The Coffee Culture Boom: Is London Really The Next Coffee Town? (And The Case For Toronto)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This week the NY Times hailed London, England, as the next city for the coffee craze. Although the major corporations, like Starbucks, are pervasive in this international city, there seems to be a movement towards the smaller, independent shops that see coffee as an art.

But, as most people know, this java renaissance is happening all over the world. The World Barista Championships is just one marker of how coffee culture is evolving. My friend competed in a barista competition last year and his specialty coffee was a latte that tasted of bacon and eggs.

The NYT listed some independent coffee shops scattered throughout the foggy British capital and claims it as an emerging “coffee town.”Is tea becoming passe there?

Living in Buenos Aires, I have observed that Argentines really like coffee, consuming it by the liter. Yet, they do not love coffee, as that consumption includes liters of scalding-hot, cardboard liquid. I love coffee. I am a coffee snob. There, I said it. As well, I would like to go as far as to say that the crouching tiger of coffee towns is Toronto. There, I said that too.

What About Toronto?

TheNYT listed 4 or 5 places where you can buy haute-espresso in London, but I would like to give some Toronto recommendations. I am going to stay away from where to buy beans as most of these espresso bars have the option of purchasing high-grade, ethically-sound, freshly-roasted buds of deliciousness.

1) Blondie’s Cafe (1378 Queen St. West) — Situated in the endearing neighborhood of Parkdale, Alex and Damian run a chill operation of pouring some of the most delicious lattes I have had to date. The decor is chic (it turns into a lounge-bar by night), and the laid-back atmosphere keeps it cozy.

2) Sam James Coffee Bar (297 Harbord St.) — Sam James is the genius behind the breakfast-flavored latte and just as genius at whipping up anything from mouth-watering Americanos to delicately poured cappuccinos. He also has this crazy drip-system contraption (Turkish?) that the man knows how to use.

3) Dark Horse Espresso Bar (2 locations, 215 Spadina Ave. & 682 Queen St. East) — The interior is fanciful with glass chandeliers and recycled bowling-alley lanes as tables, mere compliments to the deliciousness of all kinds of coffees poured. At the Spadina spot you can order a “normal” coffee but you have to wait with a four-minute timer as it is made with a French-press.

4) Mercury (915 Queen St. East) — Super cozy and was one of the first serious coffee shops (to my knowledge) in the city. Many of the baristas who outgrew the quaint quarters and started their own businesses worked at this Leslieville classic.

5) Everywhere else (various locations) – There are many other decent spots in the city that offer amazing atmospheres and good bean brews. The Common (1071 College St.), White Squirrel (907 Queen St. West, just south of Toronto’s wonderful Trinity-Bellwoods Park), Ideal Coffee (84 Nassau in the famous Kensington Market), Manic Coffee Ltd. (496 College St.) and too many more to boot.

Yeah, as a Torontonian, I may be a little biased to say that the city is a coffee contender. Heck, I haven’t been to London in years. Nonetheless, I did want to give a shout out to some friends who work in these cafes as I truly consider their pouring skills an art. I hope that if you venture to Toronto, that you nix Starbucks or SecondCup for a real coffee experience in one of these independent shops.

By Brit Weaver


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisure cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog,

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