Eastside Coffee Culture

A friend and neighbour of mine likes to text me when she’s in the mood for a cup of coffee. She knows I like to explore the neighbourhood’s cafés as much as she does and we both work on flexible schedules. So, once or twice a month, we head out for coffee and treats. Our neighbourhood is at the intersection of Grandview-Woodland and Hastings-Sunrise (also known as Vancouver East Village, by some). As I’ve mentioned before, there are strong Italian and Portuguese roots in the area, so there’s been a long history of coffee shops in this neighbourhood, especially along Commercial Drive.

There are only a few of the old cafés left, as people retire or move on, but there is still a vibrant coffee culture in the neighbourhood.

These days, old school means Cafe Calabria, Continental, or Turks, all of which were thought of as newcomers when I first moved to Commercial Drive, in my university days.


I have an especial fondness for Continental, as it continues to be the site of the kind of in depth political and philosophical conversations that students, activists, and long-time Drive residents love – and it still serves great coffee. I used to live around the corner from Continental and I had a really good chocolate cake recipe that called for exactly one cup of strong coffee. I’d get an Americano to go, bring it home, and make the cake. It was always a hit. Now, I like to visit for a shot of nostalgia with their excellent coffee.

 

 Turks is the place my Dad wants to drop by, almost every time he comes to visit. Their coffee is consistently good and their patrons are half longtime Drive conversationalists and half laptop-toting students. Locally roasted, award-winning coffee, generous hours, and treats from local favourites like Livia Sweets keep Turks busy from morning till night.

In the last few years, there has been a new wave of coffee shops and cafés appearing along Commercial Drive and East Hastings. These are the ones my neighbour and I like to try on our adventures. They’re not all coffee-focused, but they all serve a commendable cup.

Here are a few of the most notable ones:

Commercial Drive

Bump n Grind


Bump n Grind serves a variety of coffees from excellent small roasters like Victoria’s Bow & Arrows. They bake some great treats in house and source gluten-free and vegan treats from a local producer. It’s a welcoming space that’s always busy.

Moja


Moja is the new kid on the block and I end up there often, because they’re open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. They’ve created a beautiful, airy space from an old storefront and they get their pastries from Thomas Hass. They’re passionate about sourcing and roasting their coffee and about three-quarters of the time, the coffee there is excellent. (I think the inconsistency is down to the newness of this location.)

Prado

 

Prado is part of the 49th Parallel family, another excellent local roaster. They serve great food, too, but just try to get a seat. Their bright, open space attracts a crowd all day long. It’s a good thing that they’ve got a parklet in front for sunny days. (Full disclosure, the photo above is from their Gastown location. Also, it’s tea.)

East Hastings

Basho


This is one of my favourite places in the neighbourhood, but I don’t go there as often as I’d like because it’s usually very busy. Everything they present is beautiful and delicious, from the tiniest cookie to a full meal. They use coffee from Handworks Coffee Studio, which is hand-brewed Matsuya-Style. Go for the coffee, but be forewarned – you’ll also be charmed by the tiny, perfect baked goods they serve alongside.

Black Rook Bakehouse


Black Rook Bakehouse expanded into a bigger space several months ago and it’s a cosy, welcoming place to meet a friend or read a book, while indulging in one of their pastries or quiches. They serve AGRO coffee, which is what gets them onto this list, but really, the coffee is just an excuse to have a [S]ingle [O]rigin [B]rownie or a slice of one of their impossibly tall cakes. Then, you’ll find yourself walking out with a bag of croissants or a freshly baked loaf of bread.

Platform 7 Coffee


Platform 7 puts as much care and attention into their coffee as they did designing their space. The concept for the café is a Victorian train station and they get every detail right. One benefit of this design is that the wall of the café is lined with little booths reminiscent of train station seating, which means it’s often easy to find a seat, even when it’s busy. They also have a not-so-secret garden in the back for even more seating in the summer.

All of which is a very good thing, because Platform 7 requires many visits to experience all they have to offer. They serve a range of Stumptown coffees, which you can try at their espresso bar, their brew bar, or cold brewed by the bottle. Their brew bar is especially fun – get a flight of coffees and you can try three different beans prepared the same way, or one prepared using three different methods.

Pallet Coffee Roasters


Pallet Coffee is much more than a café. They source and roast their own beans, make breakfast, lunch, and treats in house, and source their ingredients, tea, and dairy from local suppliers. You could happily spend all day there, though you’d be awfully full and very caffeinated.

There are more, of course, like JJ Bean or Uprising, but I think I’ve given you at least a week’s worth of places to try.

Let me know if you think I’ve made any glaring omissions. Or, if you’re not local, let me know what your best coffee neighbourhood has to offer.

Cold Teas to Soothe the Soul at Tea Sparrow’s 1st Annual Iced Tea Festival

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Growing up, I thought I didn’t like iced tea. But really, it was American-style sweet tea that wasn’t my thing. When I became a tea drinker, in my adolescence, my mother insisted that I take it clear – no sugar, no milk. I found I loved it that way. I’d lost the taste for pop around ten or eleven and tea was the perfect replacement. I loved its astringency and malty undertones. And I soon became convinced that I only liked it hot.

