The Roadtrip – Vancouver

Well, I confess I have been very quiet of late. It is a mixture of traveling a lot, taking a lot of pictures, having no laptop (until the Macbook I acquired today – I do love a weak dollar!) and generally being a bit of a burnt out mess. Thankfully I have been keeping a notebook so I will try and do my best to recount each city as fairly as possible.

Monday was a long day, 8 hours longer than usual due to Vancouver being an inconvenient number of timezones from where I live. We arrived and dumped the stuff and wandered down towards Elysian Rooms stopping off for a quick espresso from Alberto in Wicked. I wasn’t really ready for any serious coffee and had only a quick Clover of a Novo coffee in Elysian before we wandered down to Feenie’s for dinner with Lindsay, Matti and Alistair.

Jetlag is an inconvenient thing. The next morning both Stephen and I were up and raring to go and 6am. Not much is open then, but we wandered down to Wicked to see who was opening up. We were hoping that the sudden appearance of the two of us would startle Arthur, but no – merely a two fingered salute and a lot of coffee! We put out some tables whilst he brewed us up some capps and then an espresso or two with some waffles and then a couple of cups of Tres Santos whilst we messed around on the espresso machine.

About now would be a good time to make clear that the roadtrip isn’t about cups of coffee, or at least certainly not in an evaluative way. It is about people, cafes, ideas and inspiration and having some fun. Hence I am not going to go on and on about every shot I have had, though the odd moment of excellence will have to be mentioned.

After a bit of faffing around, a visit to the Norwegian Consulate and various concerns about Anette getting into the US (which obviously got sorted later on, thankfully!) we headed on out to see Lindsay over at 49th Parallel Roasters (sadly Vince was out of town, as it would have been cool to catch up.)

They have a really impressive set up there and it is interesting to see they are vac-packing the greens and have a massive walk in freezer for storage. I am really looking forward to seeing the results of work being done in this coming out in the next five years but I don’t see how it can be anything other than good to get the coffee away from air, moisture and jute. Anyways – Lindsay pulled us a few shots of Epic which were great and we poured a few things whilst chatting about the coffee.

That evening was the now infamous ham in the Van, hosted by Alistair and Robert of Elysian in the training rooms and offices. There were too many people there to possibly list but I have to say the best shot I had up until that point was pulled by Jake (thecoffeelover) who terrifies everyone (in a good way) by being that good and knowing so much and being so young. Damn him. It was fun to see Mark pulling shots whilst everyone got out their cameras (some sort of revenge for competing baristas perhaps!) and he also brought along a little of last year’s Panama winner to Clover (along with other things I think – didn’t taste them all as I was already a bit coffeed out).

It was good to see Bronwen again, as well as meet Logan (who hung out with us for half our cafe crawl the next morning -  he is the nicest guy and I wish I could have gotten up to see his business.  Also I think he is one to watch for competition…..) and I could go on for half a paragraph listing names but I will spare you (unless you really, really want to know). It was a long and amusing evening.

The next day was our cafe crawl. This was a learning experience for me – in a town where people use a lot of coffee, and everything is a short double it is very easy to overdose and stop having fun. However that day had the best possible start – a few tasty treats at the market at Granville Island and then in to watch Bronwen roast at Hines (or Origins – I get confused!?). The old Royal they have is great to watch working and I love the hand craft feel to how they roast – the cooling is done very much by hand.

The space they have is lovely. Lots of room, and a great place to roast coffee. Anette pulled me a truly great shot and I had a mouthful of a cappuccino that had a certain wonderful quality. They have some great old artifacts and I loved the old schematics of the Marzoccos they had on the walls.

From there the serious the serious coffee consumption began. Later in the day Aaron DeLazzer would describe the local espresso as being hit in the head by a two by four and pretty quickly I overdosed. We started at a new opening called Re-entry that are running a Synesso and Vivace and the baristas were very friendly and very keen. The shop was very different with a kind of rocketship based theme. From there it was down to the very busy JJ Bean on Main. They were quite busy, but not slammed and they had two staff on two tills and two baristas working two separate machines and I have to say I expected the drinks to happen faster, but that was overshadowed by the pigeon sat inside up on the beam making the people underneath a bit nervous.

