49th Parallel Coffee Roasters Cafe – Vancouver, BC

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters Cafe
2152 W 4th Avenue, between Arbutus and Yew
Vancouver, BC  V6J 5L1

In my never ending quest to learn more about coffee, I found myself in Vancouver chasing down what most people told me were the classic choices: J.J. Bean, Artigiano, 49th Parallel Cafe, and Elysian Room. I decide to visit 49th Parallel Cafe first. 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters is owned by Sammy and Vince Piccolo, founders of Cafe Artigiano; not just roasters, but Sammy is a World Championship-calibre Barista as well. They supply their beans to a variety of fine establishments – including Kawa Espresso in Calgary, but have recently have opened up a cafe location as a flagship store to feature their products.

After a short detour (stupid me had written down the wrong address) to the Burnaby roasting location (which was closed on a Saturday), i finally rolled into 49th Parallel’s Cafe on W 4th Avenue. Starving for caffeine. Rather that hit something on their beautiful La Marzocco, i decided to grab a clover to get the best out of their beans. A clover, for the uninitiated, is a single cup coffee brewing machine that replicates the properties of a french press, by vacuum brewing coffee, and is configurable in a variety of ways to extract the best flavours out of the beans. It used to be exclusively the domain of high end coffee shops, ringing in at a low low price of $11,000, but they were bought out by Starbucks and have recently been introduced into several Seattle-area Starbucks, with plans for expansion to more locations. Chains. Sigh.

Already a fan of 49th Parallel’s Epic espresso blend, as well as my all time favorite coffee, the Ethiopean Yergacheffe Beloya microlot that positively reeks of blueberries (it’s amazing – you have to try it), I wanted something a little different, so i went with the recommended Kenyan Kiriga – very sour, acidic, fruit forward, and extremely interesting. Well, at least that’s how i imagined the exchange. What actually happened was I asked them for a recommendation for what was sampling well, and I got a few mumbles and a “try the Kenyan”. To be honest, the service from the baristas was pretty poor, who were generally aloof and unfriendly, especially when compared to the fantastic service im used to in Alberta – Transcend, Phil and Sebastian, Kawa, Bumpy’s are all wonderfully kind, patient, and generous with a new comer to coffee like myself. This was fairly disappointing, considering my enthusiasm for coffee currently out weighs my knowledge at about 10-1, and Im always looking for new perspectives to learn from.

At a massive, 16oz serving, using what looked like 34-35g of coffee, it was a bit light on the flavour, and a bit much on volume. A few more grams wouldnt have hurt either. But the coffee was good, though the acidity was a touch hard on the stomach. 49th Parallel are definitely great roasters though – I couldn’t imagine extracting anymore flavours out of the beans than that cup did. Something that was well showcased as the cup cooled.

Anyway, bad service aside, it’s still worth the visit. The space is definitely very cool – modern, industrial with some 70’s retro touches. Their coffee is great, though I would go with a small, and their staff are very skilled. Really, at the end of the day, who needs a friendly barista anyway if they are serving coffee this good.

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters Cafe on Urbanspoon

17 thoughts on “49th Parallel Coffee Roasters Cafe – Vancouver, BC

  1. I go to 49th everyday and I must say you must have been there on an off day because they are some of the nicest and most knowledgeable staff I’ve encountered in any cafe.

    Even a call to their store would have been a better consideration, rather than post that they are rude ( wish they are not)

  2. AD,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’ve had wonderful service there. It certainly wouldnt surprise me if you did, as i’ve found most baristas to be very friendly, knowledgeable, and kind.
    However, it may be fair to say though, that you receive better than average service being a regular.

    I would like to clarify one thing – I wouldnt consider their behaviour rude, which is an overly strong word. They were certainly not rude to me. The service was cold and impersonal. I believe unfriendly is an appropriate term. With regards to your comment, what would a call to their store have done? I call them and tell them the service was unfriendly? And what do i expect out of this? That they “improve”? That they “fix the situation”? Someone they don’t even know? Im not interested in free product, nor in letting them know who I am so they can treat me different next time.

