Cafe Review: Cafe Zen on Yew

A couple of weeks ago I went on my first breakfast outing in Kitsilano. It’s taken me five months to get over the bridge, which is pretty poor form I know, so when I finally went I decided to try one of the top rated Kitsilano breakfasts on Yelp: Cafe Zen on Yew.

Blueberry pancakes with a side of eggs, my new favourite breakfast

REVIEW: Cafe Zen on Yew
1631 Yew St
Kitsilano, Vancouver

Rating: 3/5 Stars

The first thing to know about Cafe Zen is that it is open. There’s a mass of construction happening out the front, so it’d be easy to disheartened and assume it was closed. But never fear, the tiny sign on the door isn’t lying and you should definitely head in.

Once you get inside it will probably be packed. We went at 9:30 on a Saturday and although it only took a coupe of minutes to get a table, the cafe was very busy. It’s definitely a popular place.

One enormous coffee!

Truth is I didn’t go to Cafe Zen for it’s coffee. I was mostly there to try the breakfast so many people were raving and on that front I wasn’t disappointed. It’s not the fanciest cafe you’ll every go to. They’re definitely not trying to keep up with design trends. But the prices are reasonable and it’s a proper hearty breakfast. I can see why it’s a local favourite.

And to be upfront, the coffee itself was good. Proper roasted flavour, could have been a little stronger but it was nicely creamy for a latte. I don’t think that I’ll be going back for another though, because as strange as it sounds the coffee was too big. It must have been twice the size of a normal coffee and could easily have come in a small soup bowl. And that’s just too much latte for me in one go.

That probably sounds ridiculous right. Too much coffee? How fussy do you want to be? But it was enormous! I’m not even sure they have smaller sizes. I left breakfast feeling jittery and a little too wired. I understand that it was fairly priced. To have the kind of flavour it did, there were at least two shots in the latte (possibly more). So for $4.20 I got a pretty good deal. But I’d rather pay $3.60 for one shot than $4.20 for two. It’s less economical but I don’t need that much caffeine in the morning. If you do, however, don’t let my review put you off. Cafe Yen on Yew is the place for you!


Cafe Review: Finches Tea & Coffee House

In another attempt to get out of my coffee comfort zone (namely Davie St), I decided to head into Downtown and Finches Tea & Coffee House for my latest coffee adventure. I’d peaked through the door a couple of weeks ago, on my way to lunch, and the hints of wooden furniture and overgrown pot plants made me think this could be my kind of place.

Finches Tea & Coffee House

REVIEW: Finches Tea & Coffee House
353 W Pender St
Downtown Vancouver

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sometimes I wonder, no I’m sure, that there’s an interior decorating formula for pleasing people like me. Take one part retro china and add one part lush greenery. Make sure there’s a solid foundation of wooden furniture and that none of is matches exactly. Then top off with indie rock music and you have one happy customer.

Pot plants galore! I was too scared to go up and touch them, but they looked real.

Honestly though, I don’t think I care. I love these kinds of cafes and their comforting kind of  charm. And with a menu that includes hot & spicy organic apple cider, Horlicks, steamed soy and maple and hot/cold blackcurrant juice, what more could you ask for?

A pretty little centrepiece

Ok, to avoid sounding like a groupy there were a couple of negatives. The music was a little loud at the start. It’s a pretty busy cafe and, with no wifi, it’s not really somewhere you can lounge around for an afternoon. None of these things were deal breakers for me, but I just wanted to prove I could look past the the decore.

And, to get to the big issue, the coffee was good. Not amazing, but still a decent well made coffee. I thought mine was a little thinner than I’d like and maybe there was more foam on top than I was expecting for a latte. But now I’m digging deep and being super picky. Overall it was a very satisfying mid-morning coffee and my chocolate chip oatmeal cookie was the perfect compliment.

Midmorning sugar and caffeine

Finches Tea & Coffee House manages to combine hipster fun with an accessibility that stops it from being pretentious. And just to prove it, their playlist included a little Tina Turner. Just to mix it up. Tina Turner and Hot Blackcurrant juice. I’ll definitely be back.

Cafe Review: Union Market

The week before my New York trip, I stumbled up on a rare coffee treat. I was doing errands on East Hastings and a friend recommended the Union Market as a cute place to get a coffee. It was a couple of blocks off the main road, but well worth the walk. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I always love a good surprise!

