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The Cafe Stage
Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure, Part 3: Ontario and Quebec
Author: Liz Clayton
Posted: February 1, 2008
Article rating: 8.6
feedback: (6) comments | read | write

This is the final installment in a three-part, in no way comprehensive, Trans-Canadian coffee roadtrip taken in 2007 from Vancouver to Montreal with a fair bit of meandering in between. Between now and when this cross-country voyage was originally conducted and written about, a lot changed in central and eastern Canada — including my now-former home base of Toronto, on which most of this entry focuses. The cafe scales tipped a little more favourably towards concerns west of Yonge Street, and coffee and equipment suppliers changed significantly, too. Whereas last spring Toronto was a two-roaster town largely tied to locally imported Elektra machines, it's now a largely Intelligentsia-infiltrated town, pulled on La Marzocco and Synesso like any other big metropolis. But let's take a wee trip down memory lane, shall we?

Toronto

East Enders: Mercury and Dark Horse
After nine days across Canada with Awesome Color, I got to spend a week at home drinking coffee where I drink it the most: well, actually these days that's my front porch. But my usual hang, as I've mentioned once or two hundred times before, is Mercury Organic Espresso Bar.

Mercury plays loud good music and the baristas will flirt with you and the store is too hot in the summer and it is nowhere, anywhere near my house. But most importantly the espresso is the best in Toronto and everyone there is as excited about coffee as much, but almost exclusively more than, anyone else in the city. They will make me a gibraltar without too much attitude and when I look like I have slumped over my computer in a stupor another drink will materialize. If I bring back interesting coffee from anywhere, we will brew it on the Eva Solo right away, and when there is something wacky or interesting in one of the four grinders (or when there is suddenly a new grinder, which also tends to happen) everyone is eager to geek and share. I miss you guys when I'm travelling, and there ain't nothin like that first familiar cappuccino when I get home from a journey, and that taste of Dark City on my upper lip late at night.

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Dark Horse Espresso Bar's recycled railroad wood common table. Gorgeous!
49th Parallel Epic Gibraltar at Mercury Espresso Bar.

The next best coffee in Toronto can be had at neighbouring Dark Horse Espresso Bar, just down the road a bit to the west. This shop, run by Ed Lynds and Deanna Zunde, is Toronto's prettiest and maybe the best-humored. Dark Horse also features a community-inspiring common table that warms my American-born heart. People here just don't look each other in the eye—thank you Ed and Dee for making them at least sit side-by-side while drinking your excellent coffee.

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Bisogno's Von Flores carresses a rarely seen La Marzocco in Toronto.

Luckily Torontonians don't have to stick to the same short stretch of Queen Street East to drink coffee, either. Old guard Bull Dog (Church and Carlton) is rocking a surprising but handsome "restaurant makeover" that's upped their vibe considerably. And down in the St. Lawrence Market (read: yuppie condo) district, Bisogno Espresso Bar opened at the end of July—a more formal room (brocade? really?) than some of the city's other cafes, Bisogno's owner Von Flores insists he's going for cozy. But did someone say La Marzocco? I think he did. Hooray!

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Interior shot of downtown Toronto newcomer Manic Coffee.
Manic barista Emma Minigan.
Samuel James and Toronto's first Clover at Manic Coffee.

Manic Coffee
And in the interest of future considerations: Matt Lee is finally working on his space in the College and Bathurst area. With that opening soon, anyone coming to town for the Canadian National Barista Championship in September are going to be hitting the city at its most espresso-insane time. Bring your walking shoes, people.

(Between the time this article was written and now, Manic Coffee has opened and is thriving with some of Toronto's best baristas, a gorgeous sunny room, and the city's only Clover as only a few of its assets. Continued good luck to Manic in complementing all the good stuff already going on in the east end.)

That said, I got restless feet. Let's get back on the road with the band and go see what's happening in Montreal!

Montreal

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Cappuccino at the Plateau location of Caffe Art Java, note the custom rosetta-designed sugar packets!

Caffe Art Java
Caffe Art Java has been the only modern specialty coffee cafe in splendid Montreal for awhile—and though their website inexplicably doesn't mention this, they have a second store in addition to their original plateau location. I visited both while in town—and while the wifi, location(s), and competent coffee are certainly welcome in town, I was having a hard time getting it up for the Gimme! roasts at that time, or at least their preparations of them, and the service is so confusing at these shops (where do I order? who do I pay? where is my coffee!?!) that it's tough to feel like this could become anyone's regular coffee spot. They're going for more Euro-bistro anyway (that, and the supposed eye-candy-doorcrasher appeal of latte art.) It's a welcome part of the city's gastro-beverage landscape, yet we can probably move our quest for good espresso in Montreal down to the old city, as guess who was poised to open the week I was in town but...

Veritas Cafe Sante
Sometimes you're doing your pre-travel coffee research (okay, well sometimes *I* am anyway) and you find out that where there was no cafe before, a cafe is just moments from opening in the city you are travelling to! Chowhound and Coffee Geek both revealed exciting news that a new joint—serving 49th Parallel (world domination yet, Vince?)—was just about to throw open its doors. So um... I emailed ahead and asked if they'd be open yet by the day I was in town. And though they weren't yet ready—they were willing to let me come hang out anyway (thanks, Sam, Charles, Anthony!) It's a lovely, fresh li'l spot at St-Laurent and Notre Dame: poised to serve healthy food (I guess the Montreal bistro model holds firm) in a crisp red-white-modern environment (I guess the Montreal Eurostyle model holds firm—oh, okay, they have some real nice green/brown natural-style vibes goin' on too), this place looks like it's going to be really great.

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Sneak preview of espresso at Cafe Veritas Sante, Montreal.
49th Parallel Epic at Cafe Veritas Sante.

Anthony—who, I learned almost immediately, was already incestuously cross-pollinated with the Vancouver/Toronto coffee scene by not only being ex-Artigianian but by his romantic ties to a certain Dwelltimer's sister—was generous with time and coffee and chatter, and made drink upon drink of lingery-syrupy Epic shots, mmm, tell me again why I can't have this in Toronto? Montrealers, definitely make a point of making this your coffee local. Hopefully Veritas wlll do great.

And since Veritas hit the scene, Montrealers can also welcome Caffe in Gamba, new to Avenue du Parc, freshly opened and serving Intelligentsia coffees and other featured roasters. Coffee is catching up with food in one of the best culinary cities in North America. Keep advertising those $10 bus fares from Toronto and I'll be all over that town like gravy on cheese curd. (What? Poutine humor doesn't play on CoffeeGeek? Rats...)

And though I turned around and headed back to everyday life after Quebec, I don't doubt there are more awesome uncharted cafes kicking around the permafrost of this Dominion of Canada. I know I missed something good at Phil & Sebastian in Calgary (perhaps one day), Habit in Victoria, and even the nascent Maritimes—as I wrote this very piece a Haligonian was lurking about my local coffee shop, Mercury, spying and understudying for her own new Nova Scotian venture.

It's always nice to be back in Toronto's happening scene, but, I dunno, guys, things are changing all the time—roadtrip?

Article rating: 8.6
Author: Liz Clayton
Posted: February 1, 2008
feedback: (6) comments | read | write
The Cafe Stage Column Archives  
Column Description
The Cafe Stage is your chance to get something off your chest. Think of it as a speakers' corner, but in a virtual cafe. As long as the subject even closely relates to coffee, espresso, cafes and coffee culture, it's a potential article we want to put up on the CoffeeGeek site. Visiting authors can also write on subjects near and dear to them.  Rants, raves, reminisces, information, it's all good.

Find out how to submit your story

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