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serious non-chain coffee in downtown Toronto

ognir Sep 9, 2006 05:22 AM

I can't stand chain coffee shops like Starbucks and 2nd Cup. I want to find a REAL cafe in downtown Toronto where they take their coffee seriously and that doesn't feel like the an airport waiting lounge.

Any suggestions?

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    oishi RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 11:13 AM

    Try wandering through Kensington - there are a few good ones there e.g. Moonbeam, Kensingtons. And don't forget to take some home with you...yummy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: oishi
      jayseeca RE: oishi Sep 9, 2006 07:05 PM

      i second Moonbean... great selection of coffees, and in the back, the patio feels like you're hanging out at a friends place.

    2. cord RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 11:15 AM

      Jet Fuel, parliament north of carlton. I have only been here once after hearing about it a lot, and I'd say one of the best coffees you will have in Toronto.

      In my hood the Beaches I like the Remarkable Bean.

      In the Distillery district there is Balzac's which is also very good.

      I'm sure others will have more suggestions!

      5 Replies
      1. re: cord
        mainja RE: cord Sep 9, 2006 01:34 PM

        I second Jet Fuel, they have great coffee, but with a word or warning... You need to know what you want, there is no menu with a list of what they serve, or the prices. and if you want just a 'regular' coffee it will be an americano because they make the coffee as you order it, so everything they serve is espresso based.

        But yes, exceptionally yummy coffee, I just was a little thrown by the no menu thing when I first went. Oh, also, they only take cash, just so you know...

        1. re: mainja
          cord RE: mainja Sep 9, 2006 02:18 PM

          Yes, I have to admit I was a bit thrown as well the first time I went - also because there seemed to be a bit of a "scene" in there, and I felt a little out of place, but the coffee is excellent! I think a second visit would be much easier.

          1. re: cord
            mainja RE: cord Sep 10, 2006 01:38 PM

            absolutely, second time was just fine. but first time would have been easier if i knew about the no menu cash only thing. ;)

            1. re: mainja
              lovestotravel RE: mainja Apr 27, 2011 01:32 PM

              Love Jet Fuel and had a lovely latte at Petit Thet yesterday

        2. re: cord
          adelec RE: cord Apr 30, 2011 08:07 PM

          Three great suggestions! I agree with all.

        3. NovoCuisine RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 01:52 PM

          One of my faves is B Espresso Bar / 111 Queen St. E.


          My girlfriend had a baby shower there, I would have never found the place otherwise; not in the best area and not a very prominent sign (look for the 'Illy' light). But it's an amazing little spot.

          1 Reply
          1. re: NovoCuisine
            pgfuzz RE: NovoCuisine Sep 22, 2007 05:19 PM

            Couldn't agree with you more. B Espresso is where I've enjoyed the best coffee in Toronto.

          2. s
            sweetspotlee RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 02:42 PM

            I am a coffee fanatic. Right now I'm drinking freshly-ground beans that were roasted a few days ago at Merchants Of Green Coffee. Like flying business class (Merchants), you can never go back to coach ("Fourbucks", Second Cup, Timothy's, even many ma-and-pa places that have cruddy beans).

            So I have three suggestions for anyone who wants a great cup of coffee and a great atmosphere:

            1) Mercury Espresso Bar - Queen St. E
            2) Cafe Vert (right across the street from Mercury)
            3) Go directly to Merchants - a cool place to see for yourself, they'll give you a free cup of freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee and you will not believe how good it tastes. Right now they have a rather scaled-down coffee bar, but I think they are trying to get it more full-service soon)

            The reason I suggest the first two places is that they serve freshly-roasted Merchants beans.


            2 Replies
            1. re: sweetspotlee
              detritus RE: sweetspotlee Sep 9, 2006 05:04 PM

              I'm 95% sure that Mercury uses beans from Dark City Coffee, not Merchant of Green Coffee.

              A good choice though. IMHO, Mercury and Bulldog are the only reliable coffeeshops in town.

              1. re: detritus
                sweetspotlee RE: detritus Sep 9, 2006 05:30 PM

                You're absolutely right - but what is not common knowledge is that Dark City Coffee uses Merchants beans!

            2. xtal RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 02:46 PM

              Some of my favourites:


              Moonbean (aforementioned

              Jet Fuel (aforementioned

              I'll speak to Bulldog, which hasn't been mentioned yet in this thread. It's a great little place tucked away near Church & Carlton which serves some of the best espresso in the city, in my opinion. The place is tiny though, so be forewarned that you might be grabbing your coffee to go.

              1. p
                phoenikia RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 03:24 PM

                Gatto Nero on College...feels like you're in Europe...

                Caffe Latte north of Yonge and Eg

                1 Reply
                1. re: phoenikia
                  phoenikia RE: phoenikia Sep 11, 2006 08:49 PM

                  I tried Gatto Nero's moccaccino on Sat night when I wasn't in the mood for my usual cappuccino...
                  It was the best I can remember having...the espresso and chocolate flavours were balanced,and it wasn't overly sweet.