Union Market
Union Market

REVIEW: Union Market
810 Union St
Strathcona, Vancouver

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Union Market is a local corner store crossed with a café. The surrounding area is super cute. It was full of painted wooden houses; the kind that hang Halloween decorations and own fat, friendly cats. Inside the store has a nice mix of fresh produce, convenience items and then right in the middle is the cashier/coffee bar.

Union Market
Union Market

As a general rule I haven’t had the greatest coffee from tiny corner stores. But this was a pleasant surprise. It was aromatic with proper, unburnt flavour and a nicely balanced milky. Given that I’ve previously had a disappointing coffee at a fancy looking café, maybe it’s fitting that I had a good coffee from an unassuming corner store.

Union St Union St
Locals on Union St

To top it off, their hot apple cider sounds interesting. I was told that it’s made from organic apple juice and a chai mixture. If I could have justified ordering the latte and a hot apple cider I would have.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be in the area, but if you are stop by the Union Market. Try the hot apple cider and let me know what it’s like!

Cafe Review: Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Café

My cafe reviews, if anyone has noticed, are not just reviews of cafe’s in my local area. I’m also slowly working my way through the Huffington Post’s ‘Best Coffee In Vancouver’ List. As a newcomer to the city, I thought I’d see what everyone else’s favourite coffees were. High on Huffington Post’s list is the Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Cafe.

Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Café
Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Cafe

REVIEW: Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Café
1059 Alberni St
West End, Downtown Vancouver

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Something I feel goes hand in hand with coffee are baked treats, such as macaroons. Macaroons can be a bit tricky though. It’s easy to dismiss them as pretentious and a waste of money; how many other French biscuits can charge $2.50 a pop? But, if reasonably priced, I do love a good macaroon. It’s the perfect bite sized treat and maybe it’s healthier to spend too much on a small biscuit than too little on a large, carb filled muffin. That’s what I tell myself at least.

Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Cafe
Macaroons, yum!

When I got to the Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Cafe, it was obvious that they could help me with my love of baked treats. I ordered a decadent looking cassis macaroon. Something I should admit though, is that I ordered it without knowing what cassis was. I had to google it afterwards. Crème de cassis, it turns out, is “sweet, dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants” and an excellent macaroon flavour. The macaroon was delicious and at $1 it’s easily the best I’ve had in Vancouver.

Something else I should admit to is that I ordered a cassis macaroon without knowing what cassis was. I had to google it afterwards. Crème de cassis, it turns out, is “sweet, dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants” and an excellent macaroon flavour. The macaroon was delicious and at $1 it’s easily the best I’ve had in Vancouver.
Creme de cassis, you learn something new every day

Thierry’s itself has a bit of a mixed atmosphere. It has the displays of a high end chocolatier, the queues of a bakery and the seating of a café. The interior is decorated in dark brown wood and they were playing French jazz when I visited (not just regular jazz, French jazz). All of this combines to give you the impression that you’re in a very fancy place.

Sadly, the coffee didn’t agree with this. It had a nice aroma, but a bitter aftertaste that lingered. My barista experience is limited, but I think it comes from not cleaning the machine properly. Not so terrible to black list the cafe, but I wouldn’t go back to Theirry for the coffee alone. If you’re looking for a sweet treat on Alberni St, Thierry Chocolate Patisserie Café is an easy choice. But if you’re looking for a really good coffee, I’d keep walking.

Cafe Review: Buzz Cafe and Espresso Bar

* I’ve recently put up an index of my cafe reviews and in the process decided to change Buzz Cafe’s rating. Not by much, but it had to be done.

A couple of days after visiting Innocent Coffee I was in Yaletown and stopped by Buzz Cafe and Espresso Bar. Just like Innocent Coffee it’s a cafe/gallery, but it’s funny how very different the two are.

Buzz Cafe
Buzz Cafe and Espresso Bar

REVIEW: Buzz Cafe and Espresso Bar
901 Homer St
Yaletown Vancouver

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars (3 Stars)

Unlike Innocent Coffee, as soon as you walk into Buzz Cafe you feel like you’re in a gallery. The walls are painted a muted mauve colour and there are lots of comfy couches and coffee tables scattered around. Together with it’s high, roomy ceilings the cafe feel luxurious and a tiny bit serious; nothing like the bright but enclosed Innocent Coffee. Although I haven’t been in Vancouver very long, Buzz Cafe feels very Yaletown to me.

Combine this openness and the large couches with the cafe’s free wifi and it’s easy to see why it’s so busy. Most of the couches were filled with people working or having meetings. The jazz playing in the background was just the icing on the cake.

