Victoria Spring 2011 – Tofino sunset or sunrise on great coffee

Tofino food drink coffee sunsetMy wife and I have been visiting Tofino and Ucluelet on Vancouver Island for well over 10 years since we were married.

And in a decade some things have changed and some other things have remained absolutely and irritatingly the same.

Food: For all intents and purposes, Tofino has come a nice distance in the last decade. There was a time, 20 years or so ago, that there was little to pick from apart from some questionable burger joints and some really questionable seafood places…
Which is an atrocity when you consider that Tofino and Ucluelet are sea food meccas. For goodness sakes, there are fishing fleets based in these two magical little towns.

In 2011, Tofino and Ucluelet cuisine has moved forward big time — for the cuisine that is. You can still get some horrifyingly appalling fish and chips, burgers and hot dogs… ironically at mom and pop joints… because… wait for it, there are no chains or franchise fast food operations in Tofino or Ucluelet… Because heavens knows that a Taco Bell or McDonald’s could not possibly get down to the junk level of some of the joints up here on the coast. OK. Enough picking on that front.

A notch or two up are the deli’s that I have encountered – the ones that charge $10 for a fancy grilled cheese sandwich, that when you order it to eat in, takes 25 minutes to make and is handed to you wrapped in plastic, tinfoil and or paper. No name, but the one deli we visited on this last weekend kept me in stitches after witnessing one order mess up after another… only to have my order screwed up – where we waited almost an hour to get a cheese sandwich made properly. No apology either. Not a word. No sorry for the wait. Nor a nod. Because this is Tofino.

Tofino – all attitude and no substance. None at all.

At the cuisine level it is another matter. When fresh fish or local meat and produce are being prepared in Tofino, they are generally as good as the big city. Pricing tends to be slightly higher than other major centers – but what the heck, Tofino is a tourist town and a bit of a food trap. That said, there is a lot of competition and competition in close quarters is good for you and me.

Coffee: – There are no qualms about it. The coffee culture in Tofino is nearly hopeless. This is starting to change – thank heavens. A notable and sometimes irritating deli, Breakers, has just picked up a Fernwood Coffee contract – they have good equipment and raw materials… so with a little training from the fabulous people at Fernwood, there is hope. Let’s all cross our fingers.
The interesting observation I get about Tofino coffee culture is that it is all attitude and no production. And I want to be contradicted on this – in 20+ visits over the last decade plus, the coffee groove has remained sad.
A colleague of mine quipped the other day, “Remember Colin, Tofino is surf culture, not coffee culture…”
Huh? Why can it not be both? Victoria is coffee culture, tea culture, food culture and tourist culture?
Could it be that Tofino is not capable of doing anything but hippie chill out and surf? Maybe. I hope not. A community like that cannot survive on one trick pony.

Summary: – I would be remiss in not acknowledging the great people that live and work in Tofino and Ucluelet. Yes, the food and tourism culture is there for our comfort and amusement – much like my little city of Victoria – but there are other sides to the culture of community. Victoria is no different.
But if you are going to do coffee and offer a chunk of espresso culture, try and deliver the goods – even if you are pretending.
For now, if you are visiting Tofino or Ucluelet, I beg of you: Bring your own coffee!
We stay at the Middle Beach Lodge and the drip coffee they serve in the Lodge is very good. I know, I drink too much of it.
If I was anywhere else, I would have brought a Press or the Aero and a hand grinder.
To do anything else would be risky.
Espresso in Tofino? Forget about it…
For now.

Colin Newell lives, eats and drinks Vancouver Island food culture – and can often be found between the pages of EAT Magazine or hovering over a cup of Joe at one of many fine Victoria cafes.