Finding good coffee at the edge of the world

🕔May 28, 2007

What could be better than a good cup of coffee with a great view? Here is Northword’s guide to the best locations for a caffeine fix on Haida Gwaii.

A decent cup of java can be grabbed just about anywhere in the Northwest—even fast-food chains have stepped up their coffee quality to please the discerning palate.

But on Haida Gwaii, one of the best things about savouring a great cup of coffee is location, location, location! For travelers and locals alike, an island-based caffeine fix often takes place before or after some great Misty Isles adventure.

One of the hottest new coffee spots on the islands is in Skidegate. Jags Beanstalk (formerly Hummingbird Gardens) co-owner Sue Brown says many of her customers aren’t just there for the artisan-roasted coffee or the artwork she and husband Jags can create in milk foam. People often stop after a walk around the mossy forests at Spirit Lake, a trail that winds up the slope behind the village.

She has also added a dog hitching-post for those who make the café (and flower-shop/nursery) a destination for a weekend walk with their four-legged companions. And with a view of Hecate Strait to die for, even those who drive in can kick back on the outdoor patio and make an afternoon of it, while waiting for whales and other marine creatures to pass by.

With the new Haida Heritage Centre just around the corner at Second Beach, more and more visitors may be stopping here after soaking up the cultural exhibits in the new facility.

Farther up the highway in tiny Tlell, more caffeinated experiences await:

A coffee at the Rising Tide Bakery will warm people up after a morning of fly-fishing on the Tlell River or a walk on the beach, but a bowl of delicious soup, homemade bread and a cookie or two will keep them going the rest of the day as well. After a hike along the Anvil Trail or out to the shipwreck in Naikoon Park, Barb at the eclectic Sitka Studio can serve up a cappuccino and show off some of the great art, books and jewelry she has in her store. Those looking for a chocolate fix will find some extra-special goodies there, too.

Leslie Geddie’s Dress for Les, a 10-year Tlell institution, is now operating out of Gas Plus in Port Clements. The gas station’s regular lunch-counter customers, many of who work in the nearby industrial area, are getting used to the new eats on offer since Geddie set up shop there—but not before asking if she would have a dictionary handy to help them decipher the menu. Empanadas anyone?

Geddie’s famous organic Spitfire coffee and her cappuccino machine made it to the new location too, but Gas Plus still serves a milder choice (calling it dishwater may be a little harsh) for the weak at heart. Geddie is confident she’ll soon convert many of the regulars. She’s already caught some who used to say her coffee was too strong splashing in a bit of Spitfire to top off the regular gas station fare.

Gas Plus makes a good stop before or after taking in any of the natural wonders near Port Clements, like the Golden Spruce Trail. This short trail by the Yakoun River leads to a spot overlooking the site of the yellow-needled tree, felled in 2001 by a disgruntled forestry worker from the mainland. The beautiful tree, important to the Haida and other islanders alike, is sorely missed, but visitors can see a seedling from the Golden Spruce growing in the park by the church in town.

Myles from Nowhere is another Port Clements coffee port of call. The shop, which is right downtown within walking distance of the Sunset Park Trail and other nearby attractions, will be open on and off throughout the summer.

It’s a 40-minute drive before your next cup of java, in Masset. To ensure you’ve been keeping with the exercise theme, stop for a stroll at Pure Lake on the way. It’s a short walk from the pull-out to a beautiful body of fresh water. Better yet, pull your canoe off the car and put in!

Then, head straight for Tow Hill Road and North Beach, and set up camp for the night at Agate Beach (just try and sleep after all the coffee you’ve been sipping). But in the morning, before or after your crabbing, clamming or hiking adventure on the beach, grab another cup at the Moon over Naikoon Bakery. It’s “off the grid,” and one of the grooviest places you’ll ever go for a treat. The café is also known as the Whale Museum and you will see why when you get there.

The Trout House is also on Tow Hill Road, but back towards town. This full-service café (the coffee is always on) and restaurant has amazing food in a rustic, hand-built setting. Think driftwood, cordwood, recycled glass and the most beautiful pot-bellied stove you’ve ever seen: the perfect spot to stop after beachcombing or bird-watching.

Back in Masset, there are a variety of restaurants, all serving coffee, but your next great stop for a java jolt is farther up Masset Inlet, in Old Massett.

The Haida Rose Café is within walking distance of Haida totem poles, carving studios, shops and the local beach. Along with strong espresso, the café has an internet connection—and the staff and owners are connected as well. Ask them about local Haida cultural events or the fundraising dinners for a proposed Haida Language Centre.

Of course, some coffee shops are such institutions that they are destinations in themselves. Back at the southern end of the island, Queen B’s in Queen Charlotte is like that. Formerly known as Hanging By a Fibre, the café has moved across the street from its original location (where the Purple Onion Café now serves up specialty coffee, sandwiches and deli meats) to a spot overlooking the water.

Go there for the swanky (Queen Charlotte high style often involves rubber boots) art show openings or delicious homemade lunches. Proprietor Bonnie Olsen often serves fabulous dinners on weekend nights as well. A venue for local readings and other creative happenings, Olsen says her goal has always been to create a space that people support for a variety of reasons. “It’s owned by the community,” she says. “I just look after the bills.”

Last but not least, it may seem like the airport in Sandspit is only a destination if you are heading out of town, but a morning of outdoor adventure on Moresby Island can begin or end there as well. Get a hot cuppa and a cinnamon bun at Brady’s Bistro, and then spend the day at beautiful Gray Bay—or walk straight out the door with your to-go mug and walk around the spit itself.

Whatever type of coffee or coffee shop calls to you, get out there and visit the natural beauty of Haida Gwaii, too.