Vancouver: An SA family in Canada

Tuesday, 2 December, 2014
By Joseph Stoltz

Ah, the quest for the perfect espresso.

I had heard the saying "a day without good coffee is like a day without sunshine" and between 27 June and 14 July, the sun shone brightly in Vancouver. Ok, it was an incredible summer patch of weather even by local standards but that should not take away from the sheer opulence of the coffee experiences, which ranged from magnificent to mediocre.

Arriving as a self-proclaimed espresso snob, there was an abundance of choice available. Pretending to understand local media, I searched for a list of the best coffee bars - doesn't every city have a definitive list of their best? Securing said list from the Vancouver Sun website and produced by the owner of the website (no! I am not being paid by either entity to publish this blog!) I dived straight in.

Number 4 on the top 10, Elysian Coffee, was our first destination and what a relief. To have travelled so far and been confronted with poor coffee would have been devastating and soul destroying. You will notice that I am occasionally prone to exaggeration but after an 11 hour to London from Johannesburg, a 4 hour layover at Heathrow's terminal 2 and another 10 flight to Vancouver from London, such foibles can be forgiven. Just.
Elysian served full bodied, pulled espresso shots that were served in a custom made glasses - an interesting visual experience - and which were consistent in favour, no bitterness nor acidity and a delight to begin our adventure......Recognizing my accent, the barista even tried to entertain me with the locations of South African shops in the area, we obviously have made our own national impression!
I digress, the coffee was smooth and silky, with a pleasant aroma and subtle tones of roasted nuts. If this was number 4 on the list we were looking good for the rest of our trip. It was clear from our first shots that much care was taken to ensure consistency and the flavour profiles were unique, a clear indication of the precision of the roaster.....what a start!

Day one done (yes! I left out all the family stuff and the inevitable trip to the large Toys R Us store, which 11 and 7 year old would not clamour for such opportunities?).....and onwards on the "search for the perfect espresso".....

Day two saw us hit the Main Street strip, and what a rewarding choice this was......49th Parallel (yip, that’s the place’s name) was a complete surprise, why was it listed as number 3? This place rocks, from the design of the espresso bar, to the presentation of the coffee options and the very cool, custom made espresso machine - which resembled something a rocket scientist would cook up, not a Dutchman!

Seriously though, an Italian craftsman did not make this work of functional art people, I promise. Seems losing in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup is reward for the Dutch, unlike the Italians who (despite beating a poor England) could not get past a biting Saurez (and Uruguay). Maybe Saurez did not have his usual espresso shots in Brazil? Here ends my conspiracy theory for this blog entry. If the designer espresso machine was not enough, along came the first espresso shot, pulled by a legend of a barista with a beard to his knees and a quirky sense of humour....bold, fully laden with a citrus (yip, a fruity overture) my taste buds screamed heaven in a mini-cup, what a pleasure......ok, so I am a skeptic, surely that was pot luck and the law of diminishing returns would catch this place out, but the next two visits were exactly (and I mean exactly) the same, which is quite an achievement. Consistency.

The espresso was also presented in a 49th Parallel branded pale green cup, on a custom made wooden board with holes for the cup and the glass of tape water (which all good espresso bars should serve, but which was sadly lacking in a number of the places) and a strategically placed spoon, right in the middle of the board. Bliss. Despite the rather bland name for their signature blend which was being poured while we were there, two 250g bags of 49th Parallel’s “Epic Espresso” blend were dutifully dispatched delightfully into the depths of our ever increasing luggage compliment (only after the third visit mind). A bag of the “Old School” blend mysteriously found it’s way into our bags too. Strange that.

Next we hit JJ Bean, which, although one of a chain of espresso bars (and listed at a lowly number 9), was another pleasant adventure. One block over from 49th Parallel, the espresso shots were remarkably fresh, free of acidity and wholesome, the lovely aroma demonstrating a no frills or fuss approach, just simplicity and elegance.

With Main Street completed, I figured we had better try some of the further out joints on the list and with names like “Matchstick, Revolver, Prado, “Bump n Grind”, “Innocent” and “Caffee Cittadela” seems like quirkiness, quality and quintessence were going to reign supreme. But we needed a break. Too much coffee in a single day is like too much sunshine, vitamin D overload and a peeling skin.

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