Torque Coffee Roasters – 501 Columbia St. Vancouver, Washington
- Espresso - ⨷ ⨷ ⨷ ⨷ ⨷
- Cycle accommodations: Lots of space, nowhere to secure
- Cafe setting: Spacious, daylight, quirky, lots of opportunity
- Interior seating: Variety, retro living room, pews, metal cafe tables
- Exterior seating: Picnic tables, lots of space no cover
- Pastry selection: Good with unique variety, limited quantities
Journey to Vancouver Part I – (Part II)
Just eight miles away, via a hop over the Columbia river, Vancouver resides in, what some may perceive as, the shadow of Portland Oregon. There definitely seems to be some level of Portlandian influence, and it would seem, that Vancouver is actively seeking to carve an identity of its own, influenced, but not overshadowed by its neighbor across the river. Vancouver residents have an advantage, they enjoy the benefits of no income tax by living in Washington, and the benefit of no sales tax, when shopping in Oregon. Sales tax avoidance penalties exist, but seem difficult to enforce, with the exception of large purchases that require registration.
Vancouver Washington is located on the banks of the great Columbia River. Meriwether Lewis described it in 1806 as, “the only desired situation for settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.” Hudson’s Bay Company established the first European settlement and Fort Vancouver in 1824; along with the settlement came the decimation of native populations, due to introduction of European presence and disease. Founded in 1858 the city of Vancouver has an appealing Western historic character. This character however, quickly gives way to strip mall sprawl as one travels beyond the center of town. Downtown appears to be undergoing revitalization with new development, retail shop and restaurants inhabiting the historic downtown core. It is pedestrian friendly and easily walkable. Streets feature painted cycling lanes to provide a narrow slice of the pavement to the preferred mode of transportation. Sunday features a large Farmer’s Market at Esther Short Park; it is an event to socialize, pick up fresh goods, and much more. The market is held, rain or shine, mid March through the end of October. Vancouver’s revitalization of the downtown core must be showing signs of success, particularly signified by the rise of two new boutique coffee bars, striving to carry the torch of artisan coffee culture forward. We visited the two recently opened cafes, Torque Coffee Roasters, the subject of Vancouver Journey Part I, and Brewed, the subject of Vancouver Journey Part II.
Our “exhaustive” online research revealed, that there were no reputable cafes in Vancouver. Relying on word of mouth ultimately proved more fruitful; we asked a few locals, and Torque Coffee Roasters and Brewed, were constantly referenced. We were pleasantly surprised that Torque Coffee Roasters was located directly across the street from the Hilton, where we were staying, and the place of the event that brought us to Vancouver Washington.
Torque was opened in April of 2012, and is located in a renovated auto repair garage that still features many of the artifacts, such as the hoisting beam and gantry, concrete floors, and spill drain. There is a large uncovered exterior seating area, that is brought to life by a wall mural of pastoral scene featuring a women plucking an apple from a tree. When the weather allows, a large rolling garage door can be opened, to join the exterior to the cafe interior. The Interior is vast and appears to still be seeking its motif. The most distinctive feature is the large wall mural of the I-5 bridge towers integrated with the Torque logo. The collection of retro furnishing, refurbished church pews, and metal cafe tables provide a variety of seating choices. The cafe bar is a wide open corral, distinguished by a pumpkin orange painted bead board front, with an oak countertop. The openness provides a clear window into the back of house necessities of the operation, including a detailed view of the collection cleaning agents and metal garbage can. Just beyond the bar is a cache of what appeared to be a selection of Torque apparel for purchase. We found the whole cafe ambience to be quite interesting, and with great opportunity for future merit. We suggest that it has not yet fully gelled into a detectable character befitting the marvelous moniker, Torque.
We were warmly greeted as we entered the cafe and stepped up to place our order. Upon ordering the espresso, the owner and barista, informed us that they were testing a new roast from “Red Line Rosters” in Portland, and that the roast has a particularly tart flavor to it. We appreciated the warning to our tastebuds. He informed us that the shot needed to be pulled rapidly, roughly 18 seconds, otherwise the flavor of the shot would completely drive off the road. The espresso was served with a saucer and spoon, no soda water. He graciously urged us to enjoy the espresso and settle the bill afterwards. The aroma was subtle, the crema a light carmel color, with an appropriate thickness that provided a velvety touch to the palette; the barista deservedly receives credit for expertly crafting the crema. As promised, the shot flavor was tart, and did not develop a rich coffee flavor, or a lingering sweetness.
We decided to have a second espresso, to give the roast a fair chance, and to survey the pastry selection. The counter was now serviced by a charming young woman who was delighted to give us a tour of the pastry case that featured, a modest quantity, but good variety, of selections from the BakeShop in Portland. The pastries were top notch, even the bran muffin was moist and delicious. As we ordered the second espresso, the owner noticed, and quickly popped up to coach the appropriate timing for the espresso pull. It was a solid tart repeat performance.
Torque, we give our espresso experience two out of five wheels. We enjoyed, the service, and the quirky aesthetic of Torque, and recommend it as a cafe stop in Vancouver. We think it will serve as an excellent cycling stop for those enjoying a ride in the area. The friendly engaging service paired with your evident knowledge and craft of espresso is full of great promise for Torque to flourish, and we hope it does. The flavor of the espresso is what brought down your rating for us. We appreciate Torque’s willingness to be a testing laboratory for roasts, but think it advisable to provide the test roast as an option, and preserve a signature roast selection for those who grow to love it.
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Paradoxical footnote: All the cafes we spend time to write about we recommend as destinations. We provide the honest feedback and rating of the espresso experience because we are interested to help cultivate the best success for future visits. Even though we may give the espresso experience a one wheel rating we can still love and recommend a visit to the cafe because of the overall character of place, amongst other qualities.
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