Vancouver’s Best Cafés

It’s no secret that Vancouver loves coffee. Maybe the caffeine helps us brave the overcast weather, or maybe the culture plays a bigger role in our lives than we’ve ever considered. That would certainly explains Vancouver’s coffee craze. Chains, roasters, and shops have cropped up all over the city, creating one of biggest bean scenes in the country. Just take a stroll down Main Street and you’ll see more options than your caffeine tolerance can handle: local chains like JJ Bean, Bean Around the World, and Continental Coffee; artisan operations like 49th Parallel and Trafiq; cozy places like Cafe Rustico, and, of course, the odd Starbucks.

“Coffee has become a part of fashion in our everyday lives,” says Masahiro Fujinaga. Fujinaga  is the director of Handworks Coffee, a local company that roasts and brews some of the city’s best. Handworks goes to insane lengths when making their coffee, sorting through tray upon tray of beans to remove diseased ones and ordering speciality brewing equipment from Japan. If anyone knows a good cup of coffee, it’s Fujinaga. “Walking with a cup of coffee in your hand, chatting with friends or reading a book or being on a computer at cool cafes,” he says, “All of those are a part of fashion.”

Sure enough, whether it’s a speciality item or the decor, each café in Vancouver has its own personality and style that makes it unique. This begs the question: which are the city’s best?

The inside of Revolver Coffee.
Inside of Revolver Coffee.

1) “I personally know most of the Revolver guys,” says Fujinaga, “And they are very serious about coffee.”

That’s an understatement. A small shop on the outskirts of Gastown, Revolver Coffee has a constantly alternating selection of roasts, letting customers sample coffee from all over the planet. The back wall of the cafe is a giant map of the world made from silver nails, with coffee-growing areas in bronze.  Despite an ever-changing menu, Revolver doesn’t sacrifice quality. The weekly roasts are selected via blind taste tests, and, no matter where the beans come from, every cup is brewed precisely to order.

Lucky's Doughnuts display inside 49th Parallel.
Lucky’s Doughnuts display inside 49th Parallel.

2) Judging from the dull roar that comes out of the café, many Vancouverites have discovered that 49th Parallel serves one of the best espressos in the city. A perfect balance of strong flavour and smoothness, the only superior cappuccino or espresso can be found about 9000 kilometres southeast – in Italy. Sadly, their espresso might be overshadowed by some of their non-caffeinated wares: Lucky’s Doughnuts, which sells out of 49th, offers beautifully crafted treats like Apple Maple Bacon Fritters, Lemon Bismarcks, and the more conservative Old Fashioned doughnuts, all of which tempt customers at the counter.

The café itself is just as eye catching. The Main Street shop, with its exposed brick wall and open shop, looks both modern and strikingly retro. It doesn’t really matter if you’re here for doughnuts or for a cappuccino; you will enjoy it.

3) JJ Bean is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable cafés. The local chain boasts more than a dozen shops throughout the city, but that certainly hasn’t detracted from its quality. The friendly staff, the cozy, comfortable interior, and the coffee, all of it single-source and prepared fresh to order, makes it one of the best caffeinated experiences in the city. Unlike other cafés, JJ’s isn’t afraid to experiment with unique mixes or specialty beverages, which many of its outlets offer up sporadically. JJ Bean is living proof that just because a company is successful, it doesn’t have to sacrifice its mission.

The counter in Matchstick Coffee.
The counter in Matchstick Coffee.

4) Matchstick Coffee is a bit off-trail for coffee fanatics. Whereas shops like 49th and JJ’s are located on busy urban hubs like Main Street or Commercial Drive, Matchstick Coffee is tucked away on Fraser and Kingsway. However, it’s not just the location that sets this small shop apart.

Compared to decorative shops like Revolver, its interior is very minimalist, with plain floors and a smooth, wooden counter. Underneath the simplicity, the shop meticulously brews each coffee by the cup, taking as much control over their product as possible. They order beans from specially selected locations, and of course, they roast them in-house. The result is a cup of coffee at its best. There’s nothing incredibly fancy about it, just something small brought to a whole new level.

Outisde Coo Coo.

5) Of all the entries on this list, Coo Coo Coffee takes itself the least seriously, and that isn’t a bad thing. Right in the heart of Yaletown, a great outdoor patio, simple interior, and loyal patrons (who all seem to know each other) make it the perfect neighbourhood cafe. There’s no gimmick or magic ceremony that occurs over their beans; just good roasts brewed with care. What comes out is a darned good cup of coffee.

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