Like most of the cities in this part of the world, Victoria has a myriad of great places to go for coffee. In fact, when compared to places like Vancouver and Seattle, there might be more great cafes in Victoria per capita than you will find in those cities. One of the amazing things about even my short walk to work, is that I can choose from several cafes to get my morning coffee and if I changed my walk in almost any direction there would be an equal amount of places where I could get a coffee that suits my taste and if I wanted, it would mostly likely come with an intricate design in the steamed milk.
I love coffee, but I am the first to admit that what I want out of my coffee may be very different from what most people want. I like my coffee dark and strong, so strong that you can almost feel a resistance when you’re stirring milk into it. So for me, as a first, a coffee shop has to serve dark strong coffee. Like the coffee, the cafe itself has to have a certain vibe and look that will make me to want to stay and spend some time rather than just grab my coffee and leave. It has to be big enough for people to move around, hopefully with the coffee bar in the middle of the room so you can circulate around it a bit. There should always be some different types of seating options so that you can sit at a bar on a stool or maybe in a booth with a friend. There should be at least one but maybe more than one little nook so that you can hide away from everyone. They don’t all, but most will have high ceilings, which gives it a more open feel. Of course, it has to do all this and not be pretentious or at least not too much.
So yes, I am pretty picky about what I like in a coffee shop and based on my taste above, here is a list of my favourite cafes in and around downtown Victoria. Please keep in mind that this list is not saying that the cafe that you love is not amazing! It may be that I have never been there or maybe it is not in the area that I walk around in Victoria. I would love to hear about your favourite cafe and why in the comments below. With that said, here are my favourites.
Discovery Coffee has been a hipster coffee favourite for many years. They have quite a few locations, with the first one being on its namesake Discovery Street. While the original shop has a unique charm, it is a more recent location that is one of my favourite coffee shops in the city. The Discovery Coffee at Blanshard and Broughton is visually stunning, with its stark black and white interior and its bright yellow chairs on the patio. The coffee here is always good and the space inside has lots of different options for you depending on whether you are there by yourself or meeting a friend. The outside patio is huge, maybe one of the biggest in the city, and it adds a lot of vibrancy to this area of downtown. I expect that this will be a popular summer venue for many years.
Habit Coffee has two locations and depending on your mood you would definitely choose one over the other. The lower Pandora location is the original and it has a quiet artsy, almost intellectual vibe. Their other location at Blanshard and Yates is bright, loud and dynamic. It is a great coffee shop and even in this small fishbowl like space there are places to hide, which makes this shop a winner for me. The coffee is always good and if you need to meet up with someone, almost everyone in the city knows where Habit is due to its unique spot on the corner of Blanshard and Yates Street. There is a nice little patio area on the Yates street side and if you need a quieter space, you can almost always duck into the main lobby of the Atrium building and sit at one of the communal tables in there, this space has a kind of student study hall vibe to it. If you haven’t been to Habit I would highly suggest to try out either location, however the Yates and Blanshard one is where I generally go.
I have spoken about Koffi before in my Haultain Corners article. It has to be the best coffee shop in one of the most bizarre places in Victoria. Of course, this just proves my point that there are great places wherever you go in the city. Koffi makes you want to go there, with its stark orange furniture outside of the simple modernist building. Once you go in, you can tell that it is not just a great coffee shop but also that it is a central hub for the community, I love the way that the posters about local events surround the coffee bar.
As is required, there is the necessary assortment of seating options, including big comfy couches. Koffi is a summertime favourite of mine for its iced mochas which they manage to keep very chocolatey while not making it overly sweet.
Just across the street from Habit is Macchiato. This coffee shop is way less in your face than either Habit or Discovery coffee and it has a little bit of old world class to it that those other two places don’t have. Like Habit, Macchiato has another older location, this one is in Old Town and is also very nice, though quite small. What I love about Macchiato is the high ceilings and despite being in a relatively new space, the cafe feels timeless. The design is supposed to be all about Italy and the menu follows suit with that theme. Still, whenever you go there it feels like you are going somewhere fancy despite it costing the same as any other cafe (it may be the need that I have to walk past Tim Hortons on my way there…) and the coffee is delicious and the food is also really good.
The Parsonage has been a North Park staple for decades, though in the last couple of years it went through a major transition. Originally, the cafe was on North Park Street just east of Cook Street, but with new owners wanting to increase the size they did a two hop transition to a new location on the corner of Cook and Caledonia (two hop because the Parsonage moved to Fernwood for a year while the new location was built). I will say that the owners have done an excellent job of bringing the look and feel of the old location to the new one while still updating and enlarging the space. The theme is definitely Danish Modern with clean light wood panelling throughout the space. I personally would love to see the blank space covered in black and photographs to break up some of the wooden monotony, but it is a cool place nonetheless. The coffee is very good and is also a great place to stop in for something to eat. I am looking forward to seeing how the cafe really enlivens that corner of North Park Village during the summer months.
The Union Pacific coffee shop on Herald Street is probably more like Koffi than any of the other shops on here even though from its looks inside and out you would never connect the two. Yet, Union Pacific is a true community coffee shop where those that go there really only want to go there. The decor is pre-war hipster with a lot of Edison lights strung across the ceiling and large wooden farm tables to share communally. The warmth from the lights and the wood makes it feel cozy. One of the best parts of Union Pacific is the amazing patio that backs out into Dragon Alley that stretches over to Chinatown. The patio is surrounded by brick with clematis growing up over top. It is a wonderful retreat for lunch on a summer day downtown and inside the cafe is a great place on gloomy winter days.
So if we have gotten to the end of the list and you haven’t seen your favourite place, let me know which cafe it is and why it is so good!