                2. c
                  chrispa RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 03:38 PM

                  I am not sure where you are or will be downtown but a bit further west than most of the suggestions others have made I particularly like the Roastery (in the 401 Richmond) or Le Gourmand (at queen and spadina). It doesn't exclusively serve coffee (although it does have a nice area to sit) but bon vivant on spadina just north of adelaide serves and sells some excellent coffee and they are really nice.

                  1. e
                    embee RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 03:50 PM

                    While I admit to actually liking Starbuck's coffee and some of their other amenities, I do find that many Starbuck's-isms make me cringe.


                    Mercury on Queen E - I hope the Starbucks supposedly opening across the street doesn't hurt them.

                    Jet Fuel, which is -- as mentioned -- very much a scene. I don't fit in, but their coffee is great and I keep going there anyway

                    Mercurio -- the one on the North side of Bloor. It's a trip to Europe. Their drinks depend much on the barista and aren't consistent, but can be excellent.

                    Balzacs at off hours. It's a stunning place with good espresso, but the service at busy times is bad to the point of tears

                    Hollywood Gelato on Bayview makes amazing caps/lattes. Yes, it's an ice cream place and not an espresso bar, but the coffee is REALLY good

                    I do not like the Remarkable Bean (mentioned earlier) at all

                    I love Cafe Vert, but I've never had a really good espresso there. Eat at Vert and go to Mercury across the street for coffee

                    1. pancake RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 04:03 PM

                      (at St. George's and Bloor), across from the UofT OISE building......

                      Great espresso and coffee.......and great italian eats!

                      1. o
                        ognir RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 06:06 PM

                        Hmmm. Some excellent suggestions. For those wondering, I'm in Little Portugal (College & Dovercourt), but I don't mind travelling. That said, I wouldn't mind finding a regular spot close by.

                        What's with all the coffee on Queen East?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ognir
                          Kasia RE: ognir Sep 10, 2006 03:46 AM

                          Hi neighbour,

                          I've listed these before (i tend to stay in the hood so my recs are repetitive:)):

                          beaver cafe on queen at gladstone for americano
                          i deal coffee on ossington just south of dundas for any espresso based coffee - all beans are 'fair trade'
                          cafe brasiliano on dundas just west of bathurst for macchiato
                          arabesque on college at gladstone for arabic/turkish coffee

                          1. re: Kasia
                            ognir RE: Kasia Sep 10, 2006 06:22 PM

                            Those are all real close. thanks!

                        2. westhead74 RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 06:56 PM

                          Mercatto (Toronto Street location) does great espresso-based beverages.

                          1. Googs RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 08:40 PM

                            When at the St. Lawrence Market, try the espresso at Pasta Mia. Great every time.

                            1. westhead74 RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 09:35 PM

                              I second Pasta Mia espresso...but the lineup was very long this morning!

                              1. d
                                DDD RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 10:09 PM

                                anything closer to west end?

                                1. m
                                  mickeyj RE: ognir Sep 9, 2006 10:13 PM

                                  I second Gato Nero, quite far west (west of Christie?), on College. Excellent espresso.

                                  1. n
                                    neighborguy RE: ognir Sep 10, 2006 06:24 PM

                                    On the Danforth between Greenwood and Coxwell is Niche.

                                    1. m
                                      Mushka RE: ognir Sep 11, 2006 04:32 PM

                                      And now a voice from the west end, specifically Roncesvalles (we need something good down on Queen). Alternative Grounds is fabulous and funky and Cherry Bomb, further south, is takeout only. Tinto's, on the same block as Cherry Bomb, has great food, great atmosphere and great coffee, as well as all sorts of community events.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Mushka
                                        jeffs101 RE: Mushka Sep 12, 2006 01:34 PM

                                        Love Alternative Grounds! I believe Tinto's get their coffee from Birds and Beans on Lakeshore (in Mimico). Not only fair trade but bird friendly!!

                                        1. re: Mushka
                                          Pantz RE: Mushka Nov 30, 2006 09:17 PM

                                          For great coffee in Parkdale (might be a bit of a jog from Roncy, but worth it) try Cafe Taste at 1330 Queen West. The owner is concentrating on wine and cheese offerings these days, but the coffee is exceptional. The espresso based drinks compare to anything else in the city, though I think the real coffee feature is the french press. I can't think of many places around the city that do a french press, which is a shame. It's so easy to do and usually superior to any sludge that comes out of a drip/filter machine.


                                        2. John Manzo RE: ognir Sep 11, 2006 06:49 PM

                                          Your only downtown option is Bulldog. Toronto is a chain coffee town, with the exceptions selling crappy old Italian beans (witness B Espresso) as if an Illy or Lavazza sign lends some credibility. Ask the barista of they know about latte art or about naked portafilters- see if they grind the beans before each shot- see if they use a real tamper instead of the useless plastic thing in the front of the grinder. You'll rarely see this happening in Toronto.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: John Manzo
                                            Foodie_gal RE: John Manzo Dec 4, 2006 04:29 PM

                                            I have been a Bulldog's customer for almost 2 years. I went there for the first time when I was a student at Ryerson.A fresh brewed latte for 3 bucks? Ross (the Barista) is friendly, the environment is cozy and I value the art of coffee making in this place. I can't ask for more!

