In true Pacific Northwest fashion, Vancouver is definitely known for its coffee shops. Packed so densely that they occur more frequently than bus stops on major routes, it’s sometimes hard to stand out from the crowd. However, WE Coffee in the West End of downtown Vancouver has managed to do just that by permeating the Robson Street air with the aroma of freshly-roasted coffee beans, even when situated kitty-corner from a major fast food chain. I caught up with owner William Chu to learn more about how they’ve managed to survive — and thrive — in the neighbourhood.
“Our coffee is always fresh, that’s the most important thing to us, it’s quality,” William told me as we sat in their recently remodelled cafe. Over the last two years the business has shifted from offering desserts and coffee to simply focusing on producing a quality cup of coffee. William said it was more comfortable to put coffee in the spotlight and shift solely in that direction.
“What we focus on is quality and friendship. We want to build that friendship with our customers.”
Originally from Taiwan, William has lived in Vancouver for 20 years and his love for the city and the neighbourhood (which is also my neighbourhood) shines through with every cup. As the original roaster for WE Coffee, William laid out the practices used by their roaster Michael today and he’ll also be overseeing a new roasting facility they are developing in South Vancouver. He could easily talk your ear off about sources, grades, beans, processes, and everything there is to know about the coffee business — as one could expect from a passionate owner.
Although he admits that when he was younger he despised coffee (like many of us did), he knew there had to be more to the whole process than creating a warm beverage to keep you caffeinated — and there had to be a way to make it taste better.
By the time he was 30, William wanted to start a business and the first thing that came to mind was opening a cafe. However, in order to run a cafe he wanted to know his product very well and in this case it meant getting to know coffee. “From a green bean to a cup of coffee there’s a really long way to go. There’s so much effort in between to create that cup of coffee.” During his quest to learn more, he fell in love with coffee: “Each little process is charming,” he told me with a smile.
WE Coffee (located right behind a #5 Robson bus stop) offers the chance to grab your morning cup of joe on the run as well as the comfort of a quiet refuge to sip, savour, and enjoy a warm beverage. All of their baked goods are made in house (including the ham breakfast panini that John and I have come to adore) and they also offer up Erin Ireland’s To Die For Banana Bread, waffles, and other treats. Their signature blends — roasted right there on Robson at Bidwell — are available in store.