He ain’t nuthin’ but a hound dog when it comes to coffee. Coffeegeek.com creator Mark Prince has a nose for good coffee bars and he’s willing to share his coffee intell. He’s especially a big fan of cafes that roast their own small-batches and even more where origins of the coffee are made clear. I like good coffee but I like a nesty feel to a coffee bar, good music, animated conversation all around and all the better if there’s delectable croissants or brownies. Not a lot of good coffee purveyors are strong on the food component. Top of my list for both good coffee AND munchies is Crema, in West Vancouver, Matchstick Cafe (the peasanty bread for sandwiches is insanely good) as well as Elysian on West Broadway. I would have included Milano Coffee Lounges to Prince’s list of best coffee bars (roasts their own coffee at the back of one of their stores, too) but hey, it’s his list. I’m also fond of the 49th Parallel on West Fourth and JJ Bean in the Marine Building on Burrard St. “Vancouver is undeniably the best coffee city in Canada for quality, variety and range of cafe styles, though Victoria, on a per capita basis, gives us a run for our money,” says Prince. “But we still lag quite a bit behind Seattle and especially Portland, which I consider to be the greatest coffee city in the world at the moment. Where we lag is in something like what Matchstick Coffee is trying to introduce – the small scale roaster-retailer, a cafe that roasts on their premises. We do have several roaster retailers but most I would not consider to be in the upper echelon of specialty coffee. A big aspect of specialty coffee is transparency about the source of the coffee used and roasted and very few will tell you the origin beyond the country or huge region. Saying you have a Ethiopia Yirgacheffe is like saying Canada, British Columbia wine.” These are his top 10 coffee bars, for coffee and ambiance, starting from his most favourite. (The comments are Prince’s.)
Pour over coffee set up with Kona filters, weigh scales at Matchstick Cafe.
1. Matchstick Coffee, 639 East 15th Ave. It might not serve the best coffee in Vancouver (they’re nearly the best though!) but it’s whats sorely lacking in Vancouver, as compared to Portland or Seattle: a roaster/retailer that roasts their own coffee in house. Now there are a few roaster/retailers in Vancouver, but none approach the calibre of Matchstick. They pay attention to everything they do, from how espresso is made, to how their manual pour-over coffee is brewed, to how they source their beans. They may not be at 49th Parallel’s level in some aspects, but the fact that this is a top-tier micro-roaster and a top tier cafe experience makes them special.
2. Revolver Coffee, 325 Cambie St. Revolver is also a practitioner of the “slow coffee” movement. Everything served there is brewed by the cup, same as Matchstick. They put a great focus on espresso, but also on manual brewing methods for coffee including siphon, Aeropress, Chemex with Kone filters, and press pot. They are also fairly unique in Vancouver in that they try to source a revolving list of the best coffees from the best small-scale roasters around North America.
3. 49th Parallel Cafe, 2902 Main St. Absolutely fantastic grand hall of a cafe, with the bar at centre stage. Espresso is definitely a showcase brewing method for 49th Parallel, but they also do manual pour-over coffee as well as one “coffee of the day” as a bulk brewed coffee. Luckys’ Donuts are a fantastic addition to this cafe. I highly recommend getting a Kalitta-brewed coffee with the beignets, one of the best dessert experiences in Vancouver.
4. Elysian Coffee, 590 West Broadway and 1778 West Fifth Ave. Elysian just started roasting their own coffee, albeit at another company’s roast works. They also are very committed to slow coffee service, serving up manual pour-over, Clover-brewed coffee (one of only a few independent cafes in Vancouver doing this), and of course, has a big focus on espresso. They have two locations. The Broadway location is nice and has a hidden quiet outdoor alcove, and the Fifth Avenue location is nice and quiet, off the beaten path.
5. Bump ‘n Grind Coffee, 916 Commercial Dr. Another great independent cafe that also features a rotating variety of great coffees from some of the best roasters in Canada. They are also another rare independent cafe with a Clover coffee brewer. Another cafe with big focus on espresso.
6. Kafka’s Coffee and Tea, 2525 Main St. This cafe’s only a few years old, but has become a big neighbourhood favourite. Another “slow coffee” practitioner, the feature here is espresso or manual pourover coffees. They use coffee from a respected Seattle coffee micro roaster, Herkimer.
7. Caffe Cittadela, 2310 Ash St. Absolutely beautiful and intriguing cafe in a heritage house in Vancouver, serving 49th Parallel coffee. These folks do a fantastic job with their espresso, and also do bulk coffee brewing. They often do table service too, which is especially nice if you grab a seat on their outdoor patio. I love this cafe for all the little nooks and crannies you can find to take a seat.
8. Prado Cafe, 1938 Commercial Dr. This cafe, which had a good reputation with The Drive locals, got even better when it was bought by the four-time Canadian Barista Champion, Sammy Piccolo, who happens to be the brother of the owner of 49th Parallel Roasters, Vince Piccolo. Sammy has really upped the quality game in this cafe, and has legions of local fans for the coffee he’s serving.
JJ Bean on Main St.
9. JJ Bean Coffee, 3010 Main St. They are a well respected Vancouver chain, but my favourite location is the Main Street one because of the big fireplace and the really high calibre staff. JJ has been evolving their roast style and coffee buying over the years, with each year getting better and better.
10. Innocent Coffee, 1340 Fourth Ave. A bit unexpected, a bit out of the way, though not really, this is a fiercely independent cafe that also hosts art exhibits and other social events. Focus in this cafe is primarily espresso, though manual brew coffee methods are available.