Stumbling bleary-eyed out of bed and making a beeline for the coffee maker, you pour yourself a cup of stale grocery-store coffee to chase away the spectre of a hangover. Or, you queue up with the sleep-deprived masses at a McDonald’s drive-thru to kick-start another day of corporate drudgery. Even worse, grabbing a cup of brown crayon water from your friendly neighbourhood gas station as the requisite dose of morning caffeine. Octane, meet rocket fuel.
Sadly, this is the sum total of most people’s experience with drip coffee, so often eschewed as unsophisticated in favour of espresso. Yet there’s definitely a change afoot. Colter Jones of Vancouver-based 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters elaborates: “Espresso culture in Vancouver is already developed. People know their drink. With drip coffee, though, we have an opportunity to teach people about coffee and have them expect something good and consistent that surpasses 7-Eleven or Tim Hortons.”
George Giannakos, part of Revolver Coffee’s fraternal tetrarchy, agrees. “I think what most people expect is a subpar experience. ‘I’ll just have a regular coffee,’ they say, and almost apologize for that. Yet we think there’s more to it than what the public might perceive. Brew for us is something we want to highlight, as opposed to having it hidden at the back.”
We’re a long way from countries like Turkey and Ethiopia, where coffee is firmly entrenched in the cultural heritage, or nations like Japan and Taiwan, where elaborate brewing methods such as the elegantly scientific siphon have been in use for decades. The tide of local perception began shifting in 2005 with the arrival of the city’s first Clover machine—essentially a mechanized single-cup French press with a vacuum system to separate liquid from the coffee grounds. Since then, Vancouver’s drip coffee movement has made huge strides.
From the consumer standpoint, Jones parallels the rise in drip coffee’s popularity to the overwhelming enthusiasm for all things food and drink. “Espresso is its own deal,” he says. “It’s so concentrated and small that it’s hard to discern nuance. Drip coffee’s lower concentration means we can actually taste more.” Coffee is a fruit after all, and coffees from different regions can have particular flavour profiles. Central American beans are typically clean and citrusy, while Kenyan coffees are known for being very wine-like with a tannic, dry sort of finish. “I’ve been doing a lot more cuppings with people who are into wine and food,” adds Jones. “They’re more receptive to learning about what good coffee should be.”
Forays into brewing equipment scrutinize the minutiae of expressing nuances in flavour traits. Revolver offers coffee drinkers a choice of five different methods for their brewed-to-order cup: siphon, French press, Clover, AeroPress, and cone. The manual pour-over is the Giannakos brothers’ process of choice—during peak hours, curvaceous glass carafes topped with sleek stainless steel cone filters line the bar. “For us, it’s all about being fresh. The Coava Kone Chemex is the most functional method for producing consistent quality coffee given the time constraints because we can effectively run more than one at a time,” says Giannakos.
Just what beans constitute a good cup of drip? For 49th Parallel, it’s single-origin varietals as opposed to blends, and ones that are characteristically sweet and that continue to taste sweeter as they cool. “The most expensive drip coffees are always high in acidity,” says Jones, “not in the sense of pH but bright and lively on the palate. We’re always looking for a clean finish, not one that hangs on your palate for hours. Of course, freshness is key. The optimal time for serving coffee is within the first two weeks after roasting—five to 10 days really is the sweet spot.”
Jones spearheaded the choice of drip coffee as the focus for 49th Parallel’s second café, slated to open on Main Street in May, and his dedication is spurred by reverence. “Pretty much everything we do contributes to spreading the gospel that coffee is so much more than just fuel.” It’s a devotion that Giannakos echoes. “We choose things for our shop that are harder to find in Vancouver. We’re really based on providing something new, both for ourselves and for our customers, but we’re not going to do it if it’s not to par.” And they’ll continue to preach the good word, one drop at a time.