I kept on feeling that way until my mid-twenties, when a friend made me some barely sweetened sun tea. I’ve had some good versions since, most memorably a batch made with a rich, organic Earl Grey, honey, and mint from a friend’s garden. Still, I never sought it out or felt inclined to make it myself.

It wasn’t until I started exploring premium loose teas that I truly started to enjoy iced tea. It’s no surprise that it’s the teas that don’t need any sweetening at all that won me over. Not all teas benefit from being served cold, but the ones that do make a perfect relief from the heat.

Coconut Oolong

In Vancouver’s seemingly never-ending heatwave this summer, an invitation to an Iced Tea Festival was a welcome distraction. The festival was hosted by Tea Sparrow, which curates monthly selections of teas from around the world, for tea drinkers worldwide. They focus on quality and taste in their tea selections, avoiding artificial ingredients.

I’d only just heard of Tea Sparrow recently, so I took the opportunity to talk to one of the co-founders of the company, Michael Menashy, at the festival. Tea Sparrow started as an industry curation company in 2010, then expanded to shipping tea boxes directly to customers in January of 2012. Though the company has a world focus, their base is Vancouver, which makes their local customers a surprisingly big part of their tea selection process. They hold tea tastings every second month, rating the teas that are contenders for the next few months’ tea boxes. It’s a very hot ticket, since only twelve people can attend – Michael told me the Eventbrite listing is filled up within hours of posting.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of disappointed tea tasters each round. So, to give more of them a chance to get in on the action, Tea Sparrow holds occasional events that cater to a larger crowd. This year’s Iced Tea Festival was the first of what they hope will be an annual event and they had crowds of tea lovers lined up, until well into the afternoon, eager to try the fifteen teas they had on offer.

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I showed up around three, when the line up had eased, and was happy to get out of the muggy heat into Heritage Hall’s airy auditorium. I was armed with a tasting cup and invited to try the teas as many times as I liked. The teas were cold, but not so cold that the taste was dampened, and I appreciated being able to taste them without the distraction of any added sweetener.

Several stood out for me, including Samovar Tea Lounge‘s Pineapple Coconut Oolong, Sonnentor‘s Organic Peppermint, and Tea Desire‘s Maracuja Orange. There was a clear winner for me that day, though – Herbal Republic‘s Strawberry Mint. It had a deep strawberry flavour complemented with mint, which Herbal Republic’s Tracy McDowell told me took a lot of trial and error to get right. Strawberry is one of the hardest flavours to capture in tea and many companies rely on artificial extracts. Not so for Herbal Republic – they dry strawberries carefully and infuse their tea with natural flavours.

Strawberry Mint

I’m supposed to be on a new-tea-moratorium (until the tea cupboard is less stuffed), but I may have to break that fast and order some Strawberry Mint. We’re having a short respite from the heat this weekend, but the rest of the summer is scheduled to be hot and dry – that means iced tea weather until well into the fall. That’s enough of an excuse…right?

Even if I don’t start adding to my tea collection again immediately, I’m feeling inspired to cold brew some of the teas I have at home, finding out which ones work iced as nicely as the ones I tasted last weekend. I’m also going to be keeping an eye on Tea Sparrow’s website. I’d love to go to another tea tasting event in the fall or winter – fifteen hot teas to try on a cold, damp Vancouver afternoon sounds right up my alley.

I attended the Tea Sparrow Iced Tea Festival as a media guest, but had no obligation to review or write about any aspect of the event. All opinions are my own.

Blog Break

  
After the French Fridays wrap up, I decided to take a little blog break.

Starting July 28th, I’m back with my usual Tuesday fare. And I’ve revamped Fridays into “Catch Up Fridays” so that I can bring you some of the French Fridays with DorieCottage Cooking Club, and Tuesdays with Dorie selections I missed along the way, or some of the events I’ve been meaning to tell you about.

Hope your summer has been going as well as Roxy’s!

Headed for a Heatwave

  

It’s going to get hot here, in the next few days. At the same time, there’s a bounty of summer produce to experiment with. Here are a few early summer heatwave suggestions:

It’s still strawberry season, so make the most of them while you can.

Shortcake

Dorie Greenspan’s Double-Strawberry and Rose Shortcakes

Salad

Mozzarella, Tomato and Strawberry Salad

Ice Cream

Ginger-Honey and Strawberry Chèvre Ice Cream

And now, cherries have started appearing in the market.

Cherries

Roasted Cherries

Clafoutis

Whole-Cherry Clafoutis

Gateau Basque

Gâteau Basque

If hot-weather cooking doesn’t appeal, there’s lots to do around town.

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival runs until July 1st this year. There are concerts at venues all over town, but don’t overlook the free shows this weekend at David Lam Park. It’s a beautiful place to relax, picnic, and listen to some stellar music.

If you’d prefer to start your weekend indoors, Rain City Chronicles‘ latest show is at the Museum of Vancouver this Friday. It’s called GUTs and promises “stories of relying on your instincts, acts of bravery, and the organs inside you.”

