This site is longer updated. At one time there were reviews of a couple dozen cafes and shops in the Okanagan, but the information is no longer current and the reviews have been deleted. In starting this site my aim was to help people who like coffee find good coffee in the Okanagan, but also to encourage a sense of community around good food and drink and to encourage people to get together to make shit happen. Since this site was started in 2009 two friends I made through this blog opened two separate cafes in Vernon, both with their own unique and new -to Vernon- take on the cafe-as-community-hub. The huge amount of hard work it took (and continues to take) is entirely theirs, but I hope this blog played a little part in encouraging those ventures.
You’ve probably found this site while searching for somewhere in the Okanagan to get good speciality coffee, so I won’t leave you high and dry. At this point I’m happy to say the following list is incomplete, as there are more great cafes in the area than these ones. It’s just that I don’t know what they are (especially in Kelowna, I haven’t spent any meaningful amount of time there in years).
I’m still available at okanagancoffeeblog@gmail.
I’m excited to be a party to Vernon’s first barista jam later this month. I was hoping we’d see some great events like this this year, and this is the second one in the Okanagan so far! Sounds like this will be a regular event, with the first one held at the Vernon Blenz.
For more details, and contact information, check out the Facebook event page.
On the auspicious date of February 14th, Kelowna’s Bean Scene coffee house held their first open barista jam/latte art throwdown. Bean Scene’s baristas were on hand, pouring in a head to head format against each other as well as other baristas. While latte art was the draw, this event was more about fostering some community within the Okanagan’s disparate “coffee scene”. Baristas from other Kelowna shops, and even a Vernon cafe (Bean to Cup Silver Star) showed up to pour some art and enjoy a night centred on coffee geekery.
The turnout for the event surprised me, as there were many membersof the general public . It was nice to see something like this attract and hold the attention of people outside the industry, -especially in the Okanagan. The success of this night is a precursor for nights to come, and shows that there is support for such events here.
I was told that Bean Scene Kelowna is looking at holding barista jams on a frequent basis as a way to get their baristas excited about and ready to compete in the Coffee Fest Latte Art Competition, held every few months. There is some interest on the part of at least two Vernon shops to hold barista jams as well.
I had camera in hand at the jam, and was able to get a few shots while I wasn’t busy talking shop or pouring (click on thumbnails for larger picture)…
Late last year my attention was drawn to Kaffeologie, a Washington company doing some very cool things for coffee brewing. I caught their blog post about a new product they were developing: A metal mesh filter for Hario and Yama coffee syphons. In inquired about a review sample and received one in the mail a couple weeks ago.
Since that time I’ve had the chance to use the filter for several brews on my five cup Yama syphon.
Syphon brewing is a lost art that seems to be catching on once again in North America. At one point, the coffee syphon was the brewing device of choice in many a kitchen. In recent years the syphon has staged a comeback of sorts in cafes, and is now a mainstay in some cafes in cities like Vancouver and Portland. However,it seems like home syphon brewing is still consigned to the lunatic fringe of coffee lovers. After all, considerable effort is required, as the process is a bit labour intensive and has the reputation of being pretty finicky. The rewards of a well made syphon however, are well worth the effort. These include intense aromatics and crystal clear flavour definition that have much in common with the delicate notes of a finely brewed tea.
I hadn’t used my syphon in some time, as I was frustrated with maintaining the cloth filters usually used with the device. While the filters help produce a sediment free brew with the aformentioned terrific clarity, they are also very hard to keep clean over an extended period. A dirty filter, even one that does not look dirty, will completely ruin a pot of coffee. I’ve heard it recommended that a cloth filter not be used more than a few times. Even cleaning the filters leaves them susceptible to contamination from mildew or mould as they dry.
When I saw Kaffeologie’s design i was really intrigued. The filter is a fine metal mesh cut and crimped around a standard Yama filter assembly (frame and spring), fastened with metal wire. The web site describes it thus:
“The filter is folded tightly and stitched with non-tarnish Argentium silver around the frame. As a final step, we crimped the edges of the mesh to ensure a perfect seal against the glass lip of the siphon.”
