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Mar 27, 2010 06:25 AM

Best ESPRESSO in Toronto

Hello all, it's been a bit frustrating reading through this board whenever the almighty espresso question comes up. The majority of the posts seem to be judging a cafe on their Americanos or Lattes. I can appreciate that everyone has their preferences but I find it impossible to judge the espresso when all the other elements are mixed in.

So, what are your favourite spots where you can enjoy a beautifully pulled shot without adding sugar or water or milk?

These are my faves in the city:

Voulez Vous Cafe - The spot I have been to the most this is partly due to it's proximity to my house. But due to an inconspicuous storefront, I was not expecting such a high quality shot. It was only after talking to the insanely friendly barrista and co-owner Sean, that I realized the extent of their quality control. Trying 50 different roasters and sampling 30 shots a day for over a month to come to the perfect blend, shows. More in the Euro vein of clean subtle flavours that you can literally scoop the crema off with a spoon. Crazy good and insanely strong.

Sam James - blew me away and I have only been once but I have bought their beans. Using the Toi Moi & Cafe roaster in Montreal, it's delicious and complex too. Also, Sam James is one helluva nice guy.

Cherry Bomb - Their shots were wonderfully balanced. Nice on the palette and a subtle ending. Really deceptive since they're longer than I would like my shot to be but they work perfectly.

Te Aro - It took me a couple of visits to appreciate this place. They air roast their own beans and the quality control is high. This is a roast which has flavours that are all but lost in a cappucino and latte. Its' really clean and a little nutty but not overbearingly so.

Mercury Organic Espresso Bar - I have been here many times. I love the vibe but they were kind of in a rut serving the Black Cat beans. I haven't had the opportunity to sample their new custom blend in store but I have bought the beans. I only have an aeropress at home so I can't comment on it yet but the beans are amazing.

So anyone want to weigh in with their favourites?

Mercury Organic Espresso Bar
915 Queen St E, Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A, CA

Cherry Bomb Coffee
79 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto, ON M6R2K6, CA

Voulez Vous Café
1560 Queen St E, Toronto, ON M4L, CA

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  1. The Bull Dog Cafe on Granby St. He's an absolute artist!

    7 Replies
    1. re: oatesie63

      YES! I totally forgot to check this place out. I've heard all the top baristas have been trained by him in this city. Thanks, Oatsie!

      1. re: thegory

        I continue to scratch my head about these sorts of comments on the quality of espresso in Toronto. Espresso in Toronto is generally of mediocre quality and that goes for almost all the funky, atmospheric cafes that have been opening up around the city the past few years. The characteristic feature of espresso in Toronto is bitterness, followed closely by thinness. Sam James is a leading example of bitter espresso.

        1. re: alvino

          Wow, it took a three posts to find the person negative about all things Toronto and Coffee.

          That's way off, the truth is that excellant espresso can be found at these places:

          Dark Horse
          Te Aro
          Voulez Vous
          Lit Espresso
          Cherry Bomb
          The Rooster
          Broadview Espresso
          Sam James

          etc. etc.

          To act as if when you enter our city limits all knowledge and taste of coffee just stops is so bizarre.

          Broadview Espresso
          817 Broadview Ave, Toronto, ON M4K, CA

          3079 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6P1Z9, CA

          1. re: alvino

            Alvino, I'd love to know what you classify as optimal espresso? I'd highly recommend you check out Voulez Vous. I've had a lenghty discussion with their roaster on just this dilemma which seems to be quite prevalent in BC roasts as well.

            The Voulez Vous and Te Aro seem to be going more for the Italian mode with zero bitterness. Sort of a 3 on a dark roast scale that goes to 5.

            But this post was more for me to find new places people are digging. So please weigh in on your faves.

            1. re: alvino

              I'd try some of the Italian cafes/bars on St Clair West. Tre Mari Bakery @ 1311 served me a very decent cup yesterday. It was fine without sugar. And no pretension or attitude either. Just coffee.

              And on the more refined, hoity toity side of things, try La Bamboche if you are on Avenue, halfway between Wilson and Lawrence. It's a good roast but they don't sell the beans.

