Toronto’s Cof­fee Cul­ture

DINE and Destinations - - TORONTO - By Adam Wax­man

The first cof­fee houses in Eu­rope were cen­tres for great de­bate, pol­i­tics, phi­los­o­phy and, in some cases, broth­els. These were the first pri­vate clubs for so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. To­day, there is a pro­lif­er­a­tion of cof­fee “shops” in Toronto, and the only de­bate is which ones are the best. Where can we go that does not seem like an ex­ten­sion of a univer­sity li­brary with lap­tops on ev­ery ta­ble, and hip young hired hands who think mak­ing good cof­fee needs only the push of a but­ton? We hope for baris­tas who un­der­stand all the del­i­cate vari­ables in­volved in achiev­ing the de­sired level of qual­ity in ev­ery espresso. While the big-city tra­di­tion of cof­fee has gen­er­ally been a util­i­tar­ian one of grab­bing a cup-a-joe on the way out the door for a perk be­fore work, for­tu­nately there are quite a few re­ally good places to go now—too many to list— where the ex­pe­ri­ence, rather than the caf­feine, is em­pha­sized. The mod­ern barista de­lights in all they have to tell us about our bev­er­age and the beans right down to the farmer who har­vested them. Here is a sam­ple of the va­ri­ety of cafés that we have en­joyed dis­cov­er­ing, and that re­flect dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of cof­fee houses brew­ing across Toronto.

The Apothe­cary

Fahren­heit (www.fahren­heit­cof­fee.com, 120 Lom­bard St, Toronto, ON, 647-896-1774). A sea­sonal ro­ta­tion cur­rently in­cludes three cof­fees on tap: a sin­gle ori­gin from Brazil, a sin­gle ori­gin from Gu­atemala, and a blend of Gu­atemalan and Mex­i­can beans. East African, In­done­sian and Tan­za­nian beans are also sought. Sameer Mo­hamed, owner and award-win­ning barista, chooses from any re­gion that pro­duces top-qual­ity beans. He em­pha­sizes tex­tures and tem­per­a­tures, and loves the chal­lenge of a sin­gle ori­gin espresso, and of the cor­tado he makes for me, of equal parts espresso and steamed milk. He loves to chal­lenge his cus­tomers to think about their cof­fee, as well as en­joy it. I like that when he asks me what I want, he’s lis­ten­ing for what I need, and he makes sug­ges­tions, and ex­plains all the notes, nu­ances and com­plex­i­ties as though he were a som­me­lier. Ev­ery­one here seems to re­spect that we all ap­pre­ci­ate qual­ity and the care re­quired to main­tain it, one cup at a time.

The Com­mu­nity

Mer­chants of Green Cof­fee (mer­chantsof­green­cof­fee.com, 2 Matilda Street, Toronto, ON, 416-741-5369). There is a rule here: you must like cof­fee. Upon en­ter­ing this off-the beaten-path for­mer jam fac­tory, I im­me­di­ately feel trans­ported, and al­most for­get I am in Toronto. Derek Zav­is­lake de­mys­ti­fies cof­fee for me, and his pas­sion is con­ta­gious. His se­lec­tion of green and roasted beans from all over the world is en­tirely fair-trade, and he em­pha­sizes in­tegrity in the sup­ply chain, as well as the qual­ity of the bean, fresh­ness of the roast, and proper brew­ing tech­nique. There is a very cool vibe here, and cup­ping classes and cof­fee events make this a hub of ac­tiv­ity. Any­one who walks through the door can get a pri­vate tu­to­rial. I se­lect green beans, roast them my­self, grind them, and then pour clean wa­ter at the pre­cise a point through a cot­ton fil­ter, for the fresh­est cup I have ever en­joyed.

The Club­house

Jimmy’s (www.jim­myscoffee.ca, 191 Bald­win St; 107 Port­land St; 82 Ger­rard St West, Toronto, ON, 416-901-2289). Have you ever met a Jimmy who wasn’t cool? Pho­tos from Hen­drix to Page line the walls and set the per­son­al­ity and cul­ture for this hip, un­pre­ten­tious cof­fee house. In the heart of Kens­ing­ton Mar­ket, Jimmy knows how to pick his spots. The pa­tio in the back is a cov­eted perch in sum­mer, while in­side along the book­cases we min­gle and re­cline into con­ver­sa­tion. The Hoffa blend is for espresso; the Dean is for cof­fee. Hot choco­late is creamy and frothy, and my reg­u­lar Amer­i­cano is bright and out­go­ing, like the ser­vice and the am­bi­ence. It’s about hav­ing high-qual­ity prod­uct, and mak­ing peo­ple feel good. That’s what makes Jimmy’s a lo­cal favourite hang­out at each of its lo­ca­tions; and why I can es­cape here with a book and a choco­late chip espresso scone, and re­lax.

The Cos­mopoli­tan

Di­neen Cof­fee Com­pany (di­neen­cof­fee.com, 140 Yonge St., Toronto, ON, 416-900-0949). Lo­cated in a Toronto her­itage build­ing, our ex­pe­ri­ence be­gins at a leather ban­quette, won­der­ing about his­tory and ar­chi­tec­ture as we marvel at the el­e­gant de­sign and floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows. From teas to pas­tries, they make it all, but I’m in­ter­ested in their espresso. Their blend of Mex­i­can and Brazil­ian beans (which they also sell) is richly lay­ered and com­plex. It’s not just the qual­ity of the prod­uct, though. The uni­formed baris­tas here take pride in what they do, and with each serv­ing, I watch them clean and brush their portafil­ters with care. The clean­li­ness and re­spect for each cup make all the dif­fer­ence. There is an old New York vibe here. It is so­cial, un­pre­ten­tious and pro­fes­sional. We’re right down­town, and yet I feel no rush.

The Tem­ple

Box­car So­cial (www.box­car­so­cial.ca, 1208 Yonge St., Toronto, ON, 416-792-5873). A group of friends with pas­sion and busi­ness acu­men de­ter­mined to shake up the cof­fee scene. All the pieces are in place, from or­ganic in­gre­di­ents to a pa­tio in the works out back. The op­tion of cof­fee flights in­trigues me: one flight is of three dif­fer­ent cof­fees; one is of the same cof­fee pre­pared in three dif­fer­ent ways—espresso, mac­chi­ato, and fil­tered; and the other is pre­pared with whiskey (liquor li­cense pend­ing). The “recipe” they use refers to tech­nique, not in­gre­di­ents. I watch my barista bloom the cof­fee while beau­ti­ful am­ber trick­les through. We sense notes of straw­ber­ries, ap­ples and co­coa. What is re­ally spe­cial is the recog­ni­tion of the source—cof­fee be­gins with the fruit, not with the bean, and through that un­der­stand­ing they nur­ture each step of the process, and share their dis­cov­er­ies with the rest of us. Their care of cof­fee is ev­i­dent, and can be tasted in each cup.

Di­neen Cof­fee Com­pany

Jimmy’s

Faren­heit

Mer­chants of Green Cof­fee

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