Edmonton’s Local Coffee Scene

Photo courtesy PACT Coffee

Some of my favourite moments start with three simple words: ‘Let’s grab coffee.’ Whether it’s a first date, a friendly catch-up, or a much-needed break from the work day, there’s something special about slowing down and exchanging stories over a cup. In fact, this experience has deep historical roots. Coffeehouses date back to the 16th century, when philosophers, scientists, and revolutionaries would gather for a hot beverage and stimulating conversation. The custom even has its own word in Swedish: fika, which roughly translates to an essential break for sharing coffee and socialising with friends or colleagues. “Everyone knows that coffee shops are a cornerstone of community,” says Derek Williams of PACT Coffee Co. “The local coffee shop is an important place.”

However, as our culture has shifted away from communal spaces and towards maximum productivity, coffee is rarely something we savour. Instead, it’s ordered on an app, taken to-go, and hurriedly consumed between meetings. “We live in a coffee culture of big chains that are go-go-go and there’s no interaction,” notes Caleb Kan, owner of Stopgap Coffee.

Edmonton is no stranger to fast coffee. Pre- pandemic, the city was studded with Starbucks locations and other chains. But, despite their popularity, the corporation announced that 300 Starbucks stores across Canada would close in 2021, including longstanding Edmonton locations on Jasper Ave, Whyte Ave, and 124th Street. Suddenly, sites that once housed the recognizable green and white logo sat empty.

Photo courtesy PACT

For some, these vacant spaces were the perfect opportunity. Two locally owned shops, Versailles Café and PACT Coffee, have taken over old Starbucks locations on 124th Street and Whyte Avenue, respectively. “We were walking past one day and we saw that the location had been vacant for four to six months. The opportunity to host an incredible coffee experience in a location like that was the most intriguing opportunity for us,” says Williams when asked about PACT’s newly opened storefront. On top of serving premium drinks and a wide variety of gluten-free baked goods, PACT is excited to be part of the vibrant Whyte Ave area. They also recently launched their imPACT project, which helps community members achieve their goals.

For others, the shift away from franchise expansion is a welcome change. The downtown consumer space, which was once oversaturated with chains, is now serviced by a variety of local shops like Credo and Coffee Bureau. Plus, new businesses are popping up across the city.

photo courtesy Stopgap

One of the most exciting additions to the scene is Stopgap Coffee, an intimate café housed in the historic John T. Ross Residence. Run by Stephanie and Caleb Kan, Stopgap is the complete antithesis of fast coffee culture, both logistically and spiritually. On top of your favourite espresso-based drinks, the shop offers a curated menu of pour-overs from roasters both within Edmonton and across Canada. Affectionately called ‘slow coffee,’ this method allows each cup to be individually brewed according to the roast’s unique specifications.

Beyond the practical use of pour-over, Kan finds that the method also helps set the tone of the café. “It slows people down,” he says, which often allows for a deeper connection with customers. Building community is an integral part of Stopgap’s ethos; Kan greets all his customers by name, remembering details about their lives, jobs, and upcoming vacation plans. He also has an open door policy: if the door is open or the lights are on, customers are welcome to come in, even if it’s outside of operating hours. With a warm atmosphere and intense care for their customers, Stopgap is the perfect antidote to the anonymity of fast-paced coffee culture.

As Starbucks continues to shrink—Alberta-based Goodearth Coffeehouse is slated to replace the coffee giant in Indigo locations across the country—and the locaI scene continues to flourish, one thing is clear. Edmonton is returning to the roots of coffeehouse culture: conversation, connection, and a damn fine cup of coffee.

Find more local café recommendations here!

This article by Kristen Thomas appears in the November/December issue of Info Edmonton magazine.


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