Restaurant: Matchstick Coffee
Last visited: February 19, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Mount Pleasant/Main Street)
Address: 639 East 15th Avenue
Bus: WB Kingsway FS Fraser St
Price Range: $10 or less
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 5 (Based on coffee)
- Locally owned/operated
- Specializes in coffee
- Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters
- Hand crafted preparation
- “Hipster” feel
- Hidden gem
- Limited food menu
- Some in house baked goods
- Made upon order sandwiches
- Mon-Sun 7am-6pm
**Recommendations: Coffee, Cranberry & Orange Muffin, Almond Croissant
It’s like looking at a mole and wanting to say “mole” and holding it in because you don’t want to offend anyone, but I have to say it… hipster. Hipster! Oh gosh I feel so much better. Sigh of relief. Referring back to my 10 Characteristics of a Hipster Restaurant Matchstick Coffee qualifies on 6-ish accounts, but to think of them as “just another hipster coffee place” would be completely wrong.
On the other hand it definitely has hipster traits and it is easy to miss if you’re not an “insider”. First off it has no signs, which is my #1 on my hipster list. Well there is a sign, but it’s in very tiny white font, and then it also has my #2. It’s in a random, hidden, or off the beaten track location. Not only is it covered by a bush, but all eyes on Kingsway and Fraser as the up and coming “cool” place before it becomes “popular” place. Gastown who? Main Street what? And forget about Yaletown… (although personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those areas, but I’m just stating what some hipsters are probably thinking).
And ah yes! There it is. #7. If the decor isn’t earthy and artsy with a handcrafted wooden table, then it’s retro or funky Japanese. In this case it was the handcrafted communal wooden table. I also mentioned that hipster places are either white and minimalistic or dark and gloomy… well I think this photo says it all. There were many other traits, but those were some of the obvious ones along with #9. They’re proud of their coffee.
However I do want to note the stand up espresso bar/counter pictured in the front. I’ve seen them in Italy and New York, but this could possibly be the first coffee place in Vancouver to really feature the concept in such an obvious and stylish manner.
The original reason for espresso bars/counters was to encourage short visits and save space, and in Italy it’s used for mainly drinking espressos since they’re quick. In Italy they would also charge you for sitting down too. In New York they’re used for similar reasons since shops are so small and rent is expensive, but in addition the counters also puts extra emphasis on the coffee shop as an actual coffee shop rather than a “hang out”.
The idea of the stand up espresso bar has somewhat become a trend nowadays rather than serving a purpose. Places with ample seating will feature them and people will often drink their coffee on it. It doesn’t bother me and personally I enjoy a cup of coffee sitting down, but it’s not like it tastes any different unless I’m drinking it upside down.
The Matchstick espresso counter is an incredible work of art though. It’s all natural wood and has lots of character and textures. I tried taking it home, but the place was packed.
Okay now enough hipster talk because this place deserves more attention than that. I noticed it from the moment I walked in. It’s not a restaurant, but a true coffee shop or coffee bar with coffee at the front and pastries at the back. It was no doubt a specialty coffee shop.
Matchstick Coffee is currently serving Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters, but they expect to be roasting their own beans in the near future. No it’s not just for decoration, but these machines are already in house and will be put to use in the next couple months. I can’t wait to walk in the door and actually smell the roasting of coffee beans. It’s something Vancouver has yet to experience.
I’d like to say “coffee” called my name, but it wasn’t really the case. I was actually here to meet a geek – more accurately a coffee geek (@coffeegeek). I met Mark back at Bitter Bash at Tales of the Cocktail and it was instant geek meets geek minus the snorts and socially awkwardness (I’d like to think). Anyways I was game for a coffee seminar since Mark is considered one of the coffee gurus in Canada, let alone in Vancouver.
Just to put things into perspective, I will drink coffee but I’m not a coffee drinker yet; however when it comes to the the food and drink industry I’m always eager to learn more. I had the opportunity to take part in a coffee boot camp at the Van Houtte Getaway in Montreal, as well as visiting the coffee bean farms on Blue Mountain in Jamaica last year (see here), but it still only taught me so much.
After listening to Mark, I still have lots to learn, but I can approach coffee at a more knowledgeable level than before and also from various perspectives. In the end we all have our own palates and tastes though, so it’s not about being convinced, as much as it was about getting educated from professional coffee sources. I wouldn’t use this post or anything I read or hear as an “end all”, so I encourage you to do further research if the topic of coffee interests you.
I don’t think I’ve ever held a coffee cup until holding this cup. The curve of the handle made it so comfortable because usually I’m in pain after holding it for longer than 5 seconds. I’m being sarcastic, but on a serious note, this was honestly an amazing design for a coffee cup and when you try it out, you’ll notice.
