A New Era for Victoria’s Coffee and Tea Culture

It is easy to take good coffee for granted when it is readily available to you. But take a road trip, say, across Canada, and you soon discover that quality java is not always so easy to come by. This was my experience two summers ago when my family and I made our big westward trek. I’m sure there must be some good coffee in the provinces between Quebec and British Columbia, but I didn’t find any along the TransCanada. As we drove through the Rockies I heaved a sigh of relief: finally, I thought, I won’t have to search for it anymore. It had been a long, long week in a truck with three kids and two Siamese cats, and that corporate green mermaid had become my new best friend.

How thrilled I was, then, to land in Victoria, with almost an overabundance (if such a thing is possible) of first class, independently owned, locally roasted coffee suppliers. I already had an inkling of the intense pleasure Victorians take in their coffee, having stumbled upon Colin Newell’s Coffee Crew blog before moving here. Colin’s extensive website turns his obsession into a tool for education. If you need to know anything about café culture in Victoria, or consumer information on the best espresso-cappuccino machines, CoffeeCrew.com is your one-stop answer. As I began researching this article, it made perfect sense to check in with Colin first.

When I naïvely asked Colin what his favourite new coffee shop was, he swiftly redirected the question. There is an important evolution to the coffee scene that must be taken into consideration. He listed no less than seven establishments that deserve acknowledgements when it comes to advancing café culture in Victoria and the lower Island. Here, in Colin’s own words, is what you need to know:

1. Drumroaster Coffee (Mill Bay) This place must be considered in the lower Island grand scheme of things because it is run by the husband and wife team of Geir and Pat Oglend – they are the originators of great coffee and espresso on Vancouver Island – they brought the culture here by installing some of the first espresso machines on the lower Island in the late 70’s – Their passion for specialty coffee is, as of yet, unequaled on Vancouver Island. Geir also roasts his own high quality Arabica coffee on the premises and participates in as many coffee farmer-coop friendly (and beneficial) programs as he can.

2. Discovery Coffee (two locations: Discovery Ave and Oak Bay and Amphion Ave.) They have been roasting and serving some of the best coffee for a couple of years now and have opened a new cafe at the corner of Oak Bay and Amphion Ave. recently. They also source many of their fine coffees from the “Cup of Excellence” program which gives top dollar to the farmers and coops in coffee producing regions. Their Oak Bay avenue cafe features a “Vacuum Bar” which brews ‘cup at a time’ single origin (one farm) coffees that are superlative in terms of flavor.

3. Habit Coffee and Culture (500 Block of Pandora) Under the guiding hand and watchful eye of Shane Devereaux, Habit packages cool and hip into every cup, gets their coffee from Hines on Granville Island and provides an open and airy space in the heart of Old Town.

4. Street Level Espresso (700 Block of Fort Street next to The Dutch Bakery) Ken Gordon’s small but ultra-hip joint caters to the arts and culture crowd with awesome espresso based drinks.

5. Caffe Fantastico (three locations: Quadra & Kings, McKenzie Ave-Cook Street Village, Dockside Green) Ryan Taylor took Victoria coffee to the next level in the mid-90’s and has never needed to look over his shoulder. Each location has it’s own flavor that suits the neighbourhood to a tee. Great coffees roasted at the Quadra location and always dated fresh.

6. The Stick in the Mud (Sooke Village) David Evans brings caffeinated cool to the Sooke Hills and is gradually moving towards his own roasted coffee products.

7. 2% Jazz Sam Jones roasts great coffee in the Western Communities and holds court at his Times-Colonist “so cool it hurts” joint.

I still felt the need to check things out for myself, so went off to the new Oak Bay Discovery Coffee to admire their halogen-heated siphon method in action. Enthusiastic and informative barista Matt Archambault prepared the single origin (all the beans from one farm) Brazilian Daterra reserve behind a protective glass (when prepared incorrectly, the glass siphons may explode, adding an element of danger, or performance art, to the experience), offering me tasting notes (nuts and cocoa with creamy mouthfeel) and detailed explanations about the importance of grinding the beans just prior to brewing and perfecting a gentle swirl as the brewed coffee returns to the base of the siphon.

I also stopped in at Habit for a perfect macchiato, and later spoke with owner Shane Devereaux about opening up a second location in the Atrium this August. He’s excited to be able to offer Victorians a late-night quality coffee experience.

New to the Victoria coffee scene is James Bay’s Mile Zero coffee, brewed on site at the Niagara Grocery by Ken Winchester. With one table in place and a banquette being built, this will be another spot to sit and enjoy ethically traded, organic coffee. One thing is for sure: in this town, you don’t have to travel far for exceptional coffee.

Check back on Monday for Part 2: Move over, Murchies!

Written By:

Rebecca Baugniet is a freelance food writer and editor living on Canada’s West Coast with her husband and their four children. The author of three published cookbooks, Rebecca has also written for EAT Magazine and for Montréal ...

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