For a Cup of Coffee or Two

Because it's so much more than just caffeine

My criteria for ranking these coffee shops take into account: quality of beans and brewing processes, variety of espresso beverage options, knowledge and service, alternative “milk” options (and their cost), good non-coffee options (tea, juices, alcohol etc.), food menu, value for price, and of course, style.

Tried and True:

  1. Neo Coffee Bar: This Old Town Japanese coffee shop is a beautiful and slick place to go to read your Monocle or Walrus magazine in your raw silk pants and fancy glasses. Potential drawback: They expressly prefer people to come and chat with their friends or read a book rather than camp out to work on their thesis.
  2. 135 Ossington: This is more so a vibe than a coffee shop and a unique and stylish place that you can safely bring all your coffee connoisseur friends to. Potential drawback: This targeted little space can be a little intimidating for those who just want something “simple”.
  3. Boxcar Social: This place epitomizes Toronto and its strong coffee scene. With locations in Rosedale, Temperance Street and Harbourfront, they have overhauled and significantly improved every space they take over. They are fully licensed and even have charcuterie board and other substantial food options as well. Potential drawback: Some of their staff are a little bit too obsessed with their coffee.
  4. Cafe Panemar: An old favourite of mine in Kensington Market, especially for their patio in the summer. They also host events at night and have a strong social-justice bent. Potential drawback: The narrow space design can be a bit claustrophobic, especially in the winter.
  5. Pilot Coffee Roasters: You can find Pilot Coffee in various locations now, but location that used to be Te Aro in Leslieville is still the heart of the operation (in my opinion). Potential drawback: It’s hard to keep track of where each location is, and what they each offer (I know I’m really grasping at straws).
  6. Fahrenheit Coffee: The staff here are so friendly, you might think that there’s a little something-something in the coffee (or their addictive scones). But as you’ll soon learn, it’s just a really happy place near Church and Lombard with really great beans. Potential drawback: There’s very little seating here.
  7. De Mello Palheta: This is the place I usually stop in when I’m in the Yonge and Eglinton area. They also have umbrellas all over the ceiling, and an obsession with their brewing process. Potential drawback: The walk down the stairs to the bathroom is treacherous, and I’m not exaggerating. 
  8. Sam James Coffee Bar: These guys are a trendy-but-accessible operation that’s very minimalist in their approach to coffee and decor. that’s all about the brew. I used to go to the one in the PATH on an almost daily basis for a Flat White with my Aussie friends. Potential drawback: Cash and debit only for all locations.
  9. FIKA Cafe: This Kensington spot has pretty good coffee, but the Scandinavian hygge and cardamom cinnamon buns are really what keeps me coming back. Potential drawback: This cafe is not wheelchair accessible, and only half the spots are good to sit in.
  10. Rooster Coffee House: With Persian rugs and various kinds of seating, the Rooster locations are some of the best coffeeshops to hit up on the East End, and their baked goods selection is very generous. Potential drawback: These spaces are not designed for working or for sitting a long time.

Honourable Mentions:

  1. Hailed Coffee: This place gets top spot on honourable mentions not just for their great coffee, but also for their Arabic touches. Potential drawback: They’re located right beside a large parking garage.
  2. Dineen Coffee: This place got me through my bar exams, and is still one of the best places on Yonge St. Now, you can also find locations in Commerce Court, and their newer outpost on Gerrard St E. Potential drawback: It’s literally always crammed and there’s about a 20% chance you’ll score a seat.
  3. Balzac’s Coffee: If it weren’t for Balzac’s coffee and warming winter tonics, I would have never made it through law school. They try to maintain good community vibes with initiative such as encouraging you to bring your own packed lunch to eat within if you like. Potential drawback: They have been so successful that they’re no longer an “independent coffee shop”.
  4. Green Beanery: As the first thing you see coming out of Bathurst Station, this is a popular meeting spot for study groups and Craigslist meetups. They are unique in that they roast all their own beans on site, and have both a gift shop and this crazy vault meeting room that can be booked for a price. Potential drawback: No wifi on purpose, and their food options are not the most refined.
  5. Dark Horse Espresso Bar: A long-time favourite back when coffee culture in Toronto was still considered an up-and-coming thing. The Spadina location is my favourite. Potential drawback: Some of the locations are way too dark to read or work in.
  6. The Common: This coffee shop (one on College, and one on Bloor) is so unpretentious and so casual, you might think that they’re putting on an act, but I’m (pretty) sure they’re not. Potential drawback: Cash only, and a slight “regulars only” vibe.
  7. Early Bird Coffee and Kitchen: You’ll love this Queen Street spot if you’re a Millennial Influencer. There’s also a new location in the PATH at Brookfield Place. Potential drawback: You’re likely to run into Millennial Influencers.
  8. Versus Coffee: This coffee shop has a great patio and a fun vibe near the Financial District, on the ground floor of one of my favourite condos. Potential drawback: The tables are all quite small and a little unstable, which can make it difficult to balance your drink and/or book and/or laptop.
  9. Odin Cafe + Bar: A sister establishment to Thor Espresso Bar, this is a very stylish East End spot with amazing reading material to keep you dreaming about your next travel adventure for hours.
    Potential drawback: They have fairly good food but it’s a shame that they can only heat it with their microwaves. 
  10. Jimmy’s Coffee: If you can handle the overly friendly vibes, you’re going to like it here. Many Torontonians are fiercely defensive of this coffee franchise. Potential drawback: The seating is awkward and you may have to fight for it.

On My Radar:

  1. Cafe 23
  2. Coffee Dak Lak
  3. Subtext Coffee
  4. Dispatch Coffee
  5. Hale Coffee
  6. Reunion Island
  7. Found

Last updated: October 2022