Matchstick coffee is a specialty boutique coffee shop that specializes in a gourmet cup of premium, bold and rich coffee. See to most of us, that sentence sounds quite normal, but to a coffee connoisseur that’s pretty much nails on a chalkboard. The words “boutique”, “gourmet”, “premium”, “bold” and “rich” are more or less forbidden in this “coffee world”, but having said that, I’m not one to judge since it’s a world I’m still learning about. I don’t want to lose you because I probably learned more about coffee in 3.5 hours than you’d want to hear, but I think the only way to approach something is to give a proper angle as to where I’m coming from. So let’s get to it!
On the table:
I knew I was in for a serious lesson when Mark took out a couple cupping spoons. You know you’re with a coffee connoisseur when he brings his own coffee equipment. I had my first cupping lesson at the Van Houtte Getaway in Montreal, so I was more or less prepared for what to expect. As for the coffee, I already knew I was likely visiting one of the best coffee houses in the city since Mark chose it, so with his guidance, we tasted coffee.
There is only 1 way to drink coffee, but 3 ways to taste it.
1) The Swish – Smell, swish once in your mouth and swallow or spit
2) The Push – Smell, use your tongue to push the coffee to the roof of your mouth and swallow or spit
3) The Slurp – Smell, slurp (allows it to aerate), swish once and swallow or spit
The coffee bean isn’t the only key to a great cup of coffee though, the blend, machine, grinder and person making it each play of equal importance.
**Coffee (Americano) – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Market price $2.75-3.25
- The coffee beans are from Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters who are currently featuring these 3 selected roasters.
- Note, in a couple months Matchstick Coffee will be hand roasting their own coffee beans.
Coffee Pot 1 – Njuriga Mill, Kenya
- Market price $2.75-3.25
- Njuriga is a quintessential Kenya coffee. Deep black-currant acidity with medium body, slightly tart but balanced with a sweet finish. The Njuriga Factory (Mill) was established in 1995 after the large Tetu Society fragmented into smaller factories. Njuriga is owned by small scale farmers.
- This was my favourite, but it’s not exactly the most well liked.
- It has a velvety body, smooth texture, caramel notes and a slightly sweet flavour.
- It was quite mild and not too acidic, but since I’m a texture person I liked it the best.
Coffee Pot 2 – Calderon Castillo Family, Costa Rica
- Market price $2.75-3.25
- This coffee is from one of the Caldero (Castillo) family’s farms named: La Casa. It’s one of our favorite coffees from Costa Rica this year.
- This is one of the favourites, but it wasn’t for me. According to Mark it’s where the coffee scene is heading, and he’s not keen on it either.
- It tasted incredibly filtered to me and almost clean and bright.
- Acidity is desired in coffee, but this was really citrusy to me, although not sour.
- It was quite fruity with lemon and raspberry flavours, and although I like fruity coffees, this one was just too acidic for my liking.
- It reminded me of the cocoa nibs and chocolate from Costa Rica which tend to be on the citrus side as well.
- This coffee bean is actually sold to Stumptown Coffee too, which is a cult like following for coffee in Portland. It is a great coffee though and you can find it at any of The Irish Heather Group restaurants in Vancouver.
Coffee Pot 3 – Zelaya, Guatemala
- Market price $2.75-3.25
- Ricardo Zelaya and his cousin Luis Pedro Zelaya have earned the respect of many world-class roasters and this didn’t happen by chance. Back in March, we spent a few days visiting with Luis Pedro and Ricardo in Antigua, Guatemala. We cupped nearly 100 coffees in those few days and Ricardo’s Santa Clara Bourbon easily stood out as one of our favourites.
- I found this the strongest of the 3 and it had a long finish that lasted well after my sip… or slurp.
- It was quite woody and there was a lot of depth without having so much fruit or acidity.
- If you like dark chocolate then you should consider trying this one. It was my second favourite.
What constitutes a proper cappuccino?
From coffee to cappuccino. We’ve all likely had a cappuccino before, but since they vary tremendously in the city and globally, I wanted to know what a proper cappuccino should look and taste like. With Mark’s guidance again and the kind help of the owners at Matchstick Coffee, we went from coffee cupping to deconstructing the cappuccino.
Cappuccino #1 – The “No Foam” Cappuccino
- The fact is, is that it’s easier to create latte art with less foam.
- Therefore many of the cappuccinos in Vancouver look and taste like lattes rather than cappuccinos.
- I could still palate this and it just tasted like a latte, but it’s not technically right as a cappuccino.
This is a sample of the “no foam” cappuccino where the foam is thin and falls quickly off the spoon.