There are two days left to catch the Festival d’ete francophone de Vancouver.

If you have kids, or if you still have the constitution of one, head over to Playland and test your stomach’s mettle with fair food and amusement park rides.

I prefer my thrills pedal-powered, so Velopalooza is right up my alley. I’m only sorry I missed today’s Tour de Book Exchanges.

Or you could hang out in your backyard (or patio, for you microunit dwellers) and work on developing Summer 2015’s signature drink.

I’ll be here hoping for a nice summer rain.

FFWD – Celebration Week #4: Grand Finale

Now that our group has, collectively, cooked through the whole of Around My French Table, we’ve moved on to four weeks of celebratory posts, reflecting on our more than four-and-a-half years of cooking together.

Our assignment this week:

For the improvisers among us, share an original recipe that was inspired by an AMFT recipe or do a recipe that you would like to Make-Up or just make again. We also suggest that you say whatever you wish to say in this Post. We intend to have boxes of tissues on hand when we read everyone’s posts.. Do your best with this one.

Salted Butter Break Ups

Cooking together. It’s one of the simplest expressions of caring that I know. Cooking for friends and family is nurturing, but cooking with someone develops camaraderie and involves more than a little synergy. It’s easy to see this at work as you move through a kitchen, working with a person or a group.

It’s not something I knew was possible to create by cooking through a book with a group of bloggers scattered across the world.

Each week, as the French Fridays crew worked on another selection from Around My French Table, we began by sharing our questions and concerns with one another, then ended by reading about each other’s experiences with the dish. That alone created solidarity, as we identified with difficulties, helped each other problem-solve, and congratulated each other on successes.

However, it’s what we wrote alongside the practical details that really created our community. We shared stories, in the same way that cooks in a kitchen together might. We learned about the markets and culinary specialties of the places each of us live, while we shared the challenges we faced in finding ingredients across hemispheres, regions, and seasons. We cheered each other on in trying flavours, foods, and techniques we might have been too intimidated to try on our own. As we got to know one another, the quirks of our palates (and those of our loved ones) became fodder for discussion. And as we moved through the recipes, we shared our selves.

So, yes – camaraderie, synergy, and friendship built along the pathways of the Internet. Offline, a number of us have met in person. And even though this part of the journey has ended, we’ll keep following each other’s adventures online, while taking the opportunity to meet up in real time whenever it arises.

None of this would have been possible without Laurie Woodward, who first created Tuesdays with Dorie, then launched French Fridays with Dorie. Mary Hirsch and Betsy Pollack became the administrators of the group a little later on and their warm, encouraging presence made the group feel like a circle of friends. And Dorie Greenspan herself has been the warmest and most welcoming one of all – her encouragement to us along the way has helped us to become better cooks and bakers. More importantly, her generosity of spirit has been the model for how we’ve approached our connections with one another.

  

Now, I encourage you to go back and discover this wonderful cadre of bloggers for yourself – not only the fabulous stalwarts who’ve made it to the end, but also those who cooked alongside us at various points along the way. And do think about joining Tuesdays with Dorie – many of us are over there, too. Then check back with French Fridays in the fall. Laurie and Trevor Kensey (who coined the term Dorista) have something in the works. Until then, I’ll lift a salted butter break-up in salute to every one of the wonderful Doristas.

As you can see, I’m determined that this is not adieu, but à bientôt.

Grab your tissues and read through the Doristas’ wrap up posts, here: Celebration Week #4: Grand Finale

Summer Slow Down

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Today, I’m sharing a few photos from the last few heat-wave-y weeks. Farms, festivals, and fun have been on my off-hours agenda. What’s been keeping you busy so far this summer?

  

    

Win one of two copies of Jill Colonna’s beautiful Teatime in Paris!

FFWD – Celebration Week #3: The Play-It-Again-Dorie Recipe

Now that our group has, collectively, cooked through the whole of Around My French Table, we’ve moved on to four weeks of celebratory posts, reflecting on our more than four-and-a-half years of cooking together.

This week, we were asked to:

Choose the recipe from the book that you have made the most often. Or, that you have made a variation of the most. It may not be your favorite or your AHA recipe but it’s the Repeater.

Strawberry Tartine

I’m going to choose a seasonally-appropriate answer to this week’s assignment. Dorie’s Goat Cheese and Strawberry Tartine has become an early summer ritual for me. The ingredients enhance the flavour of strawberries at their seasonal peak. And the freshness and portability of this tartine makes it the perfect summer food – whether it’s breakfast on the balcony or a picnic on the beach. So, this is my “repeater” in mid-June.

If you’d put this question to me in November, I might have answered with Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux or Leek and Potato Soup. Ask me in August and I might choose Salmon and Tomatoes en Papillote. On a day when I’m craving a treat, my choice might be Croquants or Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake, instead.

All of which is to say that there isn’t just one page that’s stained, worn, and in danger of falling right out of the book. There are many.

Which recipes had the Doristas coming back for more? Find out here: Celebration Week #3: The Play-It-Again-Dorie Recipe

Win one of two copies of Jill Colonna’s beautiful Teatime in Paris!