The age-old question of where to get a good cup of Coffee in this city just might not be unsolvable after all. I'll admit it - I'm a
bit of a lush. I don't do Brewed Coffee unless I have to absolutely and there are no other options. I am of the mentality that I'll pay the extra dollar for the Coffee if it tastes that much better and it's served to me like a dignified human being. I love Espresso and after having invested in a no-frills Espresso Maker myself two years ago, I just haven't been able to go back ever since. My father loves Instant Coffee out of convenience and it makes me cringe when I go back home and he tries to serve me a cup of that stuff. And don't get me wrong - I'm loyal to Starbucks like fans are to Oprah, but sometimes I like to try new things and treat myself. Perhaps I can recommend a few fantastic spots if you ever visit the city.
In the heart of Yorkville is five-star The Hazelton, which is pretty much where every celebrity in-the-know stays now. The hotel has easily surpassed Four Seasons Hotel as the place to stay for the Hollywood Elite with its chic ultra-modern decor and moody dimmed lighting. Situated in the hotel is the marvelous ONE Restaurant, which the likes of Geri Halliwell, Kylie Minogue, Emma Bunton and Sarah Jessica Parker have enjoyed. The service is outstandingly friendly and if you don't feel like partaking in the pricey fare, a delicious, fully-bodied Cappuccino or Latte can be enjoyed at $6 with a twig of Biscotti. You're paying for the experience you must remember and while you're there, why not pair it with a delicious Coconut Cream Crumble topped with Lime Powder? It's decadently creamy and full of chewy goodness, coming highly recommended by the staff. All desserts are $14, but there is an assortment of pastries served throughout the day like Pain au Chocolat and Muffins at approximately $8 a pop. You might as well go all out though and go for the desserts by renowned Pastry Chef Tony Accettola. You just never know who you'll see here.
(Cappuccino at The Hazelton, Coconut Cream Crumble)
Aroma Espresso Bar is giving its bigger name competition a run for its money also locally. With three locations in Toronto: The Annex, Yonge x Eglinton and Promenade Shopping Centre, getting a seat at any of these locations is something that requires a bit of luck. Their Cappuccinos and Lattes are just wonderful, with perhaps their signature Aroma Coffee being the marquee item. The beverage contains Espresso, Chocolate Praline Cream, Warm Milk, Whipped Cream and Cocoa. Yes, it's just about as good as it sounds and actually cheaper than what you'd pay for something similar from Starbucks at $3.45 for a Medium and $4.15 for a Large. Although they have a good number of Sandwiches and Salads on their menu, my eyes always migrate to their Cookies and Pastries. A popular chain which originated in Israel, their unique favourites include Alfajores (Shortbread Cookies Sandwich with a creamy Dulce de Leche Caramel center), Matzo Cookies and Apple Strudels which are shaped like little crispy Spring Rolls with a cinnamony apple filling. Delicious. Coffees usually come with a small individually-wrapped Milk Chocolate for a bit of that authentic European flare.
(Aroma Apple Strudel, Matzo Cookies and Aroma Coffee)
The Green Beanery, also located in The Annex, makes an exceptional cup of Coffee and I fully support their agenda as a non-profit organization to deal with small Coffee Farmers only. The Beans are roasted on-site and the result is a naturally sweet Cappuccino or Latte, heavy on the Cocoa notes. The only thing is that it's relatively out-of-the-way for me but then again, it's only a few steps away from Bathurst Station; it's commutable. Seating is also major issue here as half the shop is occupied by Coffee Machines and accessories for sale when really the space could be allocated for customers. Otherwise, its pricing is comparable to Starbucks, but to be honest, I'd rather have The Green Beanery's blend.
I also love Balzac's Coffee and like The Green Beanery, they are very avid supporters of Fair Trade Coffees and Sustainable Farming. Everything down to their location choices is carefully calculated. They refuse to set-up shop in shopping malls or beside mega-stores, presenting a rustic, grass-roots image to customers. All this aside, their Coffee is delicious and also full of bold Cocoa-flavoured goodness. Although their locations are allover the place from Stratford, Niagara Falls to the hipper parts of Toronto like Liberty Village, The Distillery and Queen St. West, the plus side still is that you can buy their Coffee at upper-end grocery stores like Whole Foods at a reasonable price ($13/lb). And it's worth every penny. Wait til you try their selection of Dessert Bars. Unbarlievable!
(1 lb. of Balzac's Ground Espresso)
The Village in Toronto really only has a couple options, namely chains like Timothy's and Starbucks. Bulldog Coffee prides itself as being gay-owned and operated. Their Cappuccinos and Lattes are also quite exquisite, although the lingo is a bit confusing. When ordering their signature Bulldog, a hybrid Cappuccino/Latte beverage all you have to say is that you want a "Bulldog", sentence full stop. Never say you want a "Large Bulldog" or a "Small Bulldog" for that matter, as you will be met with a disapproving glare by the Barista who looks absolutely irritated having to explain that the drink comes in one size only. They have a number of interesting Condensed Milk-heavy Dessert Bars, not unlike Balzac's, and also cute Dark/White Chocolates with their Bulldog emblem on them to accompany your Coffee. If you're lucky enough to get one of their fresh-out-of-the-oven, but not particularly flaky Croissants in the morning, you should just succumb to the urge. Seating space is v. limited, so perfect your most evil stare and you'll find someone feeling awkward enough to sacrifice their seat out for you.
Right in the heart of Chinatown is the oddly-situated Dark Horse Espresso Bar. Brightly-lit with a mostly wooden decor, it's a comfortable place to enjoy a Coffee, although communal tables make for less privacy. Their Espresso is a nuttier robust blend for people who like their Coffee a bit less sweet and they have a variety of health-centric treats including Cookies and Dessert Bars, like Gluten-Free Brownies. The most popular item to pair with your Coffee seems to be their barely-sweetened and chewy Raspberry Coconut Bar, which is ginormous enough to share with a friend. Moms would approve.
(Dark Horse Iced Latte, Raspberry Coconut Bar)
(A Bulldog, Bulldog Chocolates)
Lemme know what you think if you get a chance to try any of these.