A few months ago, we wrote about the coffee shop Revolver in Gastown. It’s a fantastic shop; the coffee selection is superb, the design is gorgeous and most importantly, they serve truly excellent coffee. For both of us here at the Facing Page, this is one of the best cafes in Vancouver. It also has a unique feel and ambience that sets it apart among the faceless masses of independent Vancouver cafes. And so, we were keen to learn a little bit more about Revolver. To do so, we met up with one of the founders, George Giannakos, to chat about Revolver and Vancouver coffee-culture in general. With an excellent cup of coffee, a few questions and a relief to be inside during a tropical rainstorm, we sat down for the following fascinating discussion.
There are an awful lot of Vancouver coffee shops. How did you set out to differentiate yourselves?
My family runs Cafe Crema – which turns six in December – as well so we’ve been into coffee for a bit. We’ve had a chance to network with the right people, we’ve done a lot of travelling, seen a lot of cafes, particularly San Francisco, Portland, and even Japan where its a bit more progressive and a little more niche. It’s kind of a sub-culture so with coffee you could see the direction it was going and we aimed to bring that here. Being current, not in a trendy way, but just keeping it current and very coffee focussed. I spent some time working as well in a cafe in Montreal we’ve taken some influence from there too – particularly in the service style: it’s less like a cafe and more like a bar. Sort of a more interactive design.
Why choose Gastown? Was there any particular tie to the neighbourhood for you?
It’s the neighbourhood, inevitably because it’s the neighbourhood we like. We were hunting for a couple years, not aggressively the whole time but every time we were in Gastown we’d hunt for the for lease signs. We get a bit of a community sense here too, you get a lot of the wait-staff from the Gastown restaurants coming in before a shift, same with the people from the Woodward’s building. There’s a lot of “Hey, how’s it going?” while people are waiting for drinks at the bar.
We really like the way you do the menu of different coffees – how do you source and choose what you bring onto the menu?
Everything is cupped and tasted weekly, blind – my brother does that, he’s directer of coffee right now so whatever he likes we try to bring in. If something has maybe gone downhill we might talk to the roaster and try to figure out why. We tend to only take a couple different beans from a roaster, even if they have 6 or 7. The roasters tend to be more constant but the coffees will change.
Speaking of roasting, is there any ambition from you at Revolver to get into roasting your own beans?
At the moment just the cafe side. That’s one of the things we like actually, being able to choose from the roasters rather than being restricted to selling your own thing. We still focus on roasting a bit as a third party but we don’t let that take over here.
Vancouverites are said to drink a lot of coffee – but with perhaps the focus on quantity and not quality. Do you get the sense we’re getting more into drinking high-quality coffees?
I think people are a bit more willing now to pay for quality but we haven’t gotten away from the size thing yet. I think in Europe, many of the cafes would see 8oz as a lot. 12 oz here is as big as we go. For us, this *George points to the glass Hario pots the coffee is served in* is 12 oz and many people don’t even finish it. It feels like much more, I’m sure they’d finish if it was just in one cup but the act of having to pour it and sit down with it makes it seem like a little more. To go cups are cool but it goes to show that you don’t need as much if it’s drank for the purpose of drinking it.
The assumption among Vancouver coffee-drinkers tends to be that espresso machines and specialty coffees are premium while a drip coffee is not. Do you find people balking at the idea of paying 4 or 5 dollars for a cup of black coffee?
I think we were more hesitant than customers honestly. At first it was a bit scary to ask for $4.50. But not one person has walked out after hearing the price. Some people walk in, think it’s not for me and leave, but that’s cool. I think people recognise that the coffees are higher quality. So people seem to be pretty open. I think also because it’s individual, you can see that the cup is worth just as much as a latte. When people see that you put the care into it rather than just pouring it out of an urn, people realize that the quality is there. If it’s just coming out of a tap in the back and someone charged $4.50 for it I might question that.
Say you’re out around the city and you need a cup yourself, what would the other cafes you’d turn to be?
Well Matchstick definitely, they’re good friends of ours and we just like going there. I do like Crema – I don’t know if that counts. Let me think.. it’s not hard to think of places but it’s hard to narrow down. Innocent coffee? Have you guys been there before? It’s on West 4th – right near Granville Island. Definitely worth checking out.
How would you feel then about working with some of the local coffee roasters in future?
We’re open to it – but one of the purposes with this was to highlight some of the stuff that you can’t really find around the city. That being said, we had Matchstick on yesterday for the first time. We’ve had 49th [Parallel]. We’ve been in talks with JJ Bean about a sample we’re thinking about bringing on.
You and your girlfriend have done a couple iterations of a pop-up book store in Revolver – is that something you’re thinking about continuing?
That worked out great, that’s kind of a side project my girlfriend and I did – it’s not really Revolver related other than just by nature – that worked really well. Books are my own side passion, under the guise of Sons and Lovers books. It just happened to be at Revolver as a gateway – a front. We’ve never done a 3rd party pop-up but we’re open to the idea
There’s also the free public tastings, how do those work?
It’s from 12-1 on Friday. We set it up at the back bar for whatever specifically we’ll be doing, it shifts from either 5 different coffees, different filters, this week we did it with our cold brew. That’s been only out three days but we wanted to sample it out. It’s to let people try different things – there’s no signup, it’s free.
Looking forwards, in 5 years where would you want Revolver to be?
Because it’s family and there are 6 of us, I’m just 1/6 of the view but personally I’d imagine that Revolver will stay as just a single concept. Like Crema has stayed it’s own concept. If we opened another it wouldn’t be called Revolver, it could be a spin-off or something but not another Revolver.
When you’re making coffee yourself at home what do you use, you use a Chemex with a metal filter here – what about when it’s just for yourself?
The problem at home is the grinder really, the grinder is such an important part. I usually just use a French Press or an Aeropress – keep it simple. I don’t usually do pour-over at home because there’s a few more variables, temperature and flow can be a bit troublesome. But some of our customers swear by it and it seems to be going well. I prefer the Aeropress but sometimes it’s just a bit much work.
Speaking of Aeropress, you hosted the BC Aeropress Championship here recently – how did that go?
That was awesome. It was nationally sanctioned and it was also the only one in Canada, so by default the winner was national champion. They didn’t manage to go onto the World Championship but it was good. That was really cool and the first one. It’s every year so it’ll be back again next year. It was packed in here, really fun. I competed but got knocked out. It was like a battle royale, I lost to my guy and that was it. We had a lot of great coffee people from around the city judging. There was no arguing when they made up their mind.
We’ve noticed the record player behind the bar and you tend to have great music on in Revolver, can you list three albums you enjoy listening to at work?
First would be one a friend introduced me too recently, Alt-J, An Awesome Wave. Tommy Dorsey, we dim the lights and play a Best Of at 5 everyday, it’s awesome. And recently Monsters and Men, I’ve been playing them a lot lately, my current go to.
You mentioned your passion for books, anything particular you want to get into this summer?
Catch-22, I haven’t got into that yet. The Last Temptation of Christ – I don’t know if I’ll get there but I’d like to get there.
Awesome – Thanks so much George. We really appreciate your taking the time with us today to chat. We’ll be seeing you soon.
– AP | CK