On April 7, 1952, a full-page ad in Life magazine changed the way people think about their workdays. The ad featured photos of men and women taking a few minutes out of their day to enjoy a hot cup of coffee.
“Coffee always gives you a break!” the tagline read. “Give yourself a coffee-break… and get what coffee gives to you!”
The ad was paid for by the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, a New York corporate interest group trying to boost coffee sales in the United States. And while the message was simple (if a little clunky at the end), it gave a lasting name to the daytime tradition North Americans had been practicing
The bureau has long since dissolved, but its name and the slogan have percolated over the years and today are stamped on white paper cups pouring out of a coffeehouse in downtown Edmonton.
Located on the ground floor of the Jasper 105 Dental Building, Coffee Bureau is the passion project of husband and wife partners Peter West and Cristiane Tassinari. It opened on Valentine’s Day 2015. Since then, the couple has been serving breaks by the cup from a cozy 10-seater shop that harks back to the age of its namesake.
Inspired by the aesthetic of those glossy ads from the ‘50s, the space is minimally but functionally furnished, drawing on elements of modern Scandinavian design to create an atmosphere that’s at once warm and sophisticated.
Inside, louvres, tables, and a ceiling cut from Douglas fir stand out against white walls carrying framed works from local artists. There’s a large plate-glass window that looks out on Jasper Avenue, and just outside, a row of aquamarine school chairs invites visitors to enjoy their drinks and pastries alfresco.
“We wanted to take a bit of a bureau element, a bit of an institutional modern look and feel, and translate it into a coffee space that would make people feel comfortable without getting too kitschy,” West says. “We wanted the lamps to talk the same language as the bar, as the ceiling, as the building, and as the name and the branding itself.”
None of this is to say that the shop is time bound. Free Wi-Fi and a tastefully curated, album-based playlist featuring the likes of Andrew Bird and The Brian Jonestown Massacre make Coffee Bureau an easy destination for productive study and intimate conversations. Given its size, the shop caters more to a grab-and-go crowd, but customers can often find a seat between 11 a.m. and noon, or after 3 p.m.
From slinging joe in a grocery store to working in an espresso machine repair shop, West has had a foot in the coffee business since he was 17 years old. Over the years he’s seen the landscape change — from the popularization of personalized, modular drinks that are the hallmark of Starbucks (think: decaf, low fat, no whip, pumpkin spice latte) to the emergence of retailers who focus on intense and nuanced flavours, treating coffee more like fine wine than a daily driver.
Coffee Bureau distinguishes itself in this ecosystem with a commitment to that first function of coffee, crystallized by the original Coffee Bureau more than 60 years ago.
“I wanted to have a coffee in the morning that made me feel good and didn’t necessarily challenge my intellect every day,” West says. “That utility gets lost in the shuffle when your everyday coffee is tasting like lemons or blueberries or all these fruit and citrus notes that would have been outright rejected by the old guard.”
Although he admits that coffee is a complex drink and making a consistent product isn’t easy, West is proud of how his shop handles the challenge.
“I really feel that our consistency is the tightest in the city,” he adds. “Maybe beyond.”
Edmonton’s Calico Bakery supplies Coffee Bureau with fresh pastries every morning. Early birds might get to lay eyes on the bakery’s legendary cinnamon buns, but be warned: they sell fast.
Coffee Bureau’s specialty is the Americano, made from beans supplied by Edmonton’s Ace Coffee Roasters. A sign outside the shop used to advertise them as “flawless.” The sign is long gone, but the recipe hasn’t changed.
Photography by Matthew Jacula.
10505 Jasper Ave.
Open Monday to Saturday.