Buzz Cafe
Buzz Cafe and Espresso Bar

Sadly, while a relaxed atmosphere is the cafe’s strongest  asset, the coffee was not. My latte was a little burnt and a bit thin, despite containing two shots. As soon as I tasted it I wanted to add sugar and that’s not a good sign. The mark of a good coffee is when you enjoy the first sip, without instantly wanting to add extras.

On a finally high note, my carrot cake was delicious and very well priced for it’s size. But it didn’t make up for the coffee. It’s a bit of a dilemma really. Buzz Cafe is a lovely place to hang out, but I’m still paying $3.60 for an unimpressive coffee. And for me, that’s a deal breaker.

Cafe Review: Innocent Coffee

When I set out to visit the Innocent Coffee, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it had good reviews on the internet, there was a gallery upstairs and it’s in an area I haven’t been to yet. Good coffee, fun gallery, new part of the city; that’s really enough for me. Nonetheless, when I got to Innocent Coffee it was not what I expected.

Innocent Cafe
Innocent Coffee

REVIEW: Innocent Coffee
1340 West 4th Ave
Fairview Slopes Vancouver

Rating: 4 Stars

The café is on the ground floor of the building and the gallery is on the first floor. The first thing you notice when you walk in the door is that the café is small. Very small. Maybe half the size of my living room kind of small. There’s only room for 6 people to sit down and when I had to blow my nose, I was almost too embarrassed to do it. I felt like I was intruding on the barista’s personal space.

Innocent Coffee
An Innocent Coffee

The décor reminds me of your hipster friend’s nicely decorated apartment; white walls punctuated with minimalistic furniture and simple but cute decorations (like a black framed print from Where The Wild Things Are). So in spite of it’s size, it’s a really pleasant space and the baristas are actually pretty friendly (and don’t scorn you for blowing your nose). Upstairs the Upper Room is a casual gallery that displays local artist’s work. When I visited, the exhibition was mostly portraits and entry was free. I’m not someone who can speak about art with authority, but I enjoyed the collection.

Most importantly, however, above everything I’ve written so far is the fact that the coffee is excellent. I can’t stress this enough: it was truly, properly good coffee. Creamy and thick, with a strong but unburnt flavour. It was an excellent coffee. I think Melriches has got real competition.  But I guess what Melriches has is both good coffee AND the kind of space and atmosphere where you can spend a morning leisurely reading the paper or working on your next blog post. Innocent Coffee doesn’t have that. It’s a nice place to have a coffee, but not somewhere you can lounge around.

Cafe Review: Breka Downtown Bakery and Cafe

The Breka Downtown Bakery & Cafe isn’t on Davie St (finally, I made it off!), but I had walked past it a number of times before stopping. There were always a crowd of people inside and it seemed pleasantly light up at unusual hours. A local, late night, weekday cafe is an nice thing to have up your sleeve so I thought I’d stop by and try it out.

Breka Bakery
The Breka Downtown Bakery & Cafe

REVIEW: Breka Downtown Bakery & Cafe
818 Bute St
Sunset Vancouver

Rating: 3/5 Stars

I’ve been to the Breka Downtown Bakery and Café a couple of times now and it’s an unusual mix; part bakery, part café and part university library. Half of the space is taken up by the brightly light bakery display, while the other half is made up of large, shared tables and couches (with everyone on them vying for power points). If I’m being honest, it’s not a place I could imagine calling my local. It was a bit too bright, a little too noisy and maybe a little too commercial to call my own. Sure I’m happy to stop by for the occasional coffee and their free wifi, but I guess I’ve always gone there out of convenience. Not for the coffee.

Breka Bakery
Breka Bakery & Cafe: My latte and kuffle

The first time I visited the café I had a kuffle and a latte. Neither was spectacular. The kuffle was nice but not as creamy as I was expecting. Similarly the coffee was pleasant, but didn’t have a lot of body and was a little too milky for my taste. The next time I visited I asked for a hot apply cider, but was told they couldn’t make it because they were out of cinnamon. Apparently a hot apply cider is just regular apple juice with cinnamon added and heated. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations, but is that all that hot apple ciders are? I ended up with a hot chocolate instead, which was nice. But just standard warmed milk and nothing exciting. That might be how I’d sum up the coffee and food I had at the Breka Bakery and Café; it was fine but nothing stood out.

Breka Bakery
Breka Bakery & Cafe: Hot Chocolate

Nonetheless the bakery/café is reasonably priced and open 24/7. If I need a place to go to gossip with friends at 11pm on a weeknight, I’d much rather come here than a Tim Hortons or Wendys any day.