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Coffee beans - any recommendations?

I would love to find a good coffee for home. I'm not big on Starbuck's beans or maybe I just haven't found the right blend for my taste. I don't like it too strong or bitter tasting. Any and all recommendations welcome.

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  1. I quite like the Kicking Horse Cliffhanger espresso beans. The flavour is very smooth and even a little bit sweet, which is what I personally like in an espresso... though it's versatile enough that we've also used it with our French press and a regular perk coffeemaker.

    It's a bit pricier since it's fair trade, but you can usually find it for around $15 for 454g bags in larger grocery stores, or you can buy online.


    1. Hi, Millygirl -

      I myself like to order coffee over the Internet from a Montreal firm called "Tatum" (www.tatum.ca) They have a large selection of coffees, arranged by geograhical location. My own preference is for Celebes Kalossi brown (a bit pricey) and Mexican Altura, although you might enjoy experimenting with some others.

      They used to have Cuban Turquino Lavado beans, but the supply was interrupted due to some local preoccupations. If they ever show up again, grab them.

      1. Hi mg, these are what I currently am hooked on at home, I use a french press...from Moonbeam in Kensington: Morning Buzz or Heaven (each about $9/lb)...I had a friend who went to Jamaica and brought me back 2 lbs of Blue Mountain, a grocery store variety but delicious none the less (and only $15 a pound!)...I love the Black Cat coffee from Intelligensia and I'm sure all others are good too, sold in half pounds for $9 ($18 for 1 lb), though they use fancy equipment, have mad java skills and it is pricey, I'm sure they'd be happy to send you off with tips to get a great cup if you wanted to try it...post back if you come accross something amazing!

        6 Replies
        1. re: Recyclor

          Recyclor....I am amazed that your friend was able to buy Blue Mountain Coffee for only $14.00 a pound in JA....I live there during the winter months and authentic 100% Blue Mountain coffee is generally around $18.00 a pound (that's what I paid last winter).. You must be careful to buy 'branded' coffee when you purchase it...it's usually in a tin/burlap bag and has the government seal verifying that it is 100% PURE. I don't buy it frequently because I prefer a dark french roast and it is only a medium roast, I do keep some on hand for guests. Jamaicans are not big coffee drinkers, in fact they really don't drink that much in the way of coffee or tea or any other hot beverages. Big juice drinkers and of course Red Stripe! Now that our CDN $ is either par or higher than the U.S. I'll have to wait till December to see if coffee prices have been lowered in the stores.

          1. re: pearlD

            ..believe it pearlD, it is in a burlap bag and is 100% Blue Mountain, I don't know where in the range it falls for quality, I know there are better, but I'm enjoying it...a darker roast version would be good, is JBM a medium roast because the beans wouldn't fair well for longer?

            1. re: Recyclor

              That's right, they are almost always roasted medium.
              There is a range of quality in JBM, with the best coming from single estates high up on the mountain range. But even blends from further down the slopes can be quite good, and much less expensive.
              I can sometimes find JBM from the lower slopes in the big box club outlets, usually in the spring, for $8/lb, and very good indeed.

              1. re: jayt90

                ...thanks for the info jayt90...

                1. re: jayt90

                  jay90......very accurate post...What 'brand' are you buying at the 'big box club ' outlets...am curious. In JA I have bought something called 'High Mountain' coffee for much cheaper than JBM...comes in a beige coloured plastic bag with brown printing and when I run out of what I bring down from Toronto I buy and use it as my daily coffee. I, too, am wondering (thanks Recyclor) whether it is a case of the beans not standing up to a longer roasting time...I'll try to get an answer when I'm down there this winter (December...Soon COME!!) I have been going to either Kensington (House of Spice) or Alternative Grounds to buy my 5 pounds to take with me(or prevail on our 'winter guests' to bring down some fresh TO. coffee.

                  1. re: pearlD

                    The brand I found, in 2lb bags, orange and blue, was from Magnum coffee in Michigan. The bag indicated pure JBM but a blend. It was the best low priced, medium roast I have found, but only available in late winter/spring, possibly a late season purchase by the buyer.

