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Coffee quest: Is there a Toronto equivalent of Vancouver's Cafe Artigiano?

Vancouver's Cafe Artigiano has the best coffee I've found in Canada. Now I'm living in Toronto and can't find anything even close. Is there any coffee that compares in Toronto? So far, I've tried Manic, Ezra's Pound (Dupont), I Deal (Nassau), Alternative Grounds (Roncesvalles), Dark Horse, Cafe Mercurio (both of the ones on Bloor), Aroma (Bloor), and Remarkable Bean. Dark Horse was the closest to what I'm looking for, but it wasn't on par with Artigiano. The others were quite disappointing. Any suggestions?

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  1. For lattes, I definitely would have said Dark Horse or Manic and maybe Ezra's on a good day (I find them to be pretty inconsistent). I'm not crazy about any of them for americanos (Black Camel is one of my favourites for those, though it's nothing like Artigiano in terms of atmosphere). You should definitely check out Sam James Coffee Bar on Harbord - one of the star barristas in the city, though again, nothing like Artigiano's atmosphere. There are also some other spots on Roncesvalles - Cherry Bomb and Lit - you could try those. What's your specific coffee drink and are you looking for flavour and atmosphere or just a great cuppa joe?

    On our last trip to Vancouver, we still enjoyed Artigiano but then we went to 49th parallel - gorgeous room, the Thomas Haas pastries, the coffee...oh my, perfection.

    4 Replies
    1. re: peppermint pate

      Hey, peppermint pate,

      Mostly I'm interested in finding a really great cup of coffee. Atmosphere is a bonus, but that's not what I'm most interested in. I usually order latte, and that was my favorite coffee at Artigiano (consistently across the three branches I used to frequent). So that's what I've mostly been trying here in TO, although at some of these places I've made more than one visit and have also tried hand drips and Americanos.

      I've heard Cherry Bomb is awesome, and it's on my list but I haven't made it there yet mainly because it's pretty far from me geographically. Will put Lit on my radar as well. I noticed Sam James the other day and wondered about it. Will definitely go there next. Thanks!

      Dark Horse was quite decent, pretty good, but not the excellent cup I'm still looking for. Ezra's and Manic were surprisingly mediocre. I Deal was awful. Forgot to mention that I also tried the coffee at Clafouti (Clafoutis?)--also disappointing. And the coffee at Wanda's Pie in the Sky was so bad it was undrinkable (and the pie was dry).

      I'm glad to know about 49th parallel--haven't tried that yet in Van!

      Many thanks for the advice.

      1. re: trumpler

        Hmm, just out of curiosity, which Dark Horse location did you try? I've had great lattes at both locations but maybe the one at Queen and Broadview is a titch more consistent? I'd suggest you give them another shot (ha!). I personally didn't like the latte as much from Cherry Bomb, though I've had a couple of good ones at Lit. If you're out in the west end, there's also Crema - haven't tried it yet but I've heard good things (and like Dark Horse, they use 49th parallel beans). And I also really enjoy the lattes from Louie's in Kensington Market but they're different than Artigiano's. Good luck on your quest - and keep us apprised of any great finds!!

        1. re: peppermint pate

          We really enjoy Crema, specifically the cappucinos as well as the muffins and scones. Have not tried the latte there. It's been years since I last went to Artigiano, but I'm pretty sure that Crema would at least be "decent" by Artigiano standards.

          1. re: peppermint pate

            I actually did go to the Dark Horse on Queen, but went only once, so I agree that I should try them again. I'd actually forgotten about the one in Chinatown and definitely have that on my list now! Since I am often in Kensington Market, I'll try Louie's as well. I didn't know about Crema, so thanks for that suggestion, too! I appreciate all the help!

      2. -- was going to mention Manic, but realized you'd gone --

        Sam James is the only one on your list that comes to mind then.

        visited 49th as well in Van and had a lovely time.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jlunar

          Will check out Sam James and report back! Thanks for the suggestion.

        2. I should preface this by saying two things: I've never been to Caffè Artigiano (although all my Vancouverite friends never tire of telling me about it), and I've only been to Crema once.

          But, that having been said - the best espresso I've had in the city was at Crema in the Junction. I had an espresso macchiato, and it was positively fantastic. I haven't been back yet, since it's a long cold walk down a windy street, but I sure will be soon.

