SERVING COFFEE SLOW-BAR STYLE
Timbertrain is a vignette of two loves: trains and coffee. Entering the coffee shop is akin to stepping afoot a modernized rail car, the world is bustling and quick to pass by, but here you can settle back as a passenger, have a conversation, drink coffee, read the newspaper and enjoy the sites (feel free to hop back into the rat race at any time you like). As kids, the owners Peter, Jeff, and Min had an infatuation for trains, which in turn forged awe for “how trains worked, how trains transported people from one place to another, and most importantly, how trains brought people together.”
The concept of Timbertrain is the interplay of methodical leisure with the expeditiousness of the current day. Their approach joins the excitability of caffeine with rhythmic slow pours; nomadic modern design within venerable Gastown, and present-day graphics with an emblem of a steam engine. The design spouts from Simcic & Uhrich Architects who endowed a marriage of steel, timber, brick, and coffee to remodel the old space.
The service bar mimics that of a dining car “with a tightly choreographed experience that facilitates conversations with strangers or baristas looking to share their extensive knowledge of coffee.” Overall, the design is well-executed while on a budget, however, the rear facade dividing the back-of-house from the front is somewhat antiquated and falls flat from the rest of the scheme.
The focal point of the shop is the “booth”. A uniquely orchestrated seating arrangement deliberately designed as a social experiment with the intent of the end user being “alone and together” simultaneously. Timbertrain is happy to have you play with your laptops or cell phones, but you have to do it in the company of your table mate and that may mean some interaction; for us, that’s been nothing but pleasurable.
Known for their coffee above all else, Timbertrain brews their beans in a more measured and mastered way, offering a meticulous espresso as a result of their slow-bar process. While you can also grab a quick latte to go, the more equanimous mode of order––watching the brewing process––is a welcome change. Your coffee is carefully sifted in front of you at the hands of a barista more passionate than is typical to most coffee shops, and the smooth balanced taste, is testament to the reason why so many prefer to wait.
The treats offered at Timbertrain are luscious and finger-licking, but certainly gluttonous and primarily for those with a sweet tooth. From rich chocolate chunk rye cookies to their legendary popcorn, dark chocolate, & marshmallow cookie, they are decadent yet original. The focus on croissants is heavy (hazelnut creme or chocolate stuffed) and muffins are more of rare encounter.
For those in search of a bout of nostalgia, Timbertrain has cheekily created a House Made Cardamom Crunch, which is a charming take on the notoriously tacky General Mills' Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. (Yes gaudy, but ergo scribbled on every child's 'Mom-please-buy-this' grocery list). The result is an equally sugary cereal you can order in a bowl of milk to eat alongside your coffee. An advantage of having your cereal at Timbertrain is that theirs tastes more wholesome than the GM cereal, as they're able to skip all the bizarre—and passé—additives.
While there are hardly options for the more health-conscious coffee drinker, Timbertrain's kitchen puts on no act; they don't pretend to offer more than they need to. Being a coffeeshop that focuses primarily on the methodology of brewing alone, allows them to offer whatever they choose, and that just so happens to not be your average oatmeal. However, in terms of Timbertrain's tea list, their many options are a blessing to the habitual tea drinker. Our favourite is their velvety ginger-turmeric tea: brewed behind the counter, you have to wait longer for this one, but it always delivers that satisfying health punch we're often looking for.
It's easy to get pulled back to this small Gastown coffee shop again and again because they are open every day of the week, they offer wifi without being draconian about it, and they are never sales-y or pretentious about their coffee. They simply have a passion for coffee and hope that we as customers will see it, become curious, and inquire on our own. When you do, your entire understanding of the coffee world shifts.
Work-spot wise, in addition to offering customers wifi, Timbertrain even has one not-too-far plug in, if you're on the caffeinated long-haul for an overdue project. Typically others working inside are pleasantly keen to share the plug which oftentimes cumulates in an empathetic dialogue of mutual deadline dread.
We haven’t had the chance to visit this summer’s recent opening of Timbertrain Coffee Depot located in Woodland Park, but hope to visit the nestled roastery in the industrial neighborhood quite soon. We’re eager to welcome more food and beverage options to that area and look forward to witnessing the Loring Smart Roast S35 Kestrel in action.
A version of this article originally appeared in HAZEL NOIX on August 26th, 2017