          2. I buy my beans at Everyday Gourmet in the St Lawrence Market and make my own blends based on what hubby & I are in the mood for. If the only thing we're out of is coffee and need nothing else at the Market I'll still make the trip they're so good.

            1. If you are near the Annex, www.greenbeanery.ca at 225 Brunswick Av. is worth a visit. They are a bit disorganized, but have a large selection of beans and brewing equipment. I bought fair trade Chiapas, and an excellent roaster, for a really nice morning mug. They have a daily roast available. They are non profit, so prices are low, but they are closed weekends.

              1. My current favourite is the Elysian Espresso, but I get it from Vancouver visitors.

                If you want easily accessible (i.e. Starbucks) try their Ethiopian. I find it very smooth and never bitter (both french press and when using my espresso machine). If you're anti-Starbucks you can get a good Ethiopian blend from Balzac's in the Distillery District. They also carry it in "fair-trade".

                The best coffee beans I had were from a friend returning from Cuba, but I can't remember the brand, just that it had maroon coloured packaging, and was fairly pricey compared to other Cuban goods.

                12 Replies
                1. re: jinxed

                  Elysian doesn't roast their beans. They either use 49th Parallel, Novo or Intelligentsia.

                  Manic carries Intelli beans which is hands down the best beans you will get in Toronto.

                  1. re: goodcookiedrift

                    Intelligentsia kicks ass.

                    Anybody serving Hines/Origins in Toronto? How about 49th?

                    I'd suggest you also consider whatever bean they use at Bulldog. Best (and possibly the only) third-wave coffeehouse in Toronto.

                    1. re: John Manzo

                      No, it's not. As has been mentioned elsewhere (by myself and others). Bulldog hasn't been the best for a while now. It was the *first* third-wave cafe, but now there are others and it has been surpassed (not least in customer service).

                      Manic is certainly better, and Mercury probably is as well. They're both using coffees from Intelligentsia (though Mercury is using other beans as well).


                      1. re: detritus

                        Sorry, posted this before learning about Manic.

                        For the record, I am now boycotting Bulldog. Too much horrible, insulting service. I'll make a beeline for that Synesso at Manic next time I'm in your fantastic city.

                        1. re: John Manzo

                          Ditto on Bulldog. Owner's a prick.

                          Buy local! Ezra's Pound on Dupont near Spadina.

                          1. re: beanbabe

                            I read recently that Ezra's Pound is opening another location. I'm glad he's doing well.

                      2. re: John Manzo

                        Intelligencia in Toronto? Where is Manic?

                        I use a stovetop espresso maker - my choices for beans are 1) the espresso blend from ethical bean in Vancouver - available at Whole Foods, 2) at Balzacs, and 3) kicking horse. All seem to be about$18/pound (and not just at overpriced whole foods).

                        Common Grounds makes a lovely shot or latte - and they sell beans - but have not yet tried them. The lovely- ness may be in the skills of the barristas, which I sadly cannot replicate at home.

                        1. re: amitnigam

                          See lots of talk about Manic elsewhere in this topic and others.

                          Manic is on the north side of College, just east of Bathurst. Intelligenstia is $9/half-pound (I think there's a slight discount for full-pound purchases).

                          (Aside: What you're using is properly called a moka pot, not a stovetop espresso maker. It doesn't operate at high enough pressure to produce espresso - i.e. no real crema, etc. See the coffeegeek.com forums for extensive discussion on this.)


                          426 College St, Toronto, ON M5T1T3, CA

                          1. re: detritus

                            Thanks Josh

                            Clearly I will have to try Manic. On the moka pot - I had no idea. While no real crema, it is servicable for me - and pretty to boot. I peeked at the coffeegeek site - and it looks like a place to spend a lot of time on those days when I want to avoid actually doing work.

                          2. re: amitnigam

                            Kicking Horse is roasted in Invermere, which is near here (Calgary). They brew it at gas stations all over AB and BC. They leave the beans on the shelves for months. I know it has its fans but the idea that people are paying the same for KH as they do for Hines and 49th Parallel (and Intelly) is a tragedy. Please try some FRESH beans, not more than, say, 2 weeks off the roast. You'll never go back to KH.