Cappuccino #2 – The Proper/Balanced Cappuccino
- There is a balance in milk and coffee and there is still art achieved in the foam.
- The foam is naturally sweet and almost caramelized from the steaming process.
The foam is not thin, but not thick. It holds to a spoon, but it does not last.
Cappuccino #3 – The Burnt Milk Cappuccino
- Stop asking for your cappuccinos “extra hot”, unless you like it, but it’s not the “right” way to order it.
- There is a bitterness that people can mistake for the espresso if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but this bitterness is actually from burnt milk.
- There is no balance of milk and espresso when there is this much foam and it should be a 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, milk and foam.
- It tasted like burnt lactose. It’s a good sign you’re getting a”burnt milk cappuccino” when the barista is making a mess behind the counter.
The foam is thick and overwhelming and holds to a spoon forever.
- This is a proper cappuccino and you may have to request it, otherwise there is a chance you may get Cappuccino #1.
- Again, with cappuccino it should be a 1:1:1 ratio of espresso, milk and foam.
- It was made with Birchwood Dairy Farm Whole Milk from Abbotsford which is a super creamy and rich milk with a higher fat content.
- To be honest, it was too rich for me and it was almost a meal in itself. I love rich foods (as you may know), but this was really heavy.
- The farm also makes ice cream and since their dairy products have a higher fat content, the ice cream is of the richest ones you’ll try.
Again, the foam is not thin, but not thick. It holds to a spoon, but it does not last.
**Cranberry & Orange Muffin – 5/6 (Excellent)
- This is the house favourite here and they can’t take them off the menu ever since they introduced them. It’s baked in house.
- I love muffin tops, so I was a bit disappointed when I didn’t see an umbrella sized muffin top on this muffin.
- On the other hand, the muffin top it did have was fantastic! It was extra crunchy and super caramelized and the additional sprinkle of sugar gave it a wonderful crust.
- It was quite dense and on the sweeter side of a muffin, but not too sweet and not oily either.
- The inside was incredibly moist and cake like and it was bursting with plump and juicy cranberries rather than hard and chewy ones.
- I couldn’t taste much orange as much as I could see the zest and taste lemon juice, but the muffin still had great flavour.
- I would have loved some almond extract or even better some almonds to build the flavour and aromatics and aid in texture.
- Nonetheless it was still excellent and I would order it again.
**Almond Croissant – 4/6 (Very good)
- Almond croissants are one of my favourite pastries ever.
- In the context of Vancouver, my favourite ones are from Thomas Haas, but this was still very good, but there were just a couple technical challenges.
- The croissants here are prepared off site, but baked on site.
- It’s not a traditional European or French croissant (and neither are Thomas Haas’), but an American one in terms of size and style.
- The shape was more like a ball, but regardless of the look it tasted wonderful.
- It was sweet and incredibly nutty with tons of crusted on almonds and there was a nice crunch when I bit down on it.
- The top exterior and bottom of the croissant was nice and caramelized and baked chestnut brown which is actually the proper French technique.
- The double baked process really brought out the sugars and extra crunch, and there was only a light sprinkle of icing sugar so it wasn’t too sweet although it was still sweet.
- The outside could have been flakier and the inside wasn’t light with thin membrane like springy layers as it technically should be.
- The inside was very moist, but the dough was gluten heavy and had a stretch.
- The pockets and layers had collapsed rather than maintaining form and shape and the layers were thick and peel-able rather than light, thin and somewhat airy.
- This tends to happen with almond croissants since the pastry cream melts into the dough when baking, but even so the layers were a bit thick and bready.
- It was more like bread dough than a flaky puff pastry dough and it is likely that the butter melted in the traveling process causing it to lose structure.
- It was still a very buttery croissant and the almond filling was delicious, but I could have used some more.
- The almond pastry cream (which melts into the croissant during baking) was made of ground almonds that I could taste and feel and it wasn’t all sugar either.
- The croissant had a nice balance of almonds and croissant, and regardless of proper technique or authenticity, I would order this again.
- Les Faux Bourgeois Cafe just a few stores away also offers the Thomas Haas Almond Croissants, which I will recommend you to try if it’s not at his actual store.
Enjoyed this review as well as your others, I really like your review format, however, I find the over-commentary on hipsters distracting, a little condescending and unnecessary.
@James – thanks James! I appreciate the comment. It’s really a humourous take and meant to be taken light-heatedly. It’s just my kind of “humour” and I apologize if you find it offensive. It’s a very tongue and cheek blog. Also I like to think of my posts as more of a personal restaurant experiences more so than a restaurant review since I think you have to go to a place multiple times and try everything on the menu for a proper review. Regardless thanks for reading and giving me something to think about!
