Where to Drink Coffee in Toronto

Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Where to Drink Coffee in Toronto

The capital of the province of Ontario in the Great White North, Toronto came slower to coffee than its West Coast kin. But from the first gasps in late 2006 to today's wild proliferation of artisanal shops (many of which are now onto their second, third or fourth location) there's no questioning the boom has hit—and hard. New local roasters like Detour, Te Aro, and Social are flanked by cadres of upscale coffee-gear-purveyors and friendly baristas slinging capps from Roncesvalles practically to Pape. Here are six of the top shops in Toronto to get your Canadian coffee tour underway.

Sam James Coffee Bar

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Toronto may be too humble to boast a true "celebrity coffee bar", but if it's got a marquee barista, Sam James is he. This congenial regional champion can be found behind his eponymous bar (or his other eponymous bar, the Sam James Pocket Bar on Bloor West) most days of the week, excited as anything to prepare you a stellar shot of espresso or a sawtooth-festooned latte. Though James' teeny-tiny shop is more hipster-gritty than some, the constantly fine-tuned espresso drinks are consistently exceptional. Espresso and featured single origin coffees hail from Quebec roaster Toi, Moi et Cafe. There's not much room to linger (unless you want a tattoo next door), but grab a macchiato and a pastry and make a moment of it.

Sam James Coffee Bar

297 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M6G 1G7 Canada (map)
647-341-2572; samjamescoffeebar.com
(and one other location)

Mercury Espresso Bar

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The music's too loud? Then you're too old for Mercury Espresso Bar, a Leslieville outpost that broached the dawn of Toronto's coffee revolution in 2007, slamming out sludgy espresso-only drinks to music as joyously loud as the coffee tasted. The shop's matured a little—you'll find not only concessions to filter coffee (heck, you can order a syphon or Chemex prepared at certain times of day!) but explorations in single origin espresso, a variety of quality roasters like George Howell's Alchemy, and more. A neighborhood spot that's gone from oasis to anchor, and has been more than willing to advance quality along with the city's rising sophistication. (And they have a lovely patio if you don't like the music they're playing.)

Mercury Espresso Bar

915 Queen Street East, Toronto ON M4M 1J4 Canada (map)
647-435-4779; mercuryespresso.com

Dark Horse Espresso Bar

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Though Toronto's serious coffee scene may skew towards bike messenger chic more often than not, the growing empire of Dark Horse Espresso Bars (now up to three) is the grown-up coffee drinker's respite. From the original shop in the East end stretching down to Spadina and now popping up near Trinity Bellwoods Park, partners Ed Lynds and Deanna Zunde have created exceptionally beautiful spaces that respond to their neighborhoods, filled them with rough-hewn common tables positioned just right for sunbeams, and filled the cups on those tables with carefully prepared coffees. Focusing on espresso but incorporating French Press for the drip set, and serving beans from local roaster Detour, there's no element of care overlooked in any Dark Horse space. Stop in at their newest on Queen West to enjoy a drink at what's become a true Toronto establishment.

Dark Horse Espresso Bar

684 Queen Street West, Toronto ON M6J 1E5 Canada (map)
647-352-3512; www.darkhorseespresso.com
(and two other locations)

Crema Coffee Co.

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Born and bred in Toronto's Junction, Crema's message of silky-smooth, gracefully served coffee drinks has spread all over Toronto, it would seem, they're celebrating the opening of their fourth coffee bar on the Danforth this summer. The shop—the former Sweet Tooth bakery—is clean and crisp with the perfect Greektown window seat at which to enjoy a richly textured cappuccino. Still loyal since their first shop opened to Vancouver-based 49th Parallel roasters, the latter's sweet, balanced espressos and more adventurous filter brews are on offer here via La Marzocco FB80 and a manual pourover bar. Cupcakes are here as well—and panini, if you go that way alongside your coffee. Though the quality is a little more neighborhood-pleasing than competition-calibre, it can't help but be a pleasant coffee experience.

Crema Coffee Co.

508 Danforth Ave, Toronto ON M4K 1P6 Canada (map)
416-901-3131; cremacoffee.ca
(and 3 other locations)

Capital Espresso

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Located in the former offices of Vice Magazine (don't worry, they hosed it down) has sprung this years-overdue truly Parkdale style shop. From alumni of Mercury Espresso and Blondie's (just across the way) comes this ultra-sunny, rock and roll espresso bar, all church pews and old wood and very fancy bicycles. Serving up George Howell's Alchemy Espresso alongside selections from BC-based Origins, and other roasters, the owner-baristas bring their A-game to a welcoming neighborhood that was forced to linger without legit espresso drinks for far too long. (French presses are on in the morning, as well, and a V60 pourover can be arranged if you're extra nice.) A charming atmosphere with in-house baking make your drink order "to stay".

Capital Espresso

1349 Queen Street West, Toronto ON M6K 2S1 (map)

Manic Coffee

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One of Toronto's true geeked-out coffee pioneers, Matt Lee opened Manic Coffee in 2007 to an unsuspecting campusy strip of College Street, only to turn tides as well as tastes. The shop's recent summer renovations will include a space for handcrafted, in-house gelato, which accompany an already highest-bar approach to espresso and filter coffee techniques. Never satisfied to dwell too long on one idea, Lee's shop will likely be the first place to challenge the tried-and-true method or bean alongside the trendy, and serve whatever tastes best (Lee's eschewed the five-figure Clover machine for a return to "correctly brewed" French press, among other things.)The shop currently has coffee on offer from local roaster Social as well as Intelligentsia, and is a must-stop on any Toronto coffee tour.

Manic Coffee

426 College Street, Toronto ON M5T 1T3 (map)
416-966-3888; maniccoffee.com

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