The Cortado In: Toronto
Hello, friends! We recently spent five sunny days in Toronto, canvassing the city as best we could to experience an amazing craft coffee scene. We trekked over 40 miles in our pursuits, and we loved every minute of it. We visited HotBlack Coffee, Strange Love Coffee, Quantum Coffee, De Mello Palheta (Richmond St.), Early Bird Coffee & Kitchen, Boxcar Social (Temperance Ave.), Dineen Coffee, Sam James Coffee Bar (Toronto St.), Versus Coffee, Sorry Coffee Co., The Coffee Lab, and Sam James Coffee Bar (King St./PATH). We sampled beans from Cut Coffee, Detour Coffee, 49th Parallel, Hale Coffee, De Mello Palheta, Quantum Coffee, Dineen Coffee, Pilot Coffee Roasters, and Phil + Sebastian Coffee Roasters. We sipped espressos, drip coffee, pour overs, and lattes galore. It was a tour de force, and we had a blast exploring the city using coffee as our guide. We regret that we were unable to visit some other shops we had on our to-do list, including but not limited to Fahrenheit Coffee, Neo Coffee, Pilot Coffee (Union Station), and Propeller Coffee, but hey, that gives us ample reason to head back sometime soon!
If you're looking to do a similar tour to what we did, we want to note that certain shops are closer to each other than others. Below you can find a map with a few "loops" of shops to try. Click box with the arrow in the top left hand corner to toggle the loops we recommend!
Below you can find photographs from our visit, as well as our thoughts on each shop.
Our visit to HotBlack Coffee was fantastic. HotBlack uses Detour Coffee for its drinks, and Detour's beans are on sale at this location. We picked up a bag of Detour's Punch Buggy espresso blend here at the recommendation of the knowledgeable and helpful baristas, and we also purchased our favorite latte of the trip here, as well, as it was light and delicate. Note to visitors: HotBlack has an outdoor seating area in the back in addition to the inviting seating in the front of the shop.
De Mello Palheta
We didn't get a photo in De Mello Palheta, but we highly recommend stopping by the space. De Mello Palheta shares its Richmond location with a boutique clothing shop that is very inviting, relaxing, and has friendly baristas. Their main location was a bit too far out for us this trip, so we were very pleased to find this location nearby while strolling Toronto's gorgeous downtown. De Mello Palheta's beans are available here for retail purchase, as well, if you're inclined to pick up a bag. Apparently DMP beans are quite popular, as when we stopped by to pick up a bag to take home, the store was sold out of its retail offerings. Despite this setback, we had a great visit and advise those in the neighborhood to pop in for a cup.
Upon entering Strange Love, we were greeted by two friendly baristas. Seeking a drip coffee, they pointed us to an exceptional single origin Guatemalan from Phil + Sebastian Coffee Roasters, a Calgary roaster (and poured it into an awesomely-designed Pilot Coffee to-go cup). In addition to delicious beverages, Strange Love also sells a variety of coffee products in-house, including beans from Pilot Coffee, from Toronto, and the aforementioned Phil + Sebastian. Strange Love has a bright space in the back of the shop with 10-15 seats and free wi-fi if you're looking to relax. We highly recommend stopping in for a delicious cup!
Quantum Coffee is just down the street from Strange Love but provides a completely different experience, as Quantum is a much larger operation. Upon walking into the shop, you will find a bar for ordering on one side of the room, and then the baristas are on the other side of the room whipping up the drinks. Noise carries well in the room, and the various conversations and machine noises can create some cacophony, but if you walk through the first room and up a small flight of stairs you end up in a huge space with tables that is quiet and peaceful if you are looking to sit down and read or study. Some notes: If you’re into technology, Quantum has a Poursteady for its pour overs. Also, the shop makes a nice, smooth espresso. Lastly, Quantum uses its own proprietary beans in making its beverages, and the beans are on sale at this location if you want to bring a little Quantum home.
Early Bird Coffee & Kitchen
We stopped in Early Bird on the tip that we could find beans from 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters at this shop, and we were happy to find that the beans were available for purchase. We did not have a beverage here, and we didn't have our camera with us (double whammy), but we loved the interior and will definitely roll by for a coffee the next time we are in Toronto. The place was packed and had a great vibe. If you're stuck between HotBlack and Sam James on Queen St. West, this is where you should stop for a cup.
Dineen Coffee Co.
Dineen is found in the Financial District and has a beautiful interior. As it was morning, we picked up a cheddar and jalapeño scone to go with a drip coffee from one of Dineen's proprietary roasts, Temperance, which is a medium roast. The inside of the shop was packed with well-dressed individuals who were out on coffee breaks or taking meetings al fresco. Take note: Dineen is great for people watching, as it has an expansive outdoor patio where one can sit and watch the passersby on Yonge St. If you're in the area and and want to see and be seen, we recommend walking in for a cup.
Boxcar Social (Temperance St.)
Boxcar Social has a variety of locations in Toronto, and this one can be found on a quiet side street on the north edge of the Financial District, just two blocks from Dineen Coffee. We loved the space and the music, and it was a popular spot for folks who wanted to come in and have a cup or a drink (they offer alcohol, as well). Boxcar Social is a multi-roaster shop, rotating between Anchored Coffee Roasters (Nova Scotia), George Howell (Boston), Heart (Portland), Phil + Sebastian (Calgary), Parlor Coffee (Brooklyn), Transcend (Edmonton), The Barn (Berlin), 49th Parallel (Vancouver), and Lofted (Brooklyn). When we visited, Phil + Sebastian was on the shelves. The coffee was slightly more expensive than other places we visited, but not by much. If you're looking to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the Financial District, this is a good pick.
Sam James Coffee Bar (Toronto St.)
Sam James Coffee Bar (SJCB) has a few outposts in Toronto, and we visited the Toronto St. (shown above) and King St./PATH locations. SJCB is home to our favorite espresso in Toronto and utilizes its own proprietary roast, Cut Coffee. The Toronto St. location is on the edge of the Financial District and could fit maybe ten people inside if everyone was standing. The friendly barista poured us an espresso that felt luxurious and slightly acidic at first blush before coating the tongue in a rich chocolate with hints of orange. Needless to say, we loved it. The King St./PATH location is busier and also is meant for folks on the go. Despite the fact we stopped by during morning rush, the barista was patient and helpful in assisting us in picking out a roast to take home. In addition to beans from Cut Coffee, both locations sold mugs emblazoned with the SJCB logo. If you see the sign out front, stop in!
Versus Coffee had a very friendly barista who provided us with a great cup of drip coffee from Hale Coffee, another Toronto roaster. In addition to Hale, we noticed that Versus also was selling De Mello Palheta beans in the retail section of the store. Versus is near a local college, had a relaxing, nordic-influenced interior, and had a nice outdoor patio with umbrellas to enjoy the weather. Fun fact: Versus is one of the few coffee shops in Toronto that makes color lattes. We recommend this spot if you're in the area.
The Coffee Lab
The Coffee Lab was another that we unfortunately failed to capture on our camera, but this spot is well worth a visit. It can be found right next to the Bata Shoe Museum and University of Toronto on Bloor St. It is the smallest coffee shop in Toronto, but the product is top notch. We had an exceptional Guatemalan roast here (sorry, we forgot to ask the roaster). Perk: The barista, who we believe is also the proprietor, is wonderful, and made us the best coffee (drip or pour over) that we had during our visit to Toronto. Extra perk: while you wait for your cup, the barista offers sparkling water. Triple perk: it's inside a bookstore, so you can peruse the titles while waiting for your coffee if sparkling water isn't your thing.
Sorry Coffee Co.