5 Compelling Vancouver Coffeehouses + Bonus Options

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Mountains British Columbia

Galileo Coffee Company’s patio provides tremendous views of the Tantalus Range and Squamish River.

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.

1. Caffe Cittadella

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.

2. Elysian Coffee

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.

3. 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters

Coffee Vancouver

Barista Conrad Brown, who’s been with 49th Parallel since their September 2007 debut, pulled me a shot of Epic Espresso blend, which changes seasonally.

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.

4. Caffe Artigiano

Coffee Vancouver

The Piccolo brothers turned Caffe Artigiano into a Vancouver coffee force. Willie Mounzer and Todd Pollock now run the show.

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.”

5. Coffeebar

Coffee Vancouver

Coffeebar’s deluxe Kees van der Westen espresso machine optimally brews 49th Parallel espresso.

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.


Coffee Vancouver

Wicked Café has a bohemian vibe and does a fine job brewing Intelligentsia coffee beans.

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.


6. Galileo

Coffee Squamish

Galileo Coffee Company is a great place to get caffeinated between Vancouver and Whistler.

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.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

Just wanted to say thank you for including us in this. All of us at Galileo Coffee!


Happy to include Galileo. Your shop was a welcome sight and respite. on the drive from Vancouver to Whistler.

Beanbuyer has a good point: Starbucks was the one to start cafe culture in Vancouver. They opened their first Canadian store in Vancouver, WAAAAY back in 1987. Starbucks tested a number new concepts in Vancouver that were very unique at the time. The famous Starbucks concept of two franchises of the same brand right across from one another was tested first in Vancouver, at the intersection of Robson and Thurlow. Starbucks also developed the innovation of a franchise cafe inside a big box book store, where the Chapters bookstore chain had a Starbucks cafe at nearly every location. All of these were tested first in Vancouver.

But hey, you were looking at independent cafes, right? Well, how the heck did you happen to miss JJBean?!?! http://www.jjbeancoffee.com/ Over 11 stores in the Vancouver area, the cafes look great, the roast is decent and drinkable, and all done by hardworking East Van kids. Can’t believe you stayed in Vancouver in two days, and missed JJBean.


Thanks for providing more context. I actually did try JJ Bean coffee, at Lift in Whistler. Pretty good experience right near the gondola. If you’re ever up that way, you might enjoy that coffeehouse. And yes, I was focused on independent cafes.

So of the top 5, one is not a 49th venture (Elysian). Top 5? Artigiano “kickstarted specialty coffee movement in Vancouver”??? (actual quote is kickstared) Starbucks, sadly, was the kickstart and anyone who has been there longer than the 2010 bid knows this. Really, top 5? There are so many roasters there and you pick the easiest and most popular. Some expose! I suppose if I put burger into this food gps it would take me to Mc D’s… tabloid spectacular, you teach nothing.


I made a point of not calling these coffeehouses the Top 5 in Vancouver, since I was only able to visit a cross-section over two days, but they are all “compelling” for different reasons, which I stated. Which other Vancouver coffeehouses/roasters would you suggest people visit? If you’re going to be critical, that’s fine, but at least offer “better” alternatives.

Also, Starbucks isn’t local to Vancouver, and while important, really belongs to an earlier generation of specialty coffee development.

Thanks for correcting me on “kickstarted.” I changed it from “kickstared” to “kickstarted.”

Great post. Wish I had the benefit of this information on my recent trip to Vancouver. Will bookmark for the future.

Nice to get your views of coffee in our fair town. I just discovered Nelson the Seagull in Gastown, you should check it out next time! 315 Carrall St http://www.nelsontheseagull.com coffee is grand and baking done onsite in a spacious, airy, heritage building.

I think the awesome “Murchie’s Coffee” coffeehouse needs to be added to this list. I’ve been to Vancouver about 3 times on vacation with my family before and we went to Murchie’s. It’s such a great coffeehouse with very delicious beverages! Here’s their website – http://www.murchies.com/store/

Thanks, Chris. Over the course of less than 72 hours in Vancouver, I definitely got a crash course in Vancouver coffee, but there are bound to be other good coffeehouses that slipped through the cracks. Thanks for filling in one gap.

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