                            The trick is, of course, KNOWING when a coffee is roasted. You won't get this info from most supermarket coffee or Italian coffee, regardless of price. You WILL find roast dates on every bag of Intelly, and of course you can (hopefully) get this info from in-house roasters.

                            1. re: John Manzo

                              Exactly. According to the people at Manic, they get their shipments twice or more a week from Intelly. That's pretty damn fresh if you ask me.

                              I wish someone out here carried Novo beans. I was absolutely hooked on the yirgachefe while in Vancouver and New York. I seriously want to ask the boys at Manic to bring it in (i figure they are the slight few in the city that can appreciate different roasters) but also i'm too scared to ask (it would probably be rather uncouth to ask an Intelly distributor to bring in another roaster's bean).

                              1. re: goodcookiedrift

                                Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is available to any importer. Does Novo have an exclusive? The wholesale price inToronto is just $4/lb. and the results from green beans are rich and chocolatey. I have seen it from William of P.Q. for $8.lb, roasted, same week.

                    2. you're near Summerhill, right?
                      Worth a trip now that Intelligentsia's in town, Black Cat Espresso will be my my regular brew(available at Manic Coffee on College) as I love the smooth, sweet flavour.

                      That said, Arabian Mocha Sanani at Sbux is pretty smooth and sweet tasting too.

                        1. re: 5andman

                          i second coffee tree, i get millionare's blend, really good stuff.

                        2. House of Spice in Kensington: Royal Blend. I've been hooked in this for at least 10 years and if they ever go out of business I will have a total meltdown.

                          1. One of my favourites is Jungle Blend by Just Us Coffee. They are a Nova Scotia company but recently opened shops in Toronto (Queen E in the beaches and Queen W near Bathurst) but their beans are also available at The Big Carrot. However I am looking forward to trying Intelligentsia, it's getting lots of great reviews on this board!

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: cheesymama

                              When I was in Toronto last month I fell in love with Mercury's Quicksilver beans (Leslieville), it's rich and chocolately and not bitter and now all the bags of it I hauled back home are gone...

                              1. re: Athena

                                I'm pretty sure that Mercury buys their beans from Dark City. Perhaps Dark City can sell you the blend. Try calling them.

                                1. re: embee

                                  Thanks for the tip embee, but probably not practical to have beans shipped overseas. There is a local coffee shop here that roasts its own beans and I am currently working my way through all the different beans looking for that Quicksilver flavour.

                                  1. re: Athena

                                    try Manic. As far as i know, Mercury has stopped using Dark City and is now using Intelli beans.

                                    1. re: goodcookiedrift

                                      That would be pretty interesting if it were true.

                                      My understanding was that Mercury was sticking to the Dark City blend as it's regular one and using others, Intelligentsia included, on a rotating basis.

                                      1. re: detritus

                                        Again, not too sure if this is true or not. I'll ask one of my friends to confirm.

                                        1. re: goodcookiedrift

                                          I live near Ezra's Pound and work near Mercury. The brewed coffee at Ezra's Pound is exactly the same as the QuickSilver from Mercury.
                                          I have bought beans at both and they are the identical.

                                          Sad to see it go from Mercury but at least I still get my fix. Ezra's is on Dupont near Spadina a couple of doors away from the LCBO.

                                      2. re: goodcookiedrift

                                        for the record, Mercury does still carry Dark City, however, our main supplier would have to be Intelligensia (with Dark City, a close second). We also bring in beans from other suppliers once in a while, like 49th Parallel and Java Roasters, just to shake things up a bit.

                              2. I never cared for Starbucks either, and one day I finally realized that perhaps that's because much of it just isn't very good.

                                I started roasting my own beans a few years ago and now have trouble stomaching pre-roasted coffee. Regardless of quality, stale is stale as far as I'm concerned. Considering that, I would go for a place that roasts on site to ensure your coffee is fresh. When it's fresh, coffee's natural sweetness is at its most noticeable. I believe Moonbeam roasts its own, athough there are several others in Toronto.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: basileater

                                  Thanks everyone for the information and great suggestions. I will jot these down and start doing some taste tests. I've ordered from Dark City a few years back once or twice, but again, probably just didn't get the right blend. I will report back.

