Main Street’s Coffee Block

In Vancouver it isn’t uncommon to see a coffee shop juxtaposed to a coffee shop juxtaposed to a coffee shop across the street from a coffee shop, especially in my neighbourhood, Mount Pleasant.

And yesterday things in my community just got a bit darker, frothier and sweeter, as Forty Ninth Parallel Coffee Roasters opened their newest location at the corner of 13th – wait… Thirteenth – and Main. Now, this wouldn’t be a big deal under regularly caffeinated circumstances; however, at the other end of the block sits perennial coffee powerhouse, Starbucks, and across the street from the Seattle-based coffee company’s 423rd most popular location beams JJ Bean, which is the unofficial epicenter of Hipsterism in Vancouver.

Ladies and gentlemen, we may or may not have a coffee market share death match on our hands.

Here are some observations and semi-judgments I’ve made of these three fine businesses that might help you choose which one to visit.

JJ Bean

Coffee and Food: Their food is made every day at their Railtown location and their baked goods (I prefer the cheddar chive scone) are made fresh every day in their cafes. They have Single Origin Coffees and Blends. I like dark roast coffee – black, no sugar – and there brew is of fine quality.

People and Service: The nicest pierced and tattooed hipsters you’ll ever meet. Though I can’t determine if, when things come quickly, the staff is just being ironic…

Interesting Advantage: A Viva Vancouver project has transformed a space (parking spots) into a people place right in front of JJ Bean, which has tripled their outdoor patio space. Now, I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it’s a bit weird how the Viva project perfectly matches JJ Bean’s colour scheme.


Coffee and Food: Their food not only “tastes better” but it “is better”, says Starbucks. They even make it with real ingredients. I’m not a huge fan of their coffee, as it’s bitter and not always Fair Trade – my awesome colleague, Aleasha, however, loves their lattes and I trust her judgment. And, thanks to fantastic training processes, you can get the same venti low fat soy double foam cinnamon latte at Main & 14th, in New York City, Seattle, Paris, or Buenos Aires (I have no idea if Starbucks has locations in any of these cities).

People and Service: Well trained, uniformed, but a bit alienating for people who don’t speak American Interpretation of The Italian Coffee House – luckily, the well trained staff at Starbucks understand “medium” and “pointing to the cup you want”.

Interesting Advantage: Vancouver Police Officers love to begin/end their shift at this Starbucks. They also have free WIFI.

Forty Ninth Parallel

Coffee and Food: Delicious. This morning I had a nice, rich dark roast coffee and a tasty doughnut – no, this is not a highly recommended way to start one’s day, but I needed to do some sampling before signing off on the deliciousness of Forty Ninth’s creatively roasted coffee and Lucky’s homemade doughnuts.

People and Service: While it’s too early to make a full-on judgment, I can safely say that Forty Ninth blends Main Street Hipsterism with Vancouver’s style of Businessified Caffeinery (e.g. everything in the shop is branded and for sale) with pretty great results.

Interesting Advantage: See above comment about Lucky’s doughnut shop. Also, the motif makes me feel like I’m in at the intersection of Hipsterism and cowboys … in the future. Truly, this winning combination of seemingly incongruent things/ideas achieves what Stephen King couldn’t with his The Gunslinger experiment.

So, when you visit Main Street between East 13th and 14th Avenue, how will you decide where to spend your coffee break?