                                            1. re: John Manzo
                                              tasoid RE: John Manzo Dec 5, 2006 06:04 PM

                                              I disagree, for years Starbusks was afraid to come into the Toronto market due to the established competion i.e local coffe shops..I live downtown and would highly recommend Ideal Coffee in kensington or Jet Fuel on Parliament give them a try..

                                            2. mtampoya RE: ognir Sep 11, 2006 11:35 PM

                                              I really like Sen5es coffee at Yonge & Queen. They use Arcaraffe coffee, it is delicious. Also, there is a cute place in Lesliville but I forget the name of it.


                                              1. m
                                                makanlah RE: ognir Sep 12, 2006 12:27 AM

                                                If ever in Roncesvalles, try The Cherry Bomb, for the coffee made from butter roasted beans.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: makanlah
                                                  Fwagra RE: makanlah Sep 12, 2006 04:26 PM

                                                  I love coffees at Louie's in Kensington, and Hollywood Gelato at Bayview and Eglinton.

                                                2. d
                                                  DDD RE: ognir Dec 1, 2006 02:16 PM

                                                  Where is the cherry bomb on Roncy?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: DDD
                                                    cyee RE: DDD Dec 10, 2006 12:48 AM

                                                    cherry bomb is two doors south of the filmbuff....good luck.

                                                  2. thenurse RE: ognir Dec 4, 2006 06:11 PM

                                                    There's a new cafe at Broadview and Queen called the Dark Horse. I believe it has only espresso based drinks, baked treats, tea and hot chocolate, but it's quite good and a nice atmosphere. Not quite downtown, but on the way (for me anyway!)

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: thenurse
                                                      pinstripeprincess RE: thenurse Dec 5, 2006 06:09 PM

                                                      i've been there a couple times now and the owners are very personable and nice. tasty lattes and this beautiful large table for people to sit around. very chill quite atmosphere and huge windows to watch people walk on by.

                                                    2. l
                                                      lucywinchester RE: ognir Dec 6, 2006 02:41 AM

                                                      I have also had very good coffee at Linux Cafe on Harbord at Grace (they brew i-deal coffee beans) and Cafe Next Door on Broadview just North of Danforth on the west side - across from the subway.

                                                      1. r
                                                        rochdale RE: ognir Jun 4, 2008 07:18 AM

                                                        I agree with most of the other replies to this post - Moonbeam, Alternative Grounds, etc. - but I want to offer a suggestion to people in the financial core who may think they're stuck with Second Cup, Timothy's or Starbucks. Try Ooh La La in the Richmond-Adelaide Centre (there's also one in the CBC building). They have a Continental Dark roast that rivals any of the independents and far surpasses the big chains.

                                                        1. p
                                                          Pincus RE: ognir Jun 4, 2008 08:56 AM

                                                          No love for Manic Coffee here? I'd spend all my time there if it was in my neighbourhood. Probably be dead of over-caffeineation in a month, but what a way to go!

                                                          426 College St, Toronto, ON M5T1T3, CA

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: Pincus
                                                            peppermint pate RE: Pincus Jun 4, 2008 09:14 AM

                                                            Lots of love for Manic on the board - myself included. But this mostly 2 year-old thread pre-dates its opening. I could go for one of their lattes right now, in fact, what with this crappo weather outside.

                                                            1. re: Pincus
                                                              TorontoJo RE: Pincus Jun 4, 2008 09:22 AM

                                                              Isn't Manic fairly new? This thread is from 2006, so that may explain the lack of mentions!

                                                              1. re: TorontoJo
                                                                Pincus RE: TorontoJo Jun 4, 2008 11:45 AM

                                                                I confess I didn't look at the dates.

                                                                1. re: Pincus
                                                                  acd123 RE: Pincus Jun 4, 2008 11:51 AM

                                                                  Yeah, I know it's a chain but Aroma Espresso is amazing and is the most un-chain-line chain I've ever seen.

                                                              2. re: Pincus
                                                                pinstripeprincess RE: Pincus Jun 5, 2008 09:28 AM

                                                                manic is slowly dying in my eyes.... the last latte i had tasted like coffee flavoured milk.

                                                                just was not worth it! and then darkhorse gave me a fiasco of a drink that was all overdrawn burnt bitterness.

                                                              3. g
                                                                ghost_bear RE: ognir Apr 24, 2011 10:03 AM

                                                                7 Grams just opened on Avenue Rd just south of Davenport on the East side. I'm a coffee freak and they make a seriously good americano. They also have this crazy single cup brewing machine for coffee that looks like it makes one great cup o java, I will try that tomorrow.

                                                                1. ekim256 RE: ognir May 1, 2011 12:44 AM

                                                                  How about Te Aro? Is Leslieville outside of your scope?

                                                                  Te Aro
                                                                  983 Queen St E, Toronto, ON M4M1K2, CA

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