Old School Italian Coffee

“I really need to relax in a café with a cup of Italian coffee,” emailed my Italian Canadian friend Jennifer recently, inquiring “can you recommend somewhere good?” Ha. Can I ever. I live near Commercial Drive in East Vancouver, an area saturated with culture, art and food – and good coffee. There are a dizzying selection of cafés at which you can sit outside with your cappucino or americano misto, watching the world drift by. In this age of Starbucks and its various clones, there is nowhere like Commercial Drive with three or four coffee shops in each block. But nothing has the perfect balance of strong coffee, friendly service and Italian style like Café Calabria – my only recommendation to my friend.

Café Calabria is at 1745 Commercial Drive near the northwest corner of Commercial and 2nd Avenue, located ironically right across from a Starbucks. Even in a neighbourhood famous for its Italian population, this is an unapologetically Italian experience. From the Nuova Simonelli espresso machines with beautifully ornate carvings of eagles on top to the frescos painted on the ceilings, the ambiance inside really feels a world away from East Van.

Owned and operated for over thirty years by the Murdocco familia from the Calabria region of Italy of course, all around you you’ll hear animated Italian conversations and thick accents perfectly matched to the faux Roman statues, photos of Italian heroes, and barristas behind the bar humming or singing along to classic Italian opera.

In the tradition of an old-world café, the moment you walk in the door you’re warmly greeted by the always smiling owner Frank and/or one his boys Frank Jr., Vince or Nick. The strong, freshly roasted dark espresso, fresh pastries, foccaccia sandwiches, gelato and delicious blended iced coffees are balanced with friendly conversation. Likely to remember you or your favourite drink, the Murducco boys make you feel like part of the family. Come often enough and Frank may even refuse to let you pay for the occasional coffee. And each New Year’s Day, the Murdocco family treats all their guests who come in to drinks on the house.

Does the coffee taste any better here? Yes, it absolutely does, but that’s not really the only point, is it? I often overhear conversations of people there on weekends declaring their long drive from the suburbs well worth the effort. My friend Jennifer called me and explained she’d enjoyed it so much she has returned a number of times. Like the sign says on the wall, to experience Café Calabria is to experience “A Touch of Italy”. Salute!

For another perspective on Café Calabria and other coffee shops around Vancouver, please visit Vancouver Coffee or Cafe Guide.

Caffe Calabria on Urbanspoon


2 Responses to “Old School Italian Coffee”

  1. Posted on June 8th, 2006

    Something I figured out a few years back is that if a person wants to find good coffee in a new city they should look for a Starbucks and then go to the place across the street. Calabria is definately one of the better cafes I’ve been to in Vancouver. Thanks so much for recommending it!

  2. Posted on June 13th, 2006

    I agree, it’s a great spot… only I once got yelled at for trying to plug in my laptop there. :(

    If you can get a seat, Continental Coffee (kitty corner from Calabrio) makes a killer soy latte, and has free wifi. ;)

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