Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Discovery Coffee: A Tale Of Two Locations

Discovery Coffee, 664 Discovery St, Victoria, BC

I wrote an article a year ago titled "The coffee culture meme is alive and well in Victoria," which includes a very short list of coffee places I like. After writing that article, I got a number of people telling me about this, that and the other place I'd neglected. I eventually did get to the much-talked-about Discovery Coffee at its original Discovery Street location. And I loved it. The place has a very relaxed, inviting vibe, and the coffee there is arguably the best I've had in Victoria. I was so moved by the beans I bought a pound to take home. And sure enough, the stuff tasted just as amazing at home as it did at the shop, which speaks to the importance of the roasting phase of coffee. I also found the staff at that location really well informed about their products, more than willing to answer questions about their on-site roasting process. The only reason I don't go to Discovery's original location more often is, well, it's location. I live and work on the other side of downtown, and there are just too many decent coffee places to keep me from venturing over to Discovery Street. Enter Discovery Coffee's new James Bay location, which is a stone's throw from my workplace, and thus, very doable on a regular coffee break basis.

Discovery Coffee on Urbanspoon

Discovery Coffee (James Bay), 281 Menzies Street, Victoria, BC

The new location seemed to be under construction for months, promising that they were going to great lengths to construct the perfect cafe. In addition, a bakery (Hudson's) was to be part of the new package, as was "music," whatever that meant. A true cultural be-all for the city's coffee culture? As it turns out, this new location is a big disappointment, for me anyway. The space is very small, and they've gone with very large tables and chairs, making it very difficult to navigate your way around the cafe. Getting from the cashier counter to the cream/sugar counter, when the tables are full, requires the physique of an anorexic elf or skills of a gymnast. If your thing is to simply get a coffee to go, no problem. But if you are hoping to settle in for any length of time and relax, forget it. For me, a coffee place is about more than just the coffee. It's often about the space, the vibe and comfort level. As for the bakery, what bakery? I never see anyone in the "bakery," which looks more like a short order kitchen. And the selection of available baked goods has been very limited to date. Even the coffee at this location seems a lesser quality. If they were hoping to replicate their Discovery Street location, not even close. If they were trying for something completely fresh and new, why fix it if it ain't broke? As for the "music" promised on the awning, they run an LP record player, which is cool, but is that it? There is an elevated corner section of the cafe, which I suspect may play host to live shows at some point, but now it's just another cramped section of the cafe, which, by the way, always seems to be populated by cafe campers -- you know, the ones who bring a full day's homework, text books & notes spilled all over the place, laptops plugged in, cell phones charging, they order a single coffee then settle in for the long haul like it's their home away from home.

Discovery Coffee (James Bay) on Urbanspoon

Thankfully, there remain other, established cafe options in James Bay. While they may not make the best cup of java, Serious Coffee just a few doors up from Discovery is by far the better space to sit and relax while getting your caffeine fix. They've got soft sofa options, ample seating, a fake fireplace, a decent menu and the owners are really nice and down to earth. If you really must have your Discovery experience, you are much better served going to their original Discovery Street location.