Hunt for the Best: Coffee at Burnaby Campus

Image courtesy of Natasha Tar for The Peak

By: Natasha Tar, Peak Associate

Coffee is a university must, but answer me honestly: have you been anywhere but Tim Hortons and Starbucks for your pre-class hot bean water? If you’re as busy as me, probably not. However, I decided to challenge myself to find coffee providers that you might not know about. Here are the four locations I gave a shot.

Nature’s Garden

Hours: Monday–Friday 7:30 a.m.–5 p.m.; Closed Saturday and Sunday

Location: Cornerstone

Nature’s Garden is a quiet café tucked into Cornerstone. When I stopped by at 9:30 a.m., there were only a couple of people sipping coffees among the many available seats.

There’s a fair selection of food and drink, though the food prices are a little steep. The combination of wood flooring, brick walls, reruns of The French Chef, and boring photography of popular travel destinations made for a standard yet somewhat quirky cafe vibe.

I ordered a Marley brand medium-sized, medium-roast coffee, which cost me a mere $2. It was mild, smooth, and not overly bitter — nothing to rave about, but overall a solid cup. Also, if you’re into stamp cards, there are a variety at the checkout counter for different purchases.

The overall ambience complimented my coffee experience so well that I’ll definitely be back to try their mixed drinks!

Rating: 4.5/5 coffee beans

Renaissance Coffee

Hours: Monday–Thursday 6 a.m.–7:30 p.m.; Friday 6 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Closed Saturday and Sunday  

Locations: One each in the Maggie Benston Centre, the Applied Sciences Building, and the Academic Quadrangle

During a quick break in my evening class at 6:30 p.m., I sprinted to SFU’s signature caffeine provider, Renaissance Coffee. You’ve probably been to Renaissance before, but if not, I highly recommend it. I once again got a medium coffee, this time for $2.05. I was also tempted to pick up one of their incredible Nanaimo bars, but I resisted.

The nice thing about Renaissance is that you can mix and match whichever coffee flavours you want from a selection. I made myself a half hazelnut/half French Vanilla coffee; it was strong and slightly nutty. There are little blurbs about each coffee’s flavour profile and origins, but I don’t think I’ll ever find the time to read them. I also like how instead of sleeves, they have fuzzy, compostable cups.

Renaissance was dead at the time I went, but it’s usually insanely busy, especially at the AQ location. I suggest heading to MBC if you want a quicker coffee (though good luck navigating that Convo Mall construction…)

Rating: 4/5 coffee beans

Residence Dining Hall

Hours: Open 24 hours, but entry fee depends on when you go.

  • Breakfast: 6 a.m.–10:30 a.m., student entry fee is $6.50;
  • Lunch and overnight: 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m. and 10 p.m.–6 a.m., student entry fee is $10;
  • Dinner: 5 p.m.–10 p.m., student entry fee is $11.

Location: Just past the Lorne Davies Complex, towards Shell House

I wasn’t expecting to make this stop, but, like Denny’s, the Dining Hall is somewhere you end up at unexpected times in your life. This coffee is not worth it if you’re going for it alone, but if you’re there for breakfast or lunch, there’s no reason not to have a couple of mugs and then sneakily fill up your tumbler. You can also get a coffee-to-go for $1.85.

I attempted to make myself an affogato with the soft-serve machine and the medium roast, but instead made something I’d rather not talk about. Their coffee is Ethical Bean brand and, like at Renaissance, you can mix and match a bit. The medium roast was very weak, and the dark roast tasted burnt and sad. Disappointed, I tried the Carnation brand drink-maker for a French Vanilla. After a puff of powder and a lot of weak grinding noises, I got a drink that Tim Hortons would scoff at.

Unfortunately, the Hall’s ambience (if you can call it that) doesn’t make up for the weak coffee, and at 1 p.m. it was loud and busy. Unless I’m freezing or I find a way to make better affogato, I probably won’t go for the coffee again.

Rating: 2/5 coffee beans

Mackenzie Café

Hours: Monday–Thursday 7:30 a.m.–8 p.m.; Friday 7:30 a.m.–6 p.m.; Closed Saturday and Sunday  

Location: Part of the AQ

I hadn’t been to Mackenzie many times before, so as I entered, I was immediately disoriented. Where’s the coffee? I wondered, walking around somewhat aimlessly until I found it just past the Subway.

They have a little chart on the wall stating prices, and I found that a medium coffee would cost me $2.20, making it the most expensive cup on this journey. That said, I was happy to find out that the medium size was larger than previously encountered cups, but then immediately saddened that the coffee served was my newfound enemy Ethical Bean. I once again went for the medium roast, half-hoping that it would be better than the Dining Hall stuff.

After filling my cup, I wasn’t sure where to take it. There were checkout counters, but at 9:30 a.m., there seemed to be no one at them. I was tempted to just walk out with my coffee, but someone noticed me and rung it up.

The café seemed like a chill place to hang out and the service was friendly, but at lunch it gets pretty busy. As for the coffee, it was hot, but tasted like nothing more than mild, slightly bitter water. It was somehow worse than my affogato disaster at the Dining Hall. I felt ripped off.

I have nothing against ethical coffee, but if you can help it, avoid Ethical Bean. Check out Mackenzie for comfy seating, but maybe not coffee.

Rating: 2.5/5 coffee beans