Disclaimer: This article is solely the writer’s opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of UBC Food Society
If there is one thing I know for certain about university life, it’s that I wouldn’t be able to survive it without coffee. Whether you enjoy the smooth yet bitter aromas of a good cup of coffee, or whether you drink it black for an extra jolt in the morning, we can all agree that coffee is the key to surviving all-nighters, midterm week, 8 am lectures. That being said, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a good, reasonably priced, cup of coffee at UBC, an institution full of people who treat caffeine as a drug. Being a coffee addict and native Vancouverite, I enjoy a bold espresso from Trees Organic Coffee or Caffè Artigiano, my personal favourite coffee shops in Vancouver. While these are my go-to coffee shops when in the city, I have yet to discover a good cup of coffee on campus. As a result, I conducted some Buzzfeed like research to find the place with the best, most worth it, coffee at UBC.
For this article, I taste tested lattés at five different coffee shops on campus. You may be wondering why I tested lattés (one or two shots of espresso which steamed milk) instead of regular drip coffee. The simple answer is that I think it is harder to make a good latté, and therefore says more about the coffee shop then their brewed coffee. The less sophisticated answer is that I think a latté both tastes better and is more photogenic than a plain old cup of coffee.
For one week, I ventured to five coffee shops around campus: Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Uppercase, Loafe Café and Great Dane Coffee. I chose these five coffee shops as they ranged in price, location, and reputation. When taste testing the lattés at the various cafés, I not only reviewed the drink itself, but to give a broad recommendation of where to find the best coffee on campus, I also kept in mind the price, the wait time, and the location of the coffee shop.
1. Tim Hortons
Overall Rating: 1/5
This Canadian favourite has two locations on campus: one in the Forestry building and an express version in the Sauder building. Tims launched a new “handcrafted” latt-eh last year that was advertised as made with “real espresso” and “hand steamed” milk. I had been wanting to try Tims’ new latt-eh for a while and this experiment gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. I waited in line for a long 10 minutes and ordered my medium (14oz) latté for a very respectable price of $2.99 (plus tax). I was pleasantly surprised that my drink was made almost instantly; however, when I took a sip, I was confused as to what I had actually ordered. If it were not for the faint brown colour that indicated that there was coffee the drink, I wouldn’t have believed this was a latté. If you enjoy poorly steamed milk, this is the drink for you. For such a famous chain, I thought Tim Horton’s knew the difference between coffee and milk.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Starbucks is another well-known coffee chain, famous for their basic Pumpkin Spice Latte and overpriced blended Frappuccino beverages. There are four Starbucks’ at UBC (two “real” Starbucks’ and two owned by UBC), all of which seem to be busy at any time of day. Because Starbucks’ popularity, I felt obligated to taste test their latté for my experiment. I waited for about 3 minutes in line, ordered my Grande (16 oz) latté which comes with two shots of espresso, and waited impatiently for another ten to get my actual drink. I have to say, the coffee flavour was much more pronounced than in Tim’s latté–smooth, but a little mild for my palate. However, the milk aspect of the latté was the pitfall in the drink. The steamed milk had air bubbles and was too foamy for a latté. At $4.45 plus tax, this latté is not worth the wait or the money, although it may seem like the convenient choice.
Overall Rating: 2/5
Uppercase, located in the Nest, is not only well-known for their Blue-Chip Cookies and Bernoulli’s bagels, but also prides itself in serving Salt Spring Coffee and specialty barista drinks. The line at Uppercase always fluctuates. You could be stuck waiting for 15 minutes just to order or there could be no one in line. However, it takes forever for them to make your drink or hot food item. I think I waited for 10 minutes just to get my drink and was almost late for class. For the latté itself, it costs $3.45 for 12oz, and $4.45 for 16oz, both of which I believe only have one shot of espresso. So if you order the bigger size, you end up paying more money for milk and a weaker coffee. But the espresso is insanely week as it is! The milk was smooth and slightly foamy which is one aspect of a good latté; however, they completely missed the mark on the espresso aspect of a latté. For the price of $3.45, I would never get this latté again, although, I have heard they serve a good mocha.
4. Loafe Café
Overall Rating: 5/5
Loafe Café is a little gem located in the Alumni Centre that serves coffee, tea, baked goods, fresh sandwiches and hearty salads. Although it’s on the pricier side, I had heard good ratings of both their coffee and food, and it’s conveniently located in the heart of campus. Lines can be long at Loafe around lunch time, but when I went at 9 am I only had to wait a couple minutes to order my small, 12oz latté. The barista took her time making the drink, grinding the espresso and steaming the milk, but unlike Uppercase, the drink was worth the wait. The espresso was bold with a pronounced bitter coffee flavour that was not overpowering, and the drink was beautifully presented with handcrafted latté art. Overall, this drink was a work of art and well worth the $3.45 I paid for it.
5. Great Dane Coffee
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Great Dane Coffee? Where is that? Great Dane Coffee is located on Walter Gage road next to the construction site for the new Brock Hall Student residence. It’s a bit of a walk from most of the activity on campus but it is worth checking out. It serves hot tea and coffee, as well as freshly baked scones, cookies and house made sandwiches. It’s not as busy as Loafe, and its coffee is comparable. The downside to Great Dane is it’s price. The $4 latté was almost identical to Loafe’s which was only $3.45. The espresso at Great Dane is a slightly less bitter than at Loafe, which if you like a milder coffee may appeal to you more. In my opinion, Great Dane’s coffee is good, but not quite worth the walk from the main campus or the extra fifty cents.
Without a doubt, Loafe Café is the best coffee shop on campus and is where I will be getting my coffee for the rest of the year. As for the latté itself, not only did the espresso have a smooth, caramel, slightly bitter taste, and robust aroma, the steamed milk was rich and the barista made some Instragram worthy latté art. In addition, the Café offers a relaxed, hipster vibe–essentially the perfect atmosphere for studying on a rainy Vancouver day. And for non-coffee addicts, Loafe offers brewed tea and tasty treats which I look forward to trying in this upcoming year, and sharing reviews with you in future articles.