          6 Replies
          1. re: trombasteve

            Crema is opening a downtown location according to Toronto Life. Well, sort of opening, they are sharing the space in Freshii by Yonge and Bloor.

            http://www.torontolife.com/daily/dail...

            1. re: cecilia

              Wow, that's great news. Seems like an odd combination - my sense is they would have very different clientele. But I'm certainly happy for the added convenience as the Bloor/Yorkville strip is a definite wasteland for great coffee.

              1. re: peppermint pate

                So the Yonge/Bloor (Freshii) location of Crema is apparently opening tomorrow...can't wait to try it!

            2. re: trombasteve

              I'm very excited to try Crema. Thanks!

              1. re: trumpler

                I have been enjoying the americanos at The Communal Mule--Dundas street West just east of Shaw.

                1. re: food_whiz

                  food_whiz and jwhitereview, I'm very happy to know about The Communal Mule, which is now on my list. Many thanks!

            3. Trumpler, what is the flavor profile you are looking for? Dark Horse, Crema Coffee, Broadview Espresso and Manic Coffee all get their beans from 49th Parallel and Intelligenstia - so they will taste very similar. I personally like my Americano to have a darker, richer, chocolaty profile - so Bulldog Coffee on Church and Granby is my favourite. The Toronto coffee scene is still 10 years behind Vancouver, most places are pretentious (Jet Fuel), but I read that Cafe Artigiano will come to Toronto soon. So there's hope for the future.

              http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report...

              3 Replies
              1. re: Canadian Gourmand

                Very cool that Artigiano is planning to expand here. First Guu and now this - Vancouver's finest heading east, me likey. I would respectfully disagree with your last couple of comments, though, CG - firstly, I don't think that "most places are pretentious" here at all - maybe Jet Fuel and perhaps especially, your favourite, Bulldog. But not Dark Horse or Manic or Cherry Bomb or Sam James or Lit or Broadview, etc., at least not in my experience. And while I totally agree that the Toronto coffee scene HAD been 10 years behind Vancouver until relatively recently, there has been an explosion of cool and credible indie coffee spots in the last 1-2 years that has narrowed that gap significantly.

                1. re: peppermint pate

                  Canadian Gourmand, thanks for your post. Fantastic news about Artigiano. I wonder how long it'll be before we see one here.

                  Also, I've heard the controversy over Bulldog, but now that you've mentioned that their coffee is on the darker/richer side, I've put it high on my list of places to try next.

                  Today I tried Dark Horse on Spadina for the first time and was disappointed. My latte was very bland, weak, and creamy. I actually threw half of it away. Earlier in the week I made it out to Cherry Bomb on Roncesvalles. That latte too was weak, though not so weak as Dark Horse's, but it was also thin and bitter, and not so creamy. Incidentally, Dark Horse on Queen E. gave me a *much* stronger, richer, more flavourful, overall much better latte than the Spadina outlet did.

                  So I'm still searching. Sam James, Lit, Bulldog, and Crema are next.

                2. re: Canadian Gourmand

                  I am Sorry Canadian Gourmand but I have to disagree with Bulldog Coffee. I think it is way over rated not to mention the attitude they throw around which has been reported by other fellow posters here as well. Nothing in my opinion warrants this attitude and people are better off taking their money somewhere else.

                3. The best coffee that I've had in Toronto is from Te Aro on Queen East. The espresso blend here has the most amazing sweetness to it. They have also won some awards (forgot what exactly) for some of their single origin offerings. I really like Peter at Communal Mule - they use counter culture. He is a no nonsense kind of guy, but pulls a mean shot.
                  Oh, and Crema is just amazing - they use Parallel 49, Terroir, and Te Aro.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jwhitereview

                    Can't wait to try Te Aro. Thanks for the advice.

                    1. re: jwhitereview

                      I agree about Te Aro - their coffee brand is Pilot, and it's roasted on Wagstaff Drive (off Greenwood Ave, north of Gerrard) in a smartly designed space that also serves coffee and offers coffee tastings and barista training. http://www.pilotcoffeeroasters.com/pa...
                      My favourite roast is Brazil - has that sweetness you mention, rich caramel flavour, a coffee for coffee haters.
                      Pilot coffee is also served at Lazy Daisy's café at Gerrard and Coxwell.