After receiving the filter I proceeded to use it for several brews over the course of the last couple weeks, using a variety of coffees including a Kenya, a New Guinea, and a Guatemala. As I expected, the Kenya was the best, with terrific flavour definition and all the promised notes of fruit and citrus. What surprised me was in fact the clarity. I expected more of a heavy press pot style brew, but this was very close to what I was used to with a cloth syphon filter.
The following brews were similarly terrific. Another benefit for me was a speedier and more predictable drawdown, something I had been frustrated with in the past.
What had originally gotten me so excited about the filter was the potential ease of cleaning. A simple rinse would do the do the job with metal mesh, or so I thought. This is in my mind the sole problem with this filter: It isn’t really easy to thoroughly clean. At first I thought I had cleaned it well with a simple rinse under the tap, but on closer inspection I saw many grounds trapped between the mesh and the filter frame. I worked the mesh and rinsed several more times to get rid of them, but a few always persisted. I didn’t wish to remove the mesh, as it was carefully sewn onto the frame, so I just resigned myself to having a few maverick grounds in there. I have no idea whether or not those grounds affected the taste of subsequent brews. Of course, this is no cloth filter. I didn’t have to scrub or soak or wring it out. I don’t have to worry about mould or mildew. I can reuse this filter indefinitely.
The ideal would be for the design to be modified so that the mesh can easily be removed from the frame, then the whole thing rinsed and cleaned in a matter of seconds. Whether this is easy to accomplish or not is a question I don’t know the answer to.
Overall, I was really impressed with this filter. It is an innovative device at a very good price. In fact I think it’s a real step forward for syphon brewing and deserves to find a home in any cafe that frequently brews syphon coffee. The cleaning issue is the only flaw, but one that shouldn’t be tough to address and won’t even likely be a big deal for anyone who is not a bit obsessive compulsive about their syphon.
Back in November I took a trip to Vancouver to visit friends and enjoy the variety of amazing food and coffee available. Whilst there I visited a handful of new cafes as well as some old favourites. I went down with the idea in the back of my mind to look at these cafes and figure out what lessons could be learned and applied here in the Okanagan. While I’m not aspiring to open a shop myself anytime soon, as I don’t have the means to fund such a venture, I hope to provide some inspiration here.
We visited Elysian every morning we were in Vancouver. We started out each day here because we knew we could depend on the super friendly staff, and consistently high calibre of food and drink on hand. Elysian is that rare beast: The coffee house that has delicious and fresh food. They have what I’m pretty sure is a full professional kitchen in the back, and serve not only sweet and carby fare such as cookies and muffins, but also hearty soups, quiche, and a variety of sandwiches made with fresh and local ingredients. All at decent prices (the quiche, despite its diminuitive looks, is the most filling five bucks in the place). And the coffee. Always great, usually outstanding from espresso to brewed. The service here is typically friendly, with a dose of humility that is really refreshing in a business in which snobbery is easy to find.
Dose is at Granville and Broadway, right at a major transit stop. The shop is small, with one table that could seat six or even eight in a pinch. It’s well lit, with friendly staff, and a happy vibe. This is a new shop, and the watchword seems to be simplicity, from decor to drink menu. I had a chat with a regular who says the shop is a boon to those who’d rather skip Starbucks on the commute.
This is a really cool little cafe that seems to be among a new wave of small and simple shops in Vancouver.
I can’t remember if it’s Innocent Cafe, or Innocent Coffee, or what. Either way this place was my favourite new shop. In the same vein as Dose, Innocent is small, simple, and cozy. Short drink menu with a few tasty and fresh snacks in small cube of a building with a mini library/gallery on the upper level and a small round table as the main seating area. This was a terrific place to wait out the rain. Again with the friendly staff and terrific coffee.