Mijune, I really like that you don’t take yourself too seriously while providing useful feedback and commentary on your experiences! I was forwarded the link to this blog-entry after having a discussion with my girlfriend about the best perceived way to drink espresso, versus simply drinking it how you like, regardless of what others think is “right” or “best”. I see it like wine, if you like how it tastes, that’s all that matters. The one problem for me is that I tend to like heavily roasted beans in my French-press and there seems to be a big movement around Vancouver away from that type of roasting. This is what started the discussion about the best way to drink coffee/espresso and where to get it. The cool thing I’ve discovered is that it’s common for a few coffee shops around town to host cuppings so I can’t wait to try one.
Thanks again for some more helpful insight in coffee in Vancouver!
wow this place is so hipster that i didn’t even know it existed lol
my friend works for a decaffeination company and she does a lot of cupping there.. a bit hard for her since she doesn’t really drink coffee lol the drinks here look very impressive.. i mean, look at that gravity defying foam! i think if i was a hardcore coffee drinker, i’d definitely like it here 🙂
my favorite thing you had was the almond croissant.. i LOVE them.. have you had them at belcafe?!?!?!? OMG, it’s so good there… it’s only made on mondays and fridays though lol
I have to say, I’m really happy to see a coffee posting, and though I’m not a coffee connoisseur myself, I have a deep appreciation for the coffee growing process and all the effort it takes to get coffee from the equatorial regions into our hands to drink.
The fun part for me reading this particular post was the cappuccino. When I used to work as a manager at Starbucks one of the biggest lessons I learned from my district manger was to make #2 Cappuccinos, we used to call that type of foam, sexy foam. I always made my staff do milk tasting tests because the milk is so essential to the overall taste.
I’m just really happy to see a food blog post that focused on the importance of milk and foam. Makes me smile.
@Shimaceo – wow! Thank you so much! I’m really pleased you enjoyed the entry and I’m totally honoured that someone sent you my link! 49th Parallel hosts cupping sessions and I plan to try it there as well! I agree with you regarding the dark roast… it’s crazy how coffee can have a trend on its own and I love learning more about it. I wonder if people will bite.
@Linda – I still haven’t been to Bel Cafe!! I plan to though! For the croissants, macaroons and a sandwich! I can’t wait! Yes! if you like coffee, you’ll love this place!
@Vincent N – You just made my day…. I love making people smile! Or laugh! Thank you Vincent! Your comment is so valuable to me and I love that you found this post relatable since you’ve been in the industry! Starbucks too! So happy to hear you guys train the staff to the core too!
I had to try the cranberry muffin after you reviewed it, so I woke up bright eyed this morning to try it out.
Definitely delicious! I do have to say, it totally reminds me of a sour cream donut/cake. Have you ever tried sour cream donuts at a coffee shop? It’s practically identical. I did find it pretty rich though, I couldn’t finish it on my own.
Almond croissant was tasty, but super duper buttery… a little too much, like oil dripping.
My husband & I agreed that while the baked goods are yummy, they’re pretty rich. We’d share a muffin next time.
Follow-up post! 🙂
I’ve now been to Matchstick about 5 times and have had the almond croissant EVERY time! (sshhhh, don’t tell anyone or there won’t be any left next time I go). I’ve now successfully crossed to cappuccino-ville and have even dropped sugar and all I want to say about Matchstick’s cappuccino is that it exceeded my expectations for a simple yet luxurious drink. Service has been consistently solid every time I’ve been in so far.
Thanks again for unearthing a wonderful new coffee option in Vancouver!
@Shimaceo – This is awesome!!! What a thoughtful comment! I’m so happy you enjoyed it as much as I did!!! It is quite a gem and I feel lucky to have it. They’re really setting a standard for coffee 🙂
I *finally* got meself a DBAC (double-baked almond croissant) from Matchstick today, It was my 1st time there, sadly ironic, given that I go to Wee Ones ReRuns (kids consignment store across the street) frequently.
In short, the DBAC was heavenly. And I agree with all that you’ve said. I would still rate Haas’ slightly more croissant-y and so theirs rate that much better. Not that I would ever turn down a Matchstick DBAC by any means. Still have to try out Beaucoup’s pistachio version, plus Faubourg’s AC for comparison.
OK, I’ve been averaging 1-2 of Matchstick’s DBAC each week for the past 3 weeks now. Today I managed to get the *last* one they had, at 9:35AM. Yippeee ! The days when I got there and they ran out were not good for my emotions. I believe it’s becoming habit-forming. I also had 2-3 Haas’ DBAC in the past 2 weeks (for comparison purposes). I think I may need some intervention, Mijune.