Torque Coffee Roasters, Vancouver, WA

While Vancouver does not have Portland’s renown for coffee, our northern neighbor has a burgeoning group of cafés and roasters that care about serving you good coffee. Nor’West, River Maiden (and its sister café, Dripster), Paper Tiger (under new management) and Lava Java(technically in Ridgefield) all call the Vancouver area home. Sophisticated Vantuckians do not have to settle for over-roasted, over-syruped coffees unless they choose to.

The scene continues to improve, too. A new shop called Torque Coffee Roasters recently opened downtown, close to the Convention Center. En route to Vancouver for a Monday morning meeting, I left PDX early to check it out. With a little help from my GPS, I found the café without too much trouble.

Pulling up to the slate gray building, a long row of parking meters greeted me (welcome to Vancouver). I don’t like to pay for parking (who does?), but I accept it as a fact of life in most cities. The problem was that Vancouver’s meters are coin-operated, and I didn’t have any spare change. I could take the chance and park without paying, or I could find somewhere else to park.

Hmmm. . . It was a pretty dead morning in the “‘Couve." Who was really going to care if I parked there for an hour without paying?

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Thatcher’s Coffee (Vancouver, WA)

Out and about, I stopped by Grand Central recently. That’s Grand Central, the Vancouver shopping center, and not Grand Central, the kick-ass Portland bakery. I was in Vancouver for a meeting and needed to do some printing beforehand at the FedEx Office store. After I got my printing done, I had an hour before the meeting, so it was time to look for coffee (free time=coffee time). As I was about to pull out of the parking lot, I saw a sign for Thatcher’s Coffee.


Hmm, I thought. Do I stop in and check out another new place, or should I head up the street to my regular stop?

Most of the time when I stop in Vancouver for coffee, I go to Paper Tiger. Zachary Gray and his team have great coffee, and the location is close to where I work. Thus, I do not have a lot of incentive to go someplace else.

Furthermore, I tend to be biased against shopping center cafés—they often lack the character that smaller shops have, and the coffee can be a disappointment. Shopping centers have high rents, and café owners face the temptation to cut corners on the coffee to improve margins.

Notwithstanding, I remembered that sometimes you can be surprised by the quality of coffee you find in unexpected locations.

Ultimately, I decided to stop and try the café—the allure of exploring a new place was just too much to resist.

Books plus coffee = Love (awww!)

When I opened the door to the cafe, an aroma of caramelized butter and sugar hit me. It was clear Thatcher’s was a popular place—the café was full of people and quite loud—but my impression was that any place that smelled like a cinnamon roll was probably not a “coffee place.”

Dismissing my chances of getting good coffee, I was just about to leave when I glanced over at the back wall and noticed a familiar sight. Several brown paper coffee bags with orange and white labels sat on a shelf. Was that Ristretto Roasters coffee? Indeed it was. The familiar double-R logo stood out across the room.

Well, then. Maybe I should stay.

I took my hand off the door and stepped into line.

Waiting in line gave me the opportunity to look around the café. The café had a very light, bright feel, especially in the morning. Fifteen feet of glass windows rise up towards the ceiling on the south side of the cafe, allowing the morning sunlight to pour into the café. As the café noises echo around off of the high ceilings, smooth concrete floors and exposed wood paneling, the sound grows, magnifying the morning din of the café.

The source of the sugary smell turned out to the large trays of homemade granola that had just come out of the oven. Their aroma filled the café, from one end to another, overpowering the smell of coffee.

Stronger than the coffee

One interesting feature of the café is that it sits in the flight path of the Vancouver airport. From my seat, I looked up once and saw a bright yellow Cessna swooping in toward the café, or so it appeared. The plane looked like it was going to land on the roof, it was so low. If you had small kids with you at the café, the passing airplanes would keep them entertained.

The dark chocolate notes stood out as I slurped and sipped my way to the bottom of the Beaumont Blend espresso. You could tell that the barista treated the coffee with respect.

Overall, my visit to Thatcher’s turned out better than I thought it would. The café might not be the “coffee place” that Ristretto’s Portland cafés are, but you can still enjoy your coffee and, if you are so inclined, eat some homemade granola to satisfy your morning hunger.