                    2. you've definitely tried many of the better places in the city.
                      i like cherry bomb on Roncesvalles and Mercury on queen, out in leslieville. Probably Mercury more. Given their hype, i'm not crazy about either Manic or Sam James', but both are more than adequate.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: igk

                        I quite like the lattes at both Sam James and Manic, and the vibes at both places, but I will have to agree that I've been underwhelmed by the americanos at both spots - they just pour the water in and break up the crema. It's tragic.

                        jwhitereview - where is communal mule?

                        1. re: peppermint pate

                          Sam James always steams my americano. I think it is the best americano in the city.

                          1. re: tree25

                            I'm completely sympathetic to trumpler. I have visted Vancouver from time to time and have tried Artigiano. My drink of choice is espresso macchiato and it is consistently excellent there. There is nothing quite like it here in Toronto; the closest, I think, are the two Balzac's. I keep trying all the new independent cafes in Toronto and am consistently disappointed. They have great atmosphere, cool design and the macchiatos, when poured, look great. Unfortunately, they don't taste great. The primary feature of Toronto espresso, it seems, is bitterness, followed closely by thinness. This goes for most of the cafes that people have referred to above - Manic, Ezra's Pound, Dark Horse, Sam James, etc. etc. I have not tried Te Aro and have not been recently to Crema (although I was not impressed on a visit some time ago). Hope springs eternal - but I should not have to wait for my next visit to Artigiano in Vancouver for an excellent macchiato.

                            1. re: alvino

                              Yeah, I found Ezra's Pound's and Manic's offerings very thin, too. Dark Horse on Spadina did have a very hip vibe, but not very good coffee. Dark Horse on Queen E. wasn't close to Artigiano's standards but was the best I've had in Toronto so far. Very good to know about Balzac's. I have to go down to Liberty Village soon anyway, and I look forward to checking it out then.

                          2. re: peppermint pate

                            I've been to Sam's many many times and not once has he poured the water in and broken the crema. The water goes in first with the espresso afer. The crema has never been broken. IMHO, it's an excellent americano.

                            1. re: EarlyDrive

                              Hey EarlyDrive - I'm only too happy to give it another try as I really like the place and I'm a fan of Sam's from his days at Manic (though I preferred their lattes to americanos as well as they always broke the crema). I didn't actually watch him pour the drink to see what order he did it in but both times, I had broken crema and the flavour was good, not stellar. I will definitely try it again. I'm keen to try Communal Mule and the place on Broadview that everyone is raving about of late.

                              The one other thing I will also say about Artigiano is that it has consistency - I've been to at least 4 locations over the past, I don't know, 7 years or so, and it's always been good. I think that kind of consistency is a much rarer thing in Toronto.

                              1. re: peppermint pate

                                The consistently excellent coffee at Artigiano seems like a distant dream. Can't wait for them to bring that to Toronto.

                        2. Lit uses "Stumptown" beans from Portland, OR.. I find these beans the best, IMHO, in Toronto (esp. the South American beans). Stumptown sources their beans mainly from Central & South America and Africa. Now I've never had the coffee made at Lit since I prefer to grind and make it myself so I can't comment on their "style", but apparently they were trained by Stumptown on how to properly prepare the beans.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: scarberian

                            Just had Stumptown beans at Cafe Pedlar in Brooklyn.. Haven't made it to Lit yet but will definitely make the trip in hopes that they approach the quality of the coffee at Pedlar. Had a Cortado there, and the flavour is rich with well-balanced acidity.. agree with earlier posters citing that as Toronto's main problem.
                            I often go to Manic -- the Cortado there is very good. I guess I haven't had the lattes there and elsewhere so if that's your drink I don't have much help. It is, though, the most likely to end up weak and pointless for sure -- it's a delicate balance and I think coffee places sometimes assume it's what people are ordering if they're afraid of coffee.

                            1. re: chris_and_becky

                              I live around the corner from Lit, and often buy the Stumptown beans from then. Quite good.
                              I will say, however that their americano is typically quite bland and acidic. I will always choose Cherry Bomb over them, as CB prepared coffees are, generally speaking, much smoother and more flavourful IMO

                          2. I would also check out Xococava near Yonge and St. Clair. It is north of St. Clair on the west side, right around the corner from Bruno's in Deslisle Court. Hard to find, and definitely worth the effort.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Robotrex

                              I've been a regular at Artigiano in Calgary - planning a Toronto visit this summer...and looking for coffee on that level. What about Xococava is similar to Artigiano in your opinion?

