Salt Spring Coffee Co. – UBC Café
6308 Thunderbird Blvd
(604) 221 6400
Playing fair on the battleground of business is a tremendous challenge. As a battle-scared solider in the cruel world of international commerce, I know this as well as anyone. For the basic principals of free enterprise and unregulated markets would suggest that as long as there is a game to be played, then to the winner should go the spoils – often at whatever the cost. And in the food service industry, this competitiveness can be seen in organizations scouring the world for expansion opportunities, negotiating very hard for locations, overlooking some environmental concerns of their suppliers in order to meet their sourcing needs, and of course, engaging in all out warfare for customers even if it means wiping out good, honest proprietors, the close communities that support them, and even cannibalizing their own sales to eliminate any remaining competition – all of this in the quest for the all mighty dollar. I am sure many of you can rattle off a few companies that would fall into this unabashed, relentless, and careless strategy when it comes to food and restaurants. In the interest of time, I will name one company that has fallen on rough times of late (probably much to the amusement of many), and generally is thought of as being an entity that would fall into this profile of a business engaged in such polarizing behaviour – the Starbucks Coffee Company.
In stark contrast to the monolith that is the Starbucks empire of coffee shops, the Salt Spring Coffee Co. boasts a mere four outlets in its entirety, all of which are based in the province of British Columbia. And this is for a company that was first started in 1996. Priding themselves on being mindful of fair trade and organics when it comes to the whole coffee bean-to-cup continuum, and the values of sustainability while still creating a good cup of coffee, it’s clear they are operating at an entirely different level from the Seattle-based mega brand. Their outlet on the beautiful University of British Columbia campus on the western edge of Vancouver would seem to be representative of their vision. Wedged within a new residential area, nestled next to a community centre and a spacious playground, with its wooden chalet-like design and relaxed atmosphere, and customers inside usually a mix of energetic students, teaching faculty taking a break, and of course nearby residents and their children – the building is very welcoming to one and all, and does not feel at all like a commercial enterprise.
It is places like this that I enjoy taking a breather, without feeling the pressure that I am to finish my drink, and move along so another hurried customer can take my seat. But by no means am I a regular coffee drinker. In fact, I would say I am one of those few working stiffs who doesn’t need a cup of Joe every morning, nor do I need to taste the flavor of coffee on breaks throughout the day. If I had to qualify myself, I would tend to be the type that drinks more teas (be it herbal, green, etc.) than anything else over coffee. So I must say that I cannot fully comment on the coffee offerings here at Salt Spring, other than to say that their menu features a choice of what they term “classic coffees’, which are comprised of selections of dark roasts, medium roasts, as well as decaf roasts. Aside from this, they do have ‘reserve coffees’, which they note as being the “next level of extraordinary, single-origin beans from the world’s best co-op growers”. The edible options that were displayed in the glass cased unit at the counter was your usual range of scones, muffins, cookies, and sandwiches.
With the recent layer of low cloud banks that recently blanketed the west coast of Canada, I thought it was fitting that my drink of choice this day was called the London Fog – a simple combination of Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and a touch of vanilla. It is a comforting warm beverage that I enjoy from time to time, when I feel the gray Vancouver doldrums. Plopping down in one of the chairs, all the while observing many others with their laptops open (yeah for free wireless!), I just took in the scene and was alone with my thoughts. I am sure many of you have your own peaceful oasis for short breaks like this in your city. With the coming holiday season, I suppose I am feeling a bit more nostalgic for all the cafés that I’ve spent time in over the years, with a warm mug in hand. I know its still early, but happy holidays everyone!