Data Desk, Observations, Research Papers April 27, 2013

The Density and Flow of Major Coffee Chains in the City of Vancouver


With this interactive Coffee map, please feel free to use the upper left hand buttons to see a map legend and turn a population density layer on and off.

Whether it is served hot to counter Vancouver’s cold wet winters or enjoyed iced in the City’s far too short summers, coffee is one liquid aspect of culture in the City of Vancouver.  As a city cultural artifact, BTAworks wanted to explore the patterns of coffee bars and houses in the City of Vancouver.  One little known piece of global coffee trivia is that the first Starbucks to open outside of the United States and in Canada was at the Seabus Skytrain Station on March 1, 1987.  As known as the Waterfront Station and the former Pacific Terminus for the Canadian Pacific Railway , it is one of the principle intermodal transportation hubs for the Metro Vancouver region.

Using business license data from the City of Vancouver’s Open Data catalogue, BTAworks mined, analyzed, and mapped the locations of the major coffee chains in the City. We are reserving an analysis of Vancouver vibrant independent coffee scene for a future time given the difficulties of sculpting out that data; however, a quick Yelp query suggests that there are over 82 independent coffeehouses and bars around the City.  We will also be including the City’s many Bubble Tea houses in this analysis.

A quick unsponsored acknowledgement to Matchstick Coffee Roasters and Room for Cream on Kingsway, Abruzzo on Commercial, 49th Parallel on 4th Avenue and Main Street, the Wired Monk on 4th Avenue, Our Town on Broadway, the Grind Cafe and Gallery on Main and the Wilder Snail in Strathcona for the forthcoming analysis and to preserve some semblance of indie cred. At Bing Thom Architects, we have a particular affinity to the Musette Caffe — located just a few blocks from our offices.

First, the major coffee chain census.  At 85 retail outlets, Starbucks is, by far, the largest coffee chain in the City of Vancouver. Followed by Tim Horton’s (26), Blenz (26), JJ Bean (11), and Bean Around the World and Waves at 10 outlets.  Take 5 at 8 and Cafe Artigiano at 7 round out the major coffee chains in the City of Vancouver.

Interestingly, when compared to the City of Surrey’s business license database, there are contrasts in coffee communities.  Where Vancouver has 85 Starbucks, the City of Surrey has 18 outlets; however, the City of Surrey has 22 Tim Horton’s while Vancouver has 26 Tim’s.


Major coffee chains seem to follow a spatial pattern related to population and employment density and commuter and transportation flow in the City.  In short, major coffee chains go where the people and the jobs are and where the people go through. In certain parts of Downtown Vancouver and Broadway corridor, there really is a Starbucks on every corner as the core is inundated with coffee chains.   However, as one goes into the neighborhoods outside of Vancouver’s downtown core, chains take a much more opportunistic position often locating at primary commuting hubs like the Broadway Street Skytrain Station or  transportation corridors like Hastings or Granville Street.  One can observe these relationships between major coffee chains and population densities on the map by adding a population density layer to the locations of these chains.

On Commercial Drive, the street that arguably started Vancouver’s coffee culture with its collection of independent Italian coffee bars, the coffee chains have located on the commuting nexuses of Commercial and 1st and Broadway and Commercial.  In outer and less dense single family neighborhoods of the City of Vancouver, there are even fewer chains and where they do appear, they are on major arterial.  Of course, this is also a function of land use zoning as retail and commercial outlets are restricted to the high streets of these neighborhoods.

In this capacity, it brings a discussion of whether Starbucks and other coffee chains are trend setters or density and/or flow indicators?  Does a community appear first and then a coffee chain moves in or does a coffee chain move in to become part of a package of amenities that attracts residents to a neighborhood?  With these maps, they suggest that chains move to density as oppose to create them. It would be curious to see what BTAworks readers think.

UPDATE: A special thank you to the Globe and Mail’s Kerry Gold for an article on this piece.  You can read her article here: To build a neighbourhood it takes – a good coffee shop?


Comments are closed.

Wayne Fougere 04.28.13 at 5:44pm

In your analysis of indie coffee shops, don’t forget @continental and please consider indie roasters/coffee shop combos. An even more interesting take is the true neighbourhood coffee shops that have taken over old corner stores (the Mighty Oak on Columbia at 18th and Le Marche St. George on St. George at 28th)