Ever since she moved to Chicago 8 years ago, Vacations By Rail specialist, Bridget Allen, has always appreciated the perfect cup of coffee. Her love for a delicious cup for a cortado or an oak milk latte has given her the chance to explore and support small local businesses as well as explore the Windy City. In April of 2019, Bridget ventured out to the coastal city of Vancouver to take the scenic train ride aboard the Rocky Mountaineer through the Canadian Rockies. With a few days to explore the city, she took the time to spend it the way she knew and loved - looking for the best cup of coffee. She sampled many shops and narrowed it down to her top picks:
Nemesis - Gastown
302 W Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2N4, Canada
Nemesis was at the top of my list when I was planning where to get my coffee during my limited time in Vancouver, and rightfully so. After I checked into my hotel I walked over to Nemesis in search of my afternoon cup, it took 15 minutes to walk over from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. The shop has floor to ceiling windows in the front and left side of the shop, letting the bright sunlight pour through. Their décor is simple and stylish, with pale wood and glass throughout the shop with plants hanging overhead. Behind their beautiful coffee bar, they have a huge shelving unit highlighting coffee supplies, more plants, stacks of books, and a collection of vinyl featuring iconic Hip-Hop, Rap, and Jazz artists. The integration of coffee, culture, and music is at the core of Nemesis's brand. I ordered an oat milk cappuccino; the staff is very friendly here and my coffee was brought to me shortly. It was served to me in a small ornate glass, complete with a rosetta, and was excellent. Nemesis serves up high-quality coffee in a bright modern atmosphere, with a rotating selection of pastries including some unique options like their cruffin (yes - that is a mix between a croissant and a muffin!). Put Nemesis at the top of your list if you're looking for great coffee and ambiance in Vancouver.
Also, try - Nemesis is a coffee bar and so much more than that, they also have a "Dope Drinks" menu featuring Craft Beers and Exclusive Cocktails like their Nemesis Sour, and their "Dope Brunch" menu served 9 AM - 3 PM Daily with options such as a Salmon and Hollandaise, a French Toast Brûlée offered with sides such as a duck sausage.
Revolver - Gastown
325 Cambie St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2N4, Canada
Revolver is a detailed oriented coffee shop focusing on providing freshly made to order coffee drinks with a rotating menu of roasters. I walked over to the shop from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver around 7:00 AM on my second day in Vancouver, this also took about 15 minutes (it is located right around the corner from Nemesis). The shop is slightly narrow, offering bench seating and tables on the right side with the coffee bar on the left. There are high celling's with tall windows, an exposed brick wall, hanging lights, and dark, heavy wooden tables. Their emphasis on precision is conveyed in the décor through their use of hardware throughout the shop. They feature a world map made entirely out of finishing nails above the seating, and other assorted tools including hanging paint brushes and ladders. You can also pick up any coffee equipment you made need regardless of how you like to brew it, including an Aeropress, Chemex, Hario V60 Ceramic Dripper, or a French Press. They also offer a selection of pastries and a small selection of classic novels available for purchase (think - F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut). I ordered my standard drink here - a soy latte using one of their rotating Espressos. It was served beautifully in a glass, complete with tulip latte art. I sat at their bench seating by the front window enjoying my morning coffee. Revolver offers precisely prepared coffee with a unique atmosphere. If you are looking for a quality cup of coffee in Vancouver, make sure this is on your list.
Also, try -Looking to refine your pallet or maybe just get a good caffeine buzz with a friend? Try their Espresso Brew Flight! This seemed like a fun option to split with someone and a great way to sample a range of their rotating options.
Prado - Gastown
100 W Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1G8, Canada
I stopped at Prado later in the day when I first arrived, around 6:00 PM. I was already walking around Gastown at this point, but it would have been around a 17-minute walk from the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. Prado also features large windows wrapped around the shop offering lots of bright light. The décor here Is a little more relaxed and eclectic. The walls are hung with a collection of vintage reclaimed windows and there are rustic wood paneling and tables throughout. The menu is handwritten on a huge paper scroll. Prado's message is "Proud to serve the city we love" and their mission is to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible in the shop. Prado was originally established in Vancouver and now offers 6 locations in British Columbia. They offer coffee from Parallel 49th Coffee roasters who offer direct trade coffee, which looks to eliminate the middleman and support farmers' business directly. They also serve local milk, eggs, bread, and baked goods and feature homemade soups. I went a little off-script here impulsively decided on their Pink Latte because I am not immune to the allure of a "pink drink". I also grabbed an apricot cookie. The drinks here are served in large blue mugs. The Pink Latte featured beetroot extract, ginger, and almond milk and was lightly sweet and slightly spicy like a turmeric latte. The cookie was huge, and the combo was a perfect sweet pick me up. If you're looking for somewhere to support local businesses in Vancouver, head over to Prado!
Also - Any standard coffee drink! Founder Sammy Piccolo has won the Canadian Barista Championship 4 times and he has also won the World Latte Art Championship. This clearly identifies his commitment to serving up superb coffee.
Off the Tracks Espresso Bar & Bistro – Granville Island
1363 Railspur Alley, Vancouver, BC V6H 4G9, Canada
No trip to Vancouver is complete without a stop at Granville Island. The island was previously the industrial quarter of Vancouver. The buildings in the area are still donned in corrugated steel, but now the island is home to many small businesses including a large public produce market, many restaurants, and food vendors and boutique art shops (not a Starbucks in sight here). I made the trip over the Granville Island during a full day of touring for lunch, after which I had about an hour to wander around and found myself at Off the Tracks Espresso Bar & Bistro. This is probably the largest of the shops that I had visited with a small patio dotted with flowers, and a second floor with loft seating available for patrons. This is another Vancouver gem that boasts their commitment to local ingredients and sustainable practices. They also feature a direct trade roaster, and locally grown produce and everything is made from scratch in their kitchen. They also look to upcycle materials and even use a vintage Synesso espresso machine, which takes some specific training for their baristas. Here I ordered a soy Mocha which came in a large white mug and was the perfect, sweet pick me up during a long day of sightseeing in Vancouver. If find yourself on Granville island during your stay in Vancouver in search of a cup of coffee, this is my top pick!
Also Try - Any of their baked goods or sandwiches featuring bread from the only fully organic local Bakery in Vancouver "A Bread Affair".
Next time you're taking a thrilling train ride through the Canadian Rockies, spend your mornings in Vancouver exploring these amazing cafés that Bridget loved. You can never go wrong with the perfect cup of coffee.