Intelligentsia beans and has two locations. 49th Parallel barista Conrad Brown recommended Crema and Bump n Grind. A second coffee aficionado recommended Giovane at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, and Mink, located near the Convention Center, which features house-made chocolates and 49th Parallel beans.
In Britannia Beach, on the drive from Vancouver to Whistler, Galileo is situated in a white house that fronts Howe Sound and offers views of the often snowcapped Coast Mountain Range. Lance McClure roasts coffee in-house, on a machine visible behind glass, and baristas pull shots of espresso on a gold La Marzocco machine. McClure and co-owner Cara Barth also offer a “sea to sky” red eye, named for the adjacent highway, and bake pastries like the maple walnut scone and oh-so-Canadian butter tart, which featured a flaky shell and a buttery base loaded with raisins.