    In the service industry, you cannot afford to have off days, because every customer counts. I was there. With a friend. And he can confirm that the service we received was less than exemplary. I posted about it. I do not feel I have done anything unfair, nor out of line with respect to my post, nor towards 49th Parallel. I do not have an agenda against them, as i feel is clearly stated in a mostly positive review. However, I also do not hide nor sugar coat less than ideal events to try and be nice. I report facts, and my interpretation there of. And the fact remains that we received poor service that day.

    To conclude, please understand that in no way do i dissuade people from either commenting about positive experiences they’ve had there, nor from going to visit and making up their own minds. In fact, i highly encourage it. Ultimately speaking, I don’t think people should take one review as the gospel. They should decide for themselves what they like and don’t like. I’ll happily post an update the next time im there if things have changed, as i have posted updates for several other places that have improved, or gotten worse. But until that time, i can only report on my own experiences. And that is what this posting is all about.

  3. Not being a big coffee drinker, I can’t comment on the quality of the offering at 49th, but the one time that I did visit this cafe about a month ago, I experienced a similar cold, standoffish attitude (hey pal, at least look up at me when I give my order and maybe say a word besides how much it costs!), and I was just ordering a plain Jane cup off the menu board.

    Can’t imagine they were at all interested in engaging in any kind of coffee-related conversation if I had even been so inclined. There was nobody else lining up at the counter either so they weren’t even swamped to ignore me. The trio of workers seemed to even be ignoring one another too with dead silence and just standing there behind the bar twiddling their thumbs.

    Decor I enjoyed though, the deep browns and sky blues were a nice combo!

  4. Lol. Great link HP – appreciate it. I can certainly understand the Barista’s point – but i think he’s taken his opinion to the extreme. Im not looking for someone to blow smoke up my ass, im looking for someone to tell me WHY the coffee im about to drink is the best darn coffee i’ve ever had. Perish the thought that people want to appreciate what you do a little more!

    Imagine if restaurants had the same attitude. It’s the best darn food you’ll ever have, so shut up and eat it. Don’t expect us to be friendly, or cordial. We know our food. Only a few places like Sushi Nozawa, and the Soup Nazi, can get away with that. It’s definitely few and far between 🙂

  5. Hi there. I was just floating around in cyberspace when I came upon your article. I work at the 49th Parallel cafe and I just wanted to let you know that I’m sorry you had an unpleasant experience. I’m not sure of the direct circumstances around your displeasure, but I definitely don’t like to hear negative responses about the cafe. I’m sure that whomever was serving you at the time would feel equally as bad about giving you a negative impression of us. We’re a very dedicated and diverse crew and I hope you’ll give us another chance in the future.

  6. i drink coffee at 49th P … its the best …. service does tend to be a bit weak some days but overall, its the best…..

    so guys from 49P , learn something here .. doesnt matter how good your brew is, its how you make people feel that they will remember and either come back or not…..

    ill be back FOR SURE

  7. CJ – thanks for dropping us a line. No need to apologize, it was what it was – one bad instance. It won’t stop me from going back, but the service was definitely reflected in the gratuity.

    I agree ZZ – their coffee is fantastic. And it wouldnt stop me from going back. Though it might have me choose the Elyssian Room instead of 49P, depending on how i felt, and whether i wanted to make the extra trek or not.

  8. Hey, you sound like a real coffee lover and you’re interested in learning more about it. If you’re up for a drive to Richmond, I would recommend checking out La Cuisson Coffee Shop at 8368 Capstan Way #1325. It’s in a strip mall located just northeast of Yoahan Centre behind Canadian Tire.

    Watching the barista making this coffee was like watching some kind of weird science experiment. I can’t recall all the detailed explanations that went into this process, but I’m sure the owner would be happy to wax poetic on the finer points of how this coffee is made. While the end product was smooth and delicious, it was pricey at about $5 a cup but well worth the experience.