JJ Bean (Yaletown)
JJ Bean is a bit of a comfort zone for me, a living room away from home. I can usually depend on a solid drink, good service, and running into someone awesome that I used to work with. Such was the case in Yaletown on this trip. In a way, JJ Bean is the anthithesis of the above cafes: Their shops are usually pretty big and they have a lot of them. However, this company could teach any shop in the Okanagan a thing or two about balancing quality and speed of service. Handling speed and a high customer volume doesn’t need to mean a sub-par drink (Starbucks?). Like the smaller shops, JJ clearly takes pride in appearance with some neat design elements in most shops, and a pretty clean look overall. Also worth mentioning is the basic menu.
There were three very fundamental things I noticed that worked at these shops, I’ll talk about those, how they apply in the context of the Vancouver shops, and how they apply in an Okanagan context.
Every shop herein described (and many more) keeps to a very simple menu. They don’t try to sell you everything under the sun, from red tea to toast with coffee fitting in somewhere behind quinoa. They keep it simple, which makes it easy for the customer to understand and order. Working in shops here in the Okanagan, the number one most consistent customer problem is confusion. And I can’t blame anyone for being confused when most given menus have ten to twenty drinks in a combination of up to four sizes, along with ten to twenty more food items. Plus modifications. These shops do away with that. A small menu of drinks in just a couple sizes allows customers to pick easily, and allows for staff to get very good at making what is on offer. There’s no chance they will mess up your drink because they’ve only made it once in the previous year. The food is generally laid out in a small case with clear signage and pricing, and there are just a few items, made fresh.
Moreover, store design is clean and uncluttered, presenting a place of calm and relaxation, the store isn’t filled with crap or cheesy “coffee house” decor and random “funny” signage.
I firmly believe the Okanagan is hurting for more places run with these principals. Good Omens in Summerland hits it on the head, and Kelowna’s Bean Scene is close to the mark, but by and large most Okanagan cafes have massive and confusing menus and are cluttered with often tasteless junk and a case full of stale food. There are customers that I’m sure would would find “simple and basic” and real lure for a coffee shop.
This is a biggy, and is closely related to simplicity. The maxim “Do one thing and do it well” comes to mind. More to the point, whatever you do, do it well. None of the shops I visited did things halfway. Everything was quality goods, simple as that. I have of course lamented on the lack of quality coffee available in the OK, but generally it’s not just the coffee that is bad. Generally the food is worse. Industrially baked pastries loaded with refined sugar and flour, often stale combined with a twenty ounce dark roast coffee, every day, is a recipe for slow death. Previously frozen blocks of soup loaded with msg and refined salt. Eggs from a carton. If you are going to do food (or any extra), do it right. If you can’t do it right, cut down the menu until you can. If you still can’t do it right, farm it out to someone who can.
This one might be the easiest to integrate into your shop right now. At those cafes I visited, the staff knew about what they were doing and selling. If one person didn’t, they knew who to ask about it. They knew their coffee and their food. Would you let someone fix your car who didn’t know anything about mechanics? Why let someone serve you coffee who doesn’t know anything about coffee? What’s in your espresso blend? What’s in that pastry? I’m not saying you need to know the recipes by heart, or know the intricate science of espresso, but a basic level of knowledge, or at least knowledge of where to find knowledge is a great asset. Knowing more can even open the floodgates and before you know it, your employees will be persuing this knowledge on their own time, and will spread it out.
None of these three things are overly hard to do, and integrating them into a successful cafe would likely be affordable and easy. If there is one lesson to take away here it is that often LESS IS MORE. Of course there are those who will say “well that’s fine for a big city, but it doesn’t work here”. My advice for those people is please do not open a cafe. There’s no real reason this stuff would not work here, save for non-commitment and fear on the part of the one running the cafe. People in the Okanagan want quality, they want simplicity and straightforwardness, and they are ready for something like this. Restaurants have thrived here based on these principals, and there’s no reason a coffee house could not.