                                  1. re: millygirl

                                    I am partial to the organic french roast at Whole Foods. The beans for this blend are usually roasted daily. It is fairly strong, but there are milder fresh-roasted blends. I also had a mean iced coffee reecently at Ezra's Pound on Dupont, east of Spadina. I have never bought beans there, but I would imagine them to be excellent. Ezra, the proprietor, used to work at the dark City in Forest Hill Village, before the roaster caused a fire and the store closed.

                                  2. re: basileater

                                    Right you are! Best coffee I've tasted (even black) was roasted from green beans from the Merchants of Green Coffee, near DVP and Queen E.

                                  3. I agree that Starbucks is awful coffee. I mean, it's drinkable, but there are so many better coffees in Toronto.

                                    I like the beans from Alternative Grounds (333 Roncesvalles Ave) and from Niche (http://www.nichecoffee.com/). Haven't had a bad bean from either, and I've mixed around with their different coffee products a lot.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Pincus

                                      Just came to post about Niche. I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I had a cup from there one Saturday morning and it was like a revelation! I believe it was the Queen West blend, but wow. I think I've never been that keen on coffee because I've never really had a good one. Now I'm kind of excited to try others to see what I've been missing. Yes, I'm 29...move along, nothing to see here...

                                      1. re: sgogo

                                        In more ways than one you're lucky to get hooked later, especially because you can start start at the top, go check out Manic at Bathurst and College, get a cup from the Clover and try it black, a revelation I experienced just a few weeks ago...enjoy!

                                        1. re: Recyclor

                                          Starbucks French Roast ground for a paper filter.

                                          Nothing else is even close.

                                          1. re: Recyclor

                                            Or, you could start at the bottom and stay there--it's a lot cheaper. Can you say, T-Ho?

                                            1. re: Yongeman

                                              ...for the extra 50 cents I'll happily pay for the Clover...

                                      2. I'm partial to Birds & Beans myself. It's a great little community cafe where they roast on site and all their beans are organic, shade grown and fairly traded. They've got a wide range of blends -- check them out here:


                                        It's on Lakeshore near Park Lawn, so potentially a bit of a trek.

                                        1. I tried "Royal Blend" from The House of Spice" in Kensington as someone on this post suggested... I quite liked it but now my son has suggested "I Deal Coffee"...
                                          Any opinions on this place?

                                          1. Eight O Clock coffee - picked by consumer's reports as the best rated coffee. It's available at all Metro stores, tastes great and it's CHEAP (which improves the taste).

                                            1. We're currently buying from Ideal on Ossington. In truth, they have the same beans we use for the same price at our local corner store at Lisgar and Dundas, so I opt for going there.

                                              1. I like Alternative Grounds (http://www.alternativegrounds.com/sho...) on Roncesvalles, and Ideal Coffee. Both are sold around the city.

                                                I have to admit, I find the service at Green Beanery to be flat or off putting. Maybe it's just me? I've started to avoid them.

                                                1. I usually buy my coffee at Merchants of Green Coffee (http://www.merchantsofgreencoffee.com) which north of Queen St and between the DVP and Broadview. I just tried both their Peruvian and Sumatran beans which were both great (but I like the latter slightly better as it was a bit more complex, had more body, less acid and less of a fruity finish). I also get them at The Big Carrot on the Danforth. I like that they fresh roast their beans daily.

                                                  I think the only way to drink coffee is to buy freshly roasted beans (or roast them youself) and use them within about 5 days. The difference is amazing. Anything you buy prepackaged from larger commercial ventures has likely already been sitting much longer than 5 days, perhaps weeks or even months.

                                                  1. Agreed, I'm not a fan of Starbucks coffee either. My go-to beans are:

                                                    Grocery store beans: Kicking Horse. I've had consistently good coffee from their beans. DH likes mild, so we usually get Three Sisters (I think it's called?) or now. The Decaf beans are good too (if you must) and I seem to recall checking that they are water-processed.

