It started as a compromise. With a few hours to see Victoria, the idea of a bike tour came up. According to Stats Canada, Victoria is the cycling capital of Canada. Any beer drinker knows it’s also the craft-brewing capital of Canada. The Pedaler, a new bicycle tour-company in town, offers Hoppy Hour, a three-hour guided tour of Victoria’s best breweries and brew pubs with some tasting thrown in.
“What about the kids?” my wife asks.
Ryan and Emma are teenagers, I point out. This doesn’t seem to answer my wife’s question.
“When my parents stopped at a pub, I got a packet of crisps, my brothers and the car radio for company,” I explain. “Sometimes there was a pub garden to play in.”
Apparently times have changed.
So we end up on The Pedaler’s Beans and Bites tour, a leisurely three-hour ride punctuated by frequent stops for great coffee, indulgent baked goods and a tea-and-chocolate tasting. As compromises go, this one turned out to be great.
We’re staying at The Parkside on Humboldt Street and walk just a few blocks to The Pedaler on Douglas. Within a few minutes of being fitted for bikes and helmets, and meeting our co-riders, we cycle right back to The Parkside. Tre Fantastico is on the ground floor of the hotel and it’s our first stop.
Coffee is very much integral to the ‘Tre’ part of the name – the other drinks being ale and wine. With floor-to-ceiling windows and salvaged wood tabletops, the décor is simple, rustic, but elegant – much like the menu, which features fresh pastas, a charcuterie board and a Red Devil ale sausage for which I’d really like to return.
I’m served a caffe macchiato and I photograph the pretty leaf design in the foam. Sitting across from me is Jazelin Maskos, a coffee aficionado and Pedaler-guide-in-training who will soon be leading the very tour we’re on. I tell her that coffee never seems to be quite hot enough for me. Pretty soon she’s taking me into uncharted coffee territory.
“Ordering an extra hot latte, along with the milk and the sugar, changes the chemical breakdown of the coffee,” she says. That can border on sacrilege if the beans happen to be Ethiopian Tchembe, which apparently has a red wine and blueberry pie aroma, or Guatemalan with its hints of chocolate and raisin.
A trained barista, Jazelin is part of Victoria’s burgeoning coffee scene. That scene includes ‘barista throwdowns’ in which contestants must prepare espresso, latte/cappuccino art and original drinks in timed performances and be judged on everything from their knowledge and creativity to the taste of their drink.
“Victoria is the best coffee city in Canada,” says Jazelin, without hesitation. For a place with such great beer, that’s fitting, I think to myself. I wolf down some of Tre Fantastico’s excellent banana bread and soon we’re back on the road, cycling through Beacon Hill Park. We briefly ride along Dallas Road and enjoy the ocean breeze before heading inland again to Fernwood. Maybe it’s the cool graffiti or the piercings and tattoos per square foot, but Fernwood feels a bit like East Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, and like Commercial Drive, excellent coffee is here.
The Fernwood Coffee Company is a small roastery and café, serving great locally-sourced food and coffees fine-tuned over numerous samplings. With bikes locked and helmets in hand, we troop into the back of the café with resident barista, Rek Feldman. Surrounded by sacks of beans from Rwanda, Ethiopia, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, Rek serves us some of Fernwood’s Cold Brew. It takes eight hours to brew with ice water through a drip in a glass tower that looks like a science experiment. It tastes unlike any iced coffee I’ve had because it’s not really iced coffee – just cold. As Rek explains, most iced coffee is brewed hot first then left to cool and chilled with ice – diluting the coffee’s flavour and altering its chemical makeup.
Fernwood’s Cold Brew tastes sweet even without sugar. For those who like a little bitterness, Rek adds tonic water, which completely alters the flavour and the aroma. It actually smells like lemon or green tea. We finish our visit with an espresso and now, three coffees into the tour, I feel ready to cycle to Nanaimo. Instead we head back downtown to Silk Road, a tea store on Government Street.
Tea expert Emara Angus has our settings arranged at the tasting bar and because there aren’t enough stimulants already coursing through our veins, there’s chocolate paired with each tea. The sight of chocolate almonds, Ecuadorian dark chocolate and Ginger Elizabeth milk chocolate thrills Ryan and Emma, for whom chocolate is an essential ingredient with any hot beverage.
Emara starts us off with Silk Road’s Angel Water tea, a blend of mint, rose, lavender and elderflower. We let it melt the milk chocolate on our tongues and there’s a chorus of “mmmmms”. That’s followed by Japanese sour cherry tea that smells so creamy and is so good with the dark chocolate from Ecuador. We finish with Vanilla Plantation from Sri Lanka, which apparently makes a great chai tea latte and certainly tastes good with chocolate almonds.
Silk Road’s teas are all organic and have won numerous awards. We cycle away with small store bags of tea swinging from our handlebars, but we don’t have far to pedal. Bon Macaron Patisserie on Broad Street is our final stop, which given the level of indulgence on offer here, is probably just as well.
David Rousseau is behind the counter and guiding us through an eclectic mix of flavours available in sweet, bite-size macaroons: curried mango chutney, white chocolate-wasabi, bacon-creamcheese and goat cheese-fig catch our eyes. Prior to this I’d only ever eaten my mum’s coconut macaroons, so I’m somewhat in a state of shock. A tiramisu-salted caramel macaroon helps me recover.
“It’s a very versatile piece of pastry,” says David, who makes about 1,000 macaroons a day and clearly enjoys inventing new flavours. (He was busy making a bacon-maple syrup batch for Father’s Day.)
Thankfully it’s a short ride back to The Pedaler and even shorter walk to The Parkside. We agree that Victoria reminds us of one of our other favourite weekend getaways – Portland, Oregon: cool people doing innovative things with food and drink in stylish settings.
Must get back for that beer tour though!
If you go:
The Beans and Bites tour leaves daily from The Pedaler on 719 Douglas St. at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. It costs $79 per person. Also on offer is the Hoppy Hour guide to Victoria’s brewing scene ($79; leaves daily at 1:30 p.m.) and Castles, Hoods and Legends, a tour of Victoria’s historic neighbourhoods and landmarks. Visit www.thepedaler.ca or call 778-265-RIDE (7433).
Victoria’s Parkside Hotel and Spa is a short walk from the Royal B.C. Museum. It offers a family package from $179 a night, including family admission to the museum, two-hour rental of the hotel’s private movie theatre, plus a snack basket with pop, popcorn and candy. Call 1-866-941-4175 or visit parksidevictoria.com.
B.C. Ferries offers numerous summer package deals to Vancouver Island, including a Victoria Getaway from $109 per person, based on double occupancy. The package comprises one night at the Chateau Victoria Hotel, round-trip ferry from Vancouver for two adults and a car, plus complimentary parking. For more information on this and other deals, visit bcferries.com/vacations or call 1-888-BC FERRY.
For all other matters-Victoria, visit tourismvictoria.com