JJ Bean - Better coffee in Vancouver

JJ Bean Powell StreetAnyone in Vancouver, who knows good coffee, probably has their own place to head to for that special cup. New coffee shops are opening their doors all the time – and there is no shortage of variety. When it comes time to pick up that caffeinated beverage, I stick to East Vancouver. Between "The Drive" (Commercial) and Main Street, the shops are plentiful, most of them are pretty good. One of the shops that has an increasing presence in the city is JJ Bean – JJ Bean is a local business with history in roasting and more recently, local storefronts for the rest of us. I recently met with a few folks heading up the operations at JJ Bean, and got the inside perspective on what makes good coffee at JJ Bean.

Photo above right - The Powell Street JJ Bean retail area.

Originating 80 years ago as a local Vancouver roaster, Neates Coffee provided Vancouver with fresh locally roasted coffee. Until the early 90's when Starbucks decided to gamble and open two storefronts corner-to-corner, JJ Bean was solely a roaster. At the time, JJ Bean felt, if Starbucks could open two stores side by side, Vancouver could (obviously) support another collection of skilled baristas. JJ Beans opened their first store on Powell Street in East Vancouver. It housed the green coffee warehouse and the roastings. This first store on the lower east side of the city offered Vancouverites the opportunity to support a local roaster at a time when Starbucks was moving into the city quickly.

In 2006, after opening the Main St. location and on the verge of opening a fifth store in West Vancouver, JJ Bean's coffee offerings are continuing to expand. JJ merged with Torrefazione Coloiera (House of Coffee) on Commercial Drive in 1999 and added some Italian flair to the offerings. As well, they continued in the tradition of the Italian style of roasting and blending. Each of JJ beans Vancouver Powell Street, the two landmark stores, suit the eclectic mix of East Vancouver accordingly - right down to the art displayed on the walls.

The Commercial Drive store features batch roasters on the floor. They are open to the public for your own personal roasting session (Do I sense a CoffeeCrew Vancouver Roast in the makings?). The recently opened Main St. location, an upscale store with a cozy fireplace, is a popular spot in the neighborhood. I am here by 7:30 most Saturday mornings and the place is buzzing. JJ Bean locations have their own unique feel, suiting the neighborhood in which they are located.

Finally, Granville Island fits the Island Marketplace perfectly, with a small storefront, but with the staff able to accommodate the high traffic. (Granville Island is also the only location to feature the famed Jamaican Blue Mountain roast.) Regardless of the JJ location you visit, one thing to be sure of is a quality pull of espresso every time - generally the signature Nero Forte blend. I do try to have an open mind for all things coffee for CoffeeCrew.com, but every time I stray from JJ Bean for my Americano in Vancouver, I quickly return.

Photo lower left - The Powell Street 'Bag' roaster. It roasts 120 pounds of coffee per batch.

JJ Bean Powell StreetAfter visiting JJ HQ and getting an inside look at what makes the company run, I can see how quality is at the top of the list for these guys. As the business is originally based on roasting for distributors, restaurants, and other coffee stores, the retail aspect of the business was not originally the focus. However, the four stores have been built up over the years and quality has been maintained, from the bean sales right over to the Baristas. During my visit, I was able to have a few drinks prepared for me. As well, these guys do coffee, mochas and whatever other funky drinks are popular these days, Espresso is the focal point here! Lattes, Cappuccino, Americano and a straight doppio - the real treat!

In my eyes, another key success factor JJ Bean has had here in Vancouver is suiting the city appropriately. Every time I walk into one of the locations, it captures the feel of the neighborhood, as well as the folks in it that like to call these places "their coffee shop."

In Vancouver, there are more places to have Coffee than I can imagine, but there are only a handful that do a really great job. Also being based in East Vancouver, I am certain there is a clientele that ensures support for "the local guy". No doubt this has probably contributed to JJ Beans success. You can clearly see this on the Main Street and Commercial Drive locations, where the nearby Starbucks seem to keep a low-key profile - the local guy is welcome here. All of these factors, combined with great espresso, sum up to one of the top places in Vancouver when it comes to everything caffeine.

Over the next few weeks, I will be moving around to some of the other local Vancouver coffee shops that have now turned to other landmarks in this city (and believe me, narrowing down this list is not an easy task!). The hunt for great coffee elsewhere in this city continues. {mos_sb_discuss:30}


For the CoffeeCrew.Com website, I am Dave Reimer. Dave lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. Canada - Ground Zero for specialty coffee in Canada (and most of North America!)