The bottom line? Thatcher’s makes a good stop if you are already at Grand Central.

Earth-friendly, too

Leaving the Grand Central parking lot, I met a Stumptown delivery van coming in. I thought to myself, is there a Stumptown café here too?

Maybe Grand Central is just a Portland shopping center masquerading as a Vancouver one, but I’ll have to figure that out another time.

Address: 104 Grand Blvd.,  Ste 100 Vancouver, WA 98661 (map
Phone: 360-258-0571
Hours: Monday-Friday 6am-6pm

            Saturday 7am-6pm
            Sunday 7am-5pm
Coffee: Ristretto Roasters
Recommendations? Get there early for a seat


Clover-brewing at River Maiden Coffee, Vantucky, Washington

My recent search for new and improved coffee experiences took me to River Maiden Coffee in Vancouver, Washington. River Maiden is a coffee shop that plays up Vancouver’s “second city” status with its “Vantucky Strikes Back” logo on cups and shirts. It also has “The Couve Abides” cups and shirts that fans of The Big Lebowski would appreciate.

River Maiden Coffee House

In addition to having an appreciation of pop culture, River Maiden is also one of very few independent (i.e., non-Starbucks) coffee shops in the world to have the Clover brewing machine.

The Clover is a machine that combines the brewing principles of a French press and a vacuum pot. It was designed by a couple of coffee-loving Stanford engineers, who proceeded to build a company around it. Starbucks executives were so impressed by the machine that they decided to buy the whole company. These days, if you want to try some Clover coffee, you either have to go to Starbucks or find one of the indies that had one before Starbucks bought them all. [An interesting side note: When the Clovers first came out, Stumptown had several, but then sold them all when managers heard Starbucks had bought Clover. The rumor was that Stumptown did not want to have any dealings with “corporate” Starbucks.]

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Paper Tiger Coffee (Vancouver, WA)

When you think of great coffee cities, Vancouver, Washington is probably not the first name that comes to mind for Portlanders. Snide PDX residents refer to Vancouver as “Vantucky” (apologies to my relatives in Louisville), implying that the city is somewhat less cultured than its southern neighbor. This is an unfair characterization, however. I live in Southeast Portland and I can assure you it is not more sophisticated than Vancouver.

Fans of Portland coffee can be a bit the same way. Portland has great coffee and it is tempting to look down on our neighbors. However, if you look around some, you can find good coffee outside Portland. You just have to work a little harder to find it.

One way to keep up on what’s going on around the city and in the suburbs is through social networking. Social networking tools like Twitter can be a great source of coffee information. I might never have found Paper Tiger Coffee Roasters in Vancouver, Washington, had they not been on Twitter. Their tweets made it sound like they were coffee enthusiasts, so I went to go see if their coffee was as interesting as their Twitter feed. It was.

(By the way, if you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to my Twitter feed to keep up to date with what is going on at Caffeinated PDX. Click on the icon on the right sidebar).

The tiger roars

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Nor'West Coffee

My quest to find good coffee took me outside the city limits the other day. I traveled up the I-5 corridor from a city who’s catchphrase is “Keep Portland weird!” to a city that likes to say “Keep Vancouver normal.” While the cultures of the two cities are very different, one thing they share (besides the rain) is good coffee. Before any Portlanders reading this get upset, I want to make it clear that I’m not implying the two are coffee equals. So far, Portland has a clear lead. In fact, until the other day I didn’t even know that Vancouver was competitive.

However, yesterday a friend of mine from Vancouver, Tim Downing, introduced me to Nor’West Coffee and I found that there are a few coffee experts in the state to our north as well. Nor’West is a café that has been around for nearly three years. After roasting his own coffee for about seven years, Mike McGinness, the owner, began roasting commercially three years ago under the name Compass Coffee. The company has three retail outlets—one in downtown Vancouver (Compass Coffee), one in North Vancouver (Nor’West) and one in Beaverton (Java Nation) that it acquired three months ago.

Nor'West Coffee

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