East Van Roasters

Only a short walk from the Gassy Jack statue in Gastown, at the edge of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, is an unassuming little shop that is quietly changing the world.

East Van Roasters, on the first floor of the Rainier Hotel, is the first bean-to-bar chocolate shop in Vancouver and one of only a handful in the province (along with Sirene Chocolate in Victoria, Beanpod in Fernie, Organic Fair in Cobble Hill and Wild Sweets in Richmond). They buy raw organic cacao beans either directly or through fair trade from farmers in Peru, Madagascar and the Dominican Republic. They then roast, winnow by hand, grind, conch, temper and form the chocolate on site.

They also roast and serve coffee, sourcing beans from West Coast Coffee Traders. This local father and son team deals directly with coffee farmers and sell certified organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified Green Coffee. The East Van Roasters Blend, used for their espresso and French press, is a blend of coffees from Sumatra, Brazil, Ethiopia and Peru.

The coffee is roasted in-house on a volunteer basis by former Origins owner, and current coffee consultant, Doug Graf. Well-respected among coffee people, Graf installed the roaster, the Merlin from Loring SmartRoast, which is also used to roast the cacao beans. It’s an impressive machine, surpassing all emissions standards in California and is the most environmentally sensitive one on the market.

East Van Roasters is one of a handful of social enterprises to come out of the Portland Hotel Society, one of the main social service providers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Except for management – all of which have many years’ experience in the food industry – employees at East Van Roasters are residents of the Rainier Hotel, The Rainier opened its doors 5 years ago as a small but radical new approach to treating addiction for marginalized women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. After many rounds of funding cutbacks the property now effectively provides housing for at-risk women. This is the first chance for some to re-enter the workforce after prolonged periods of time off due to addiction and/or working in the sex trade.

photo-4Above: some cacao beans ready to shell. Right top people during the winnow
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roaster above: the roaster. Bottom left: East Van Roasters shop Photo:  Thompson Chan

East Van Roasters sells coffee and chocolate in all its forms, for folks to consume there or take away. Trust me, if you stop by and have a cup of the intense Mayan Drinking Chocolate, you’ll feel the clouds part and the angels sing. Their chocolate bars can also be found at a select few locations in Vancouver (Edible CanadaNineteen Ten and Harvest).

I can’t stress enough what a light and happy place East Van Roasters is. Though everyone is working hard, it’s with a huge smile. The decor is full of natural light and all production is done behind glass for all to see. A friend who used to work for the PHS at the Rainier stopped by to East Van Roasters last week for a cup of the, surprise, Mayan Drinking Chocolate. She left tearing up as she she saw her former clients not only doing well, but thriving: working hard, in their chef’s jackets and loving it.

In the lab

In the lab. Photo: Thompson Chan

They welcome the public to join in the chocolate process every week on Winnow Wednesday. Every Wednesday night, they open the doors after hours to people who want to hang out and winnow – remove the shells from the roasted cacao beans. In exchange for their time, winnowers get all the coffee, tea, chocolate and baked goods they can consume. It’s a way for people to start understanding the chocolate-making process in a fun way that reminds me of hanging in the kitchen cooking with my mom and her sisters. Call a week ahead to book your spot, though. Winnow Wednesday fills up fast.

They also sell artisanal honey – from Hives for Humanity and Downtown Eastside Honey – as well as T-shirts and other paraphernalia from local artists (like Kate Duncan, Risa  Salsberg and Sri Rodwell).

The chocolate at East Van Roasters is so good they constantly sell out – a welcome problem to have. Whole Foods offered to sell and distribute their chocolate – not bad for a shop that hasn’t even cracked its first year of operation –  an offer which they respectfully turned down. East Van Roasters simply doesn’t have the capacity to produce that much chocolate and they prefer working with small, independent shops. They were just catching up from Christmas and Valentine’s Day when the Easter rush hit them. Lucky for them, and gift baskets everywhere, Easter is late this year.

What makes East Van Roasters successful is that crafting a top tier product is their starting point. If the chocolate and coffee were mediocre, people would come in once, smile at the thought of social enterprise and never come back. But the high standards have developed a devoted clientele that is delighted to support a social enterprise. It’s a model that works. And it’s a pretty great way to make this world a little better.

 

319 Carrall Street (in the Rainier Hotel)

(604) 629-7562

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Top feature photo from East Van Roasters gallery see more here.

Written By:

John Crawford is on a constant hunt for authenticity. This commercial pilot is also a professional saxophone player, music teacher, entrepreneur, aviation blogger and contributing writer to Dry Goods. Through deep roots on ...

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