The above interactive map provides the locations of the independent coffee and teahouses in the City of Vancouver used in this study.
The task of documenting the independent purveyors of caffeine in the City of Vancouver has been a far more complicated task than analyzing major coffee chains. These complications come as a combination of hard technical challenges of mining and mapping raw business license data with the softer subjectivities of what qualifies as an “independent” coffee and tea house. This analysis not only includes caffeine in the form of coffee, but, to reflect the multicultural fabric of this city, include those who also sell tea beverages including, of course, Bubble Tea Cafes. In this collection, the sociology of caffeine in Vancouver also reflects the cultural buzz found in this City.
This entry represents our best try at quantitatively studying the independent coffee and tea spaces in the City of Vancouver with some observations about their possible urban economic and social implications. We hope you enjoy the brew. To keep terms short and simple, this entry will refer to Vancouver’s collection of independent houses, bars, counters, cafes, and outlets as “the Independents” and their corporate counterparts as “the Chains”.
Using business license data from the City of Vancouver’s Open Data Catalogue, BTAworks has attempted to document and map the City’s numerous independent caffeine outlets. To be considered an “Independent”, a shop had to have less than 5 outlets within the City. These parameters were inspired by the City of San Francisco’s Chain Store Ordinance which regulates the types of Chain Stores/Formula Retail in that City to “protect San Francisco’s vibrant small business sector and create a supportive environment for new small business innovations”. With arguments such as that for every $100 spent, a local store has a local impact of $68 versus $43 for chain, the economic and social rationale for such an ordinance can be read here.
Based upon our methodologies and best estimates, there were a total of 198 independent coffee and tea houses, bars, counters, cafes, bars, and outlets in the City of Vancouver and is compared to the 186 chain outlets spread over 8 major chains.
As with the Major Coffee Chains in the City of Vancouver analysis, “where” matters. About 35 percent (69) of Independents in the City of Vancouver were located inside the City’s Downtown core compared to 50 percent of major coffee chains. The mass major of Independents are located outside of Downtown Vancouver. Within this type of dispersal, one seeks how these independents help form the neighborhood identities throughout the city. The top 5 planning areas with the largest amount of independents were Central Business/Downtown area at 58 cafes and shops followed by Fairview (21), Kitsilano (18), Mount Pleasant (14), and the West End (10). Interestingly, with the 12 Bubble Tea Houses in the study, 10 are located in the outer neighborhoods of Vancouver and generally reflects the residential patterns of the City’s Chinese Canadian populations — particularly those with Cantonese as their mother tongue.
The above interactive map summarizes the number of independent and chain coffee and teahouses in the City of Vancouver by Plan Area. Please excuse difference between the map viewers as we are experimenting between ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Explorer Online and would like to hear from readers about your preferences.
Independents have a tendency of appearing in clusters throughout the City of Vancouver. While one ought to note the effects of land use zoning which, in the City of Vancouver, tends to concentrate commercial and retail activities on to main arterials and designated high streets, Independents tend to locate near one another. The best example of this occurs on 3 blocks of Commercial Drive (1200 to 1400 blocks) in Grandview Woodlands with 4 Independents. Moreover, outside of Downtown, certain street segments on Broadway, West 4th Avenue, Fraser, Dunbar, Kingsway, and Hastings can be defined by the presence of Independents and Chains. These segments are often located in neighbourhoods with some of the strongest urban identities in the City.
This short series of studies in Independents and Chain Coffee and Teahouses in the City of Vancouver occurs in the intersection of community and commerce. As third spaces (a space that is neither work or home), cafes and coffee shops have always had role in the life of the City. Indeed, coffee and tea houses have been remarkable institutions in the urban landscape where events like the French Revolution first brewed in the coffeehouses of Paris. Forward to Vancouver today, coffee and tea houses in Vancouver have multiple roles in the City as they can serve as both conveners and indicators for a neighborhood where coffee or tea serves as a “social lubricant” or, in certain professions, a caffeinated overlord. Where some readers in the Twitterverse have observed how these spaces bring together and connect nascent communities, others have suggested that certain types of Independents and Chains are heralds of gentrification and displacement as not everyone in Vancouver can afford a 3 dollar cup of coffee. These tensions reflect the ongoing and bigger concerns about and direction of the urban, economic, social, and cultural development of City of Vancouver.
One interesting land use planning experiment would be the allowance of neighbourhood cafes, particularly for Independents, with certain operating parameters in Vancouver’s residential neighborhoods as opposed to just being located on major transportation corridors or arterials. Such a phenomenon is not without precedences given the City’s long history of neighborhood corner stores. In the rise of the corner or even laneway cafe, there lies an opportunity to further strengthen a neighborhood’s social fabric while incrementally introducing a mixed use, community based local economy to these residential neighbourhoods. Neighborhoods like Kitsilano and Strathcona already have prototypical examples of this type of land use with specific store types like Le Marche St George in Ridley Park and the Wilder Snail in Strathcona. In a city where connection and loneliness is a growing concern, this might be one community based commercial opportunity to get to know one’s neighbours.
Beyond spaces of consumption, it is worth talking about coffee and tea houses as emerging places of production. An article entitled “Laptopistan” in the New York Times explored how cafes have become extensions of the new workplace. Ideas and connections steep while people talk around a cup of coffee or contemplate on a laptop with a pot of tea which propel parts of the economy. In and of themselves both independent and chain coffee and tea houses are small parts of the City’s overall economy, but, as Tom Standage observes in his 2005 book, A History of the World in Six Glasses, coffee and tea and the social act of bringing people together can have powerful results. However, it remains an unwritten chapter whether these ideas and industries brewing coffee and tea houses of Vancouver can scale to the numbers of employment with accompanying wages that are needed to support a sustainable, livable, and just city.
On a technical level, the difficulty in capturing independent cafes and tea shops begins with the fact that they can span five difference business license types in the City’s license database: Limited Service Food Establishment, Restaurant Class 1, and Retail dealer – Food, Wholesale Dealer – Food, and Manufacturer – Food with Ancillary Retail. Between general selection parameters of “coffee”, “cafe”, and “tea” within these business license types, a earlier coffee shop study on the Yelp website, and participant-observer/field research, the study was able to obtain study universe. Further filtering occurred with cross referencing the Yelp study and Google searches to exclude full service restaurants It is important to note the number of full service Southeast Asian/Vietnamese restaurants that have the word “cafe” in their Business Trade Name of which were excluded in this study. There is a certain level of subjectivity in this study as it excludes most full service restaurants, but does include bakery cafes and general merchandise shops where a Google search suggests that retail coffee/tea/hot beverage services are a major part of everyday business.
Stemming from comments from the earlier Kerry Gold piece on the BTAworks’ major coffee chain analysis, citizens in this town hold deep passions for their local independent caffeine outlets far more than the 186 chain outlets. Indeed, one reader mentions how this hot beverage means “community in a coffee cup”. Readers quickly volunteered neighborhood shops and cafes to this list and (hopefully) this piece captures the wide diversity of Independents in the City of Vancouver. If this list has somehow missed your favorite independent coffee/tea spot, please feel free to email any omissions to the BTAworks’ hotline/email: info (at) btaworks.com Their omission was strictly accidental.