From there it was over to the JJ Bean on Commercial that was my best shot of their coffee from a barista that Stephen knew from his time in Vancouver last summer. Totally different feel to the place which was interesting. Very different to the typical chain model that looks for a consistent feel to the space. They were also much more relaxed about photos than the JJ on Main (which isn’t a criticism, I have no problem at all with people saying no – its just to explain why there are pictures of some places and none of others.)

From there we went over to Prado which was another pivotal moment in the trip but for a different reason. We were in a bit of a hurry and knew they weren’t big on people taking photos. We had had a fair amount of coffee by that point and it felt really bad to turn up somewhere, order two espressos and a short capp and knock them back and leave. We weren’t there as customers, we were there to look/evaluate/judge/not be real everyday consumers of there coffee. I think it might have been better to have been honest and to have gone up there, said we just wanted to see the space and not had coffee instead of not being able to finish the very judgmental round of drinks. From this point on we tried to avoid a “smash and grab” attitude to drinks in places. Apologies to Prado.

We were a bit late getting to Ethical Bean to meet up with Aaron De Lazzer (if you haven’t read his milk guide on CG then you really should, he was a great and positive influence on me and my attitudes to coffee) and have a little look around the roastery. It was interesting to see a roastery of a similar size to 49th that were a different kind of approach (not about better or worse though). We also cupped our first coffees of the trip and they were pretty interesting.

We planned to see a couple more places and then I wanted to try and swing by Mark Prince’s place but a car crash right in front of us (and the waiting around and statements that go with that) meant that the only other place we saw that day was Mink Chocolates that aren’t really coffee focus (apart from the Synesso and Clover!) but all about great design/layout and great chocolate.

We barely had time to shower and pick up a gift before arriving at a great dinner at Chow organised by Mark, which so many people showed up to that we overran the restaurant out into the bar. It was cool to meet Colter and Barrett T. Jones but we didn’t really manage to talk shop/competitions too much, in fact the whole night was a bit of a blur (I wasn’t drinking that much, honest!). The next morning it dawned on us that we had criminally underestimated the amount of time to allocate to each place and it meant that not being able to see people (and often – due to technological limitations – being unable to get in touch) has become a very, very frustrating theme to our journey and we wish we had twice as much time so we could properly hang out with the people we wanted to.

We were very grateful to everyone that hosted us and looked after us and made sure to perpetuate the stereotype that Canadians really are the nicest and politest people on the earth. I look forward to finding an excuse to come back. Vancouver was fun:

So the next installment is Seattle (accompanied by Alistair from Elysian/Coffeed), pouring drinks with Schomer himself, eating fine food, some wonderful spaces and being very cross with Budget rent-a-car. Stay tuned.

6 Comments The Roadtrip – Vancouver

  1. rob berghmans

    after reading this post i feel like running to the travel office for a ticket to Vancouver.
    lots of plans to visit the west coast myself, but because of other priority’s i’ll have to do it with your articles, photo’s and … how’s the filming going on?

    so to all of you guys : keep up the good work and pass my regards to Schomer ;)

  2. Chris

    I stumbled across this blog after being directed to your cafe review of London (which is of great help, thanks!). It’s nice to read some reviews of all of the main places in Vancouver from an outsider’s perspective, and you’re lucky to have got Thena on the bar at Commercial; she pulls some amazing shots.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip, and thanks again for the excellent list of places I need to go while here in London.

  3. Gary Mc Gann

    Good to hear you guys (and Anette) are still alive. Like the Specs worn at Matt’s screening. Sounds like you could have a second calling giving guided west coast coffee tours in years to come!

  4. Branden

    These posts are in perfect timing for my upcoming travels to the West Coast. Just days before you mentioned and started posting about Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, I purchased my airplane ticket to Seattle so that I could take a train down to Portland and up to Vancouver to visit friends and the coffeeshops you have mentioned. Its my birthday present to myself and by the sounds of your experience, it will be an awesome trip. Thanks for the posts!

  5. Barrett

    It was short indeed, but cool to meet you. During the revisit, we’ll point you not only at coffee, but some of our leading food spots as well.

    Barrett Jones

  6. Sammy

    James, I’ve been out of the cafe during June… sorry to have missed you! Would have been great to catch up. Glad you liked Vancouver and tried 49th’s Espresso!

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