At one point in time, coffee houses were merely emergency locations for those rare mornings when you didn't plan your at-home brew. They are now another entity entirely: the ideal place for a first date, the place to answer your emails and your home away from home. Although a cup of coffee is not a major expense, it's become an essential experience!
Toronto likes its chains as much as any other city, but there's a resurgence of respect for the little guys, too. The independent coffee houses that pepper the city impress with hand-selected, freshly roasted beans that stand out from the pack.
These 10 may even remember your name, rather than needing to confirm with your coffee cup. Bring back the personal!
The Sorauren location of I Deal Coffee is a great place to spend an afternoon — Photo courtesy of I Deal Coffee
I Deal Coffee
Supplying freshly roasted coffee at three locations in Toronto, our favorite is the Sorauren branch of I Deal Coffee. Sweetly tucked away on a residential avenue, the brick-lined wall and shelves often display local art or freshly baked bread.
People play chess and write novels here, cup after fair-trade organic cup.
Many Torontonians insist that Bulldog Coffee, located on 86 Gerrard St. East, is the best in town.
Named after the owner's dog, there's always impressive latte art to enjoy before you devour your frothy cappuccino. The house-baked brownies make for an excellent pairing.
Want a bulldog in your coffee? — Photo courtesy of Bulldog
Dark Horse Espresso Bar
With four locations of Dark Horse Espresso Bar (and counting), our vote goes to the Chinatown location, with its communal wooden tables, comfy chairs and high-beam ceilings.
Local bakery Circle and Squares proudly provides made-from-scratch baked goods, and the namesake dark espresso has a satisfying crema.
Balzac's Coffee is becoming a big business, so much so that we hesitated included them in our independent coffee list. However, the Distillery District cafe is charmingly housed in an 1895 pump shop and provides soft light via their giant chandelier.
Two floors are often packed with latte drinkers, with the option of taking home Balzac-selected beans for home consumption.
Freshly roasted coffee is not an understatement — Photo courtesy of Balzac's Coffee
One of the reasons the '90s sitcom Friends was so popular was the meetup point for the group: Central Perk. Riverdale Perk is the Toronto equivalent, located on a quiet street near the Danforth.
Muffins are baked in house and have intriguing combinations like blueberry chai. Pastries sit prettily behind glass containers, and the self-serve coffee just begs to be served in a mug before you sink onto their giant couch – with or without your friends.
The cafe looks as good as their homemade cupcakes at Riverdale Perk — Photo courtesy of Riverdale Perk Cafe
Ideal for coffee nerds, Fahrenheit Coffee serves coffee not one but five ways: Espresso, French Press, Pour Over, Siphon Vacuum Pot and Drip. Beans are roasted in house, and the customers are beyond passionate about the result.
It's a small place, encouraging you to drop in rather than stay all day. This is probably for the best, to protect you from over-caffeination.
FIKA Cafe in Kensington was the brain-child of Nikki Leigh Mckean and her husband. It was inspired by her time in Sweden, and FIKI signifies the kind of coffee break we North Americans have forgotten to have.
The two patios at FIKI are prime Kensington work spaces — Photo courtesy of FIKA Cafe
With adorable small bites, from chocolate croissants to gingersnaps, the iced coffee comes with cardamom bitters, cinnamon and milk. Their back patio looks like a neighbor's back yard, and it's the best place to enjoy one.
Crafted Coffee by Te Aro has a coffee that takes six hours to filter. Luckily, they do this in advance, giving you another way to enjoy your caffeine.
Whether you like a traditional drip, French Press or siphoned coffee, these are your people if you consider yourself a connoisseur.
Crafted Coffee invites your laptops — Photo courtesy of Taku Kumabe / Crafted Coffee
White Squirrel Coffee Shop
In trendy West Queen West and across the street from Trinity Bellwoods, White Squirrel Coffee Shop knows that its customers like to be outside. You can even order a cup from the street at their walk-through window.
Coffee and dairy are fair trade and organic, befitting the values of the area. If you decide to sit for a while, enjoy the communal tables in the back.
Rooster Coffee House
With two locations of Rooster Coffee House, we have to wax poetic about the one on Broadview. Charmingly residential, with desserts so homemade they are sometimes lopsided, this coffee house defines cozy.
Borrow a board game, and sip a specialty roast by the artists at Te Aro. The hot chocolate overflowing with marshmallows is also worth a taste!
It's hard to resist the pastry case at Rooster Coffee House — Photo courtesy of Rooster Coffee House