                              1. re: maplesugar

                                In my view, nothing. Xococava is a chocolate, ice cream and pastry shop that has an espresso machine - the coffee is decent but it's not a cafe per se like Artigiano, there's no barrista or even coffee culture about the place and it doesn't have the consistency and quality of Artigiano. Lucky for you that you have one in Calgary, we're still waiting over here!!

                                I'm not dissing Xococava. Their lattes are actually decent. I was sticker-shocked by a double americano a couple of weeks ago - something north of $4, which is insane. But for me, there is nothing at all like Artigiano about it.

                                Atmosphere-wise, there is a growing number of places in Toronto where you can enjoy the bustling cafe atmosphere of Artigiano and there are decent cups of joe to be had. But I'd stick to Manic, Dark Horse, Rooster, Crema, Lit, etc., for more of the Artigiano experience. If you want to tack on breakfast, go to Ezra's and if you want a solid coffee but not much of a crowd, Sam James will impress. Enjoy!

                                -----
                                Crema
                                3079 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6P1Z9, CA

                                1. re: peppermint pate

                                  Thanks for the heads up peppermint pate :)

                                  Sounds like espresso isnt their focus and I agree, $4+ is steep for Americanos. I mean there's more to it than 2 shots and some hot water but comeon. I'll definitely check out the other cafes you listed (this mom of three has no time for mediocre espresso). :)

                                  1. re: maplesugar

                                    Nor does this mom...:)

                                    If you tell us your specific drink and the neighbourhood you'll be staying in, we can probably give you some more specific recs for your TO visit. In the meantime, enjoy your Artigiano - but if 49th Parallel goes to Calgary before Toronto, I'm really going to scream!!

                                    1. re: peppermint pate

                                      AFAIK we have two shops using 49th Parallel beans - Kawa & Bumpy's...Calgary is really lucky to be spoiled for choice in terms of great coffeehouses (we're also overrun with meh so it's good to do your homework) if you're curious head over to the Prairie Provinces board a few of the resident coffee geeks can fill you in.

                                      I'm usually an Americano girl, straight up....pretty easy going too, just nothing over roasted(or north of $4) and I'm happy. When we're in TO usually we're either at the Westin Harbourfront. Usually Toronto is a pit stop on the way to the Muskokas so we'll drive wherever.

                                      1. re: maplesugar

                                        Hey maplesugar - I was actually referring to the 49th Parallel cafe in Vancouver (home base of the beans) - gorgeous space, fantastic coffee and Thomas Haas pastries - the perfect trifecta run by the original owners of Artigiano.

                                        I'm an americano girl myself so while you're fueling up for the drive to lovely Muskoka, enjoy an americano from Black Camel (yes people, the fab sandwich shop serves GREAT americanos), Manic and maybe Sam James. Add Rooster and Dark Horse for their lovely cafe vibes (both of these cafes are very kid-friendly, by the way) and Ezra's for a little brekkie to go along with your java. I think you'll be happy.

                                        And when I'm next in Calgary, I'll be sure to hop over to the board to get pointed in the right direction.

                                        -----
                                        Black Camel
                                        4 Crescent Rd, Toronto, ON M4W1S9, CA

                            2. Has anyone been to Caffe Artigiano at 67 Yonge? I saw in mentioned in the Now mag food email.
                              As good as they say?
                              Looking at Google street view, I guess it is where Taschen luggage was?
                              They open weekdays at 5:30am!
                              I will try it out next week.
                              http://www.caffeartigiano.com

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: gregoryyyz

                                I tried this Artigiano location a couple weeks back. I had an Americano, it was pretty decent but I didn't notice anything about it that made it better than other options within walking distance like Fahrenheit (best consistent coffee in Toronto) or the Rooster on King East, for example.

                                But I have to give Artigiano a bit of a thumbs down on the atmosphere, it reminded me of a (nice) cafeteria or fast food joint, not really a cozy place to sit and relax. It's kind of the opposite of Dineen coffee a few blocks north, which has a beautiful decor and meh coffee.

                              2. I recently had an "American"-style coffee at De Mello Palheta (Yonge location) and I really enjoyed it. It was one of the best cups of coffee I've had in Toronto in a long time. I drink my coffee black so I can enjoy the actual flavour of it and the cup I had had a sweetness to it and almost a chocolaty aroma. The shop itself is quirky with a hand painted "mural" in front, it's narrow inside with (on my visit) umbrellas on the ceiling. Friendly service.