Coffee in Vancouver...Italian Style!

altAs I have been living in Vancouver for a little over one and a half years now, I have been able to thoroughly scope out the abundant coffee scene. With the aid of our editor Colin, I have been directed to many good shops, but many of which I have stumbled upon on my own. One spot of Vancouver where great coffee can be had is Commercial Drive, an ethnic mosaic of cultures, the dominant one being Italians.

As you cruise along The Drive, you notice an abundance of independent shops and roasters, too many to choose from. Of course, like any neighborhood in Vancouver, there is the presence of Starbucks. However, at least here on the drive, the green giant attempts to keep a lower profile, with no big signs or green awnings.

One of the great stops down here is Continental Coffee. This shop is a popular among the locals, where a double latte or fair trade coffee can be had. If you do come to Continental, you must take your time, sit down in one of the big, comfy, sink-down chairs and do some people-watching on The Drive, or watch the staff perform some roasting techniques on the big machine through the glass window. A benefit of Continental is the value - as a student on that fabulous bootstrapping budget, one can pick up a cup here for the change in their pocket - which is more than can be said for many of the shops these days where a minimum $5 bill is needed. Another favorite spot a few blocks down The Drive is Turks Coffee Exchange, which is another Commercial Drive coffee landmark. Another hangout for the locals, Turks is a great spot to sample a drip coffee, where many fair-trade styles are always brewing. While here, you might as well pick up a pound, as these guys always has something new on the go, and the roaster is fired-up daily. This shop is the perfect place to see the locals pontificating on the latest happenings of The Drive, as well as a somewhere to catch a local live music act in the evenings.

The favorite spot I have been frequenting lately is Cafe Roma, located in the heart of the Italian section of The Drive. Roma is "the place" for the local Italians, as it is now a landmark spot in the community. The moment you enter Roma, you feel as if you have stepped onto the movie set of Goodfellas or The Godfather. At times, you have to wonder if you are on Commercial Drive, or Mullberry Street in Little Italy. As you sit there, enjoying your drink of choice, you look around and see the old Italian fellas' talking for hours. While standing at the Barista, you look around and see a back door that has a sign, "Employees Only."

A few times while in Roma, I have leaned over, peered inside when the door is open a crack, and seen a windowless room dimly lit, with plenty of smoke filling the air, and a group of men sitting around a table. I can only assume what the conversation is, as my Italian is limited to the general phrases, but my imagination does helps me out in this case. When ordering a "coffee" at Roma, you receive the true Italian style, which is familiar to us as more of an Americano w/milk. As well, one of the more popular choices here is an espresso, Italian style - which means you have to enjoy the more bitter taste. Whichever you choose, the coffee is always good and I have yet to be disappointed. Cafe Roma is a necessary stop for the true feel of Commercial Drive, as the experience is as good as the coffee itself.

Other shops to choose from are Cafe Napoli, Cafe Italia, Cafe Rosario, and Cafe Vasco de Gama. (Pic-above-left: La Grotta Formaggio - Vancouvers best source for mocha-pots, bialetti coffee makers and fresh foccacia sandwiches!) While also down on the drive, one of the few Italian bakeries is a necessary stop, such as Fratelli's and Finezze di Federico Italian Artisan Bakery These shops carry delicious homemade biscotti of many flavors, or if you want that more traditional Italian taste, maybe even a Canolli.

The abundance of coffee shops and roasters is enough to keep any coffee connoisseur going for quite a while down here. I have now staked out my favorite places in this area of town, and always look forward to the experience as much as the coffee itself.


Dave Reimer lives and studies in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. When he is not studying business at B.C.I.T til all hours of the night, he is sitting in some of North Americas most interesting old cafes.