  9. at a cafe like this, the staff are undoubtedly passionate about coffee. but, they deal with hundreds of people a day – to engage every single one of those people in coversation when all most want is ‘a cup of joe’ or their half sweet, extra hot chai to go would stall the process so much that they would have to compromise the time they put into making your coffee taste good – the thing you paid for – for the time they spent chatting. this shop is absolutely a production line for the finest coffee in vancouver – if a little chat is so important to you I recommend you expend your efforts elsewhere.

    if you’re outwardly a coffee enthusiast and know their coffees, or a regular who appreciates their depth of knowledge, the staff are amazing. I am good friends with a lot of them and they really aren’t the snot-nosed lot a lot of reviewers claim they are – but if a customer says something along the lines of ‘but I only drink skim milk’, or ‘can I get a grande?’ for the 700th time that day, they obviously can’t be bothered to smile courteously along with a perfectly sincere ‘no’ as their efforts are dedicated elsewhere.

  10. Holly, thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out next time im in Ditchmond! $5 is pricey, but definitely worthwhile if the coffee is good.

  11. Spence

    First off, thanks for weighing in. If you are who i think you are, then your coffee knowledge and expertise are unquestionable. However, i’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on the service aspect. I give the Baristas here credit for being intelligent. If i was asking for half sweet, extra hot, “do you have dark roast”, kind of questions, then sure – I can understand why answering questions would be frustrating and make me grumpy. I don’t believe it absolves them of the behaviour, since educating people on why your coffee is superior should be the goal of everyone within the organization, but i’d understand it.

    However, simple questions from an albeit neophyte coffee enthusiast regarding flavour profile, acidity, how something is tasting, and serving size is not unreasonable. In fact, in asking these questions, i was respecting and appreciating their depth of knowledge – looking for some guidance. I wasn’t looking for a long discourse on the history of coffee. Just some answers that would help me make a better decision regarding my coffee choice. Not living in Vancouver, I didn’t have the opportunity to sample 49th products that often, so I wasn’t familiar with their coffees until a local shop started bringing in their product.

    I’d have to say, nothing personal, but your response is indicative of the kind of behaviour i experienced at 49th. A bit of condescension. I’m glad you’re well treated there, but if people can’t be bothered to take the time to treat customers with some respect, then i’d say they deserve the comments being made by a lot of reviewers. 49th – great coffee, and apparently great service for those who are regulars. But for those who aren’t, don’t expect much in terms of service.

  12. I know this is way late, but I’m with the “somewhat standoffish service is off putting” crew. I hit 49th Parallel at least once a week, and no one’s ever been rude to me there but I’ve witnessed some ‘tude for sure. I’ve also noticed a less than engaged vibe that may be explained by the volume of customers but not excused. And BTW there is no phone number listed for the store anywhere on the web. I asked one of the Piccolos (Sammy, I think) why and he said they used to get hundreds of calls a day at Artigiano so decided not to have a “public” line at 49thP. Interesting decision but it irked me because I wanted to know what their hours were on a holiday…

  13. Well it’s dec 31 2009 and nothing has changed at 49P. Good coffee and unparalleled poor service. Infact I would say they’re more condesending than ever. I will boycott in the new year as I have found great coffee elsewhere, what a surprise. Good luck 49thP, your going to need it.

    • I too am unimpressed with the service at their flagship. However, there are many topnotch cafes that serve 49th’s product so all is not lost. Bump ‘n Grind (Commercial Dr), Elysian (two locations) come to mind.

  14. The 49th Parallel people have always seemed very friendly to me. Some of them greet me by name, even though I only make it in there once a month or so these days. They’ve never given me a hard time about working on laptop there either.

  15. Hey, I’m not sure why their coffee is rated as “good”. I drink coffee black, meaning that the coffee taste is not hidden with milk/cream and/or sugar. The coffee is SOUR, and as you’ve noted in your article above it is acidic. Maybe some of their cappucino’s and lattes could be considered good, but definitely not simple staight up coffee. It’s sour. Starbucks is sour and over roasted – it is almost intolerable to drink black.

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