                                                    Cafe chain beans: Second Cup, Royal or Mocha Java (if you can find them)

                                                    Favourite beans, if I'm in the area:
                                                    - Balzac's (in the Distillery District); or
                                                    - Cooke's Fine Foods (Kingston or Belleville). These are my all time fave if you are travelling through those towns. They carry the Chez Piggy coffee (from the Kingston resto of the same name), have Cooke's blend, Mocha Java and range of others. I wish they were in TO. but I pass through Kingston on and off and always make a stop at Cooke's for coffee beans. I think they may sell via the web.

                                                    Distillery District
                                                    55 Mill St, Toronto, ON M5A, CA

                                                    Chez Piggy Restaurant
                                                    68R Princess St, Kingston, ON K7L1A5, CA

                                                    1. Millygirl, I will share my secret with you because your always sharing special tidbits for others.

                                                      Like you, I am also very picky with my coffee and don't care for Starbucks. I've done the random tastings and tried different beans including JBM and Kona from specialty coffee houses..and just couldn't find the right brew for me... until...

                                                      drumroll please...

                                                      I tried mixing Second Cup's Paradiso with Bulk Barn's Columbian Supreme. I just mix the beans in my vacuum-sealed container and go with it. Oh, and I use a french press. Perfect cuppa joe everytime.

                                                      Good luck!

                                                      1. My wife and I buy Stumptown beans from LIT on Roncesvalle. LIT apparently is the only place that carries these beans. Stumptown is a popular coffee house on the U.S. west coast (Portland, Seattle and one location in the east in New York city). First their beans are direct trade so no middle men involved, just Stumptown and the farmers. Second it's the best coffee we've ground and brewed. We buy two packs each month and grind them as needed. The home blend is called "Hairbender" and it's supposedly strong, so I haven't tried it. We buy the beans from Central and South America, although they also have beans from Africa. We seem to prefer the Central & S.A. beans especially the Guatemallen, the Ecuadorean, and the Peruvian. They have a great aroma (chocolate, vanilla, caramel) and it's the smoothest coffee we've brewed. The flavours are pure with a slight sweetness.

                                                        6 Replies
                                                        1. re: scarberian

                                                          Do they roast them or do they buy them already roasted?

                                                          1. re: Flexitarian

                                                            They buy them roasted from Stumptown. They do have a roasted on date on the bag, so you know how fresh it is. I just bought my first bag of coffee from LIT on Sunday and while it is nice, I prefer the beans that I buy from Sam James Coffee Bar.

                                                            1. re: kwjd

                                                              I'd lke to try them but do you know generally how far back the roasting date is from the day you buy them?

                                                              1. re: Flexitarian

                                                                I mentioned two places... but at LIT, the beans were roasted about a week before I bought them. At Sam James he gets his beans once a week (on Tuesday I think) from some place in Quebec.

                                                          2. re: scarberian

                                                            Dumb question, but I have no idea about the meaning or whereabouts of LIT. All I can think of is Long Island Tea.

                                                            1. re: jayt90

                                                              Lit Espresso Bar is at 2 locations : 221A Roncesvalle and 810 College.

                                                          3. Try to find freshly roasted coffee (within 2 weeks of roasted date); it will be mild and smooth if its not roasted too dark. Coffee from Sumatra, Celebes (now called Sulawesi) generally has a heavy body and lower acidity. The best quality beans have a balance between sweetness, body and brightness (acidity) when it is roasted to its best (usually a medium roast is best for brewing).

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: soleminer

                                                              I think freshly roasted coffee is like a day or two after roasting, not 2 weeks after roasting, which means it would be over 3 weeks by the time you got through 1/2 to 1 lbs of beans. I get beans from Merchants of Green Coffee or The Big Carrot (who the former supplies) and they are about 1-2 days from roasting when I buy them. I find that after about 5 days after roasting the quality of the beans starts heading downhill. 2 weeks of roasting date is way too long.

                                                              Green Beanery also has freshly roasted coffee (and green beans if you roast them yourself).

                                                              Green Beanery
                                                              565 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S, CA