              The Bull Dog Cafe serves a more bitter and bold product that reminds me of Starbucks. Fit to be tried, though I don't recommend it, and beware of the attitude there. If you put your cup down in the wrong place you will be glared at. Go only if you are in the area. Actually that goes for any recommendation. Personally I wouldn't make a very long trip for an espresso. The world's best could rouse me from about 10 blocks away but no further.

              1. re: alvino

                alvino, again I say to you that if you happen to be at the St Lawrence Market on a Saturday morning, please try the espresso macchiato at Pasta Mia downstairs on the east wall to the south end. It's the only one I like so far in this city. When the gentleman pours you can have a nice, albeit quick, chat about soccer or Formula One. The only time he's bitter is when Ferrari is losing.

                Pasta Mia
                91 Front E, Toronto, ON M5G, CA

            2. re: oatesie63

              The service at Bull Dog is just awful and the Espresso is nothing special either.

            3. i can't believe you would put voulez vous in the same category as the others you mention? You have to be kidding. I mean, it's a nice little cafe and all, but they are not coffee focused like the indie coffee scene in toronto.
              Crema is really one of the best in TO.
              Te Aro's espresso is incredible, and I don't feel that the flavours are lost in the cap or latte. It is amazingly creamy, chocolaty, and full bodied.
              Mercury is also great, although I prefer the black cat. Their new blend is very bright, and several of my coffee buddies have also confirmed this.
              Manic is also great, again using black cat, which is just amazing.

              3079 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M6P1Z9, CA

              3 Replies
              1. re: jwhitereview

                Jwhitereview I would put voulez vous in the same category without hesitation. I'm not sure if you've had their espresso but it's amazing. This is the product of shopping through 50 different roasters and taste testing to an insane degree. Have you tried their espresso? Sean is insanely passionate about coffee and it shows

                . Black Cat is not as amazing once you try different roasts. Again, I find Black cat great but it's really bitter on the finish. This is coming from a guy who used to buy a lb a week of that stuff for home. You really do appreciate a cleaner roast once you have the good stuff.

                1. re: thegory

                  I don't really feel very impressed thinking this owner went to over 50 roasters. Seems a bit silly, really! Don't they use coffee from Classic Gourmet? I mean, come're not going to pull a mind blowing shot using classic. It's just impossible.

                  1. re: jwhitereview

                    Dude, that's fine for you to have your taste and opinions. I was just getting frustrated about people calling their macchiatos and americanos "espresso" when it's not, really.

                    I'm not sure why you think trying to find the optimal roast is silly. Can you please tell me why Classic is so bad? It just got an amazing write up in fresh cup magazine. But it's pointless to argue with you abotu this since you think doing research is silly.

              2. I like Sam James the shots and service are great.

                Bisogno on Sherbourne is also very good and he has a rotating selection of SO coffee as well as two locally roasted blends.

                Lit on College St. has a great roast but I find the shots inconsistent.

                Rooster on Broadview is good but not great.

                Bulldog has very average shots and I also have had enough problems with the service that I no longer go there.

                2 Replies
                1. re: blogs

                  I'm surprised that it's so hard to get a decent espesso here, based on the comments in this thread. Roasting beans is not rocket science. And neither is good service.
                  Since I roast my own, I don't have to worry about all this. The results are great and I never have to add sugar, it's just extremely smooth.

                  1. re: foodyDudey

                    Does that mean party at foodyDudey's house? :)

                    It's not THAT hard to find a decent espresso in this city. I was just pointing out some of my faves. Blogs, I've heard wonderful things about LIt on college as well.

                    Will put Bisogno on the list too.

                2. Surprised nobody has mentioned Communal Mule. Definitely one of my favourites.

                  Other favourites mentioned are Manic and Sam James.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: coffeestork

                    Went to Lit on College yesterday. Shot was too bright for my liking. The roast was apparently only 4 days old. Maybe better after some more degassing. Really nice chocolately aftertaste.

                  2. The original comment has been removed