by Lorette C. Luzajic
Here’s what I want in a coffee shop: good coffee; exposed brick and ceiling pipes; eclectic, comfortable furnishings; fair trade options; art and photography by locals; heaps of old books and magazines; quirky, moody music I haven’t heard in years; chunky wooden tables; a pleasant clutter of knick knacks and curios; and baristas who are not forced by clueless corporate operation managers to say “Did you find everything you were looking for?”
You can’t win ‘em all, but the batting average for the chain cafes in our daily comfort zones is weak at best. The big boys are strictly for the hurried ol’ in and out, on the way to work.
Remember when you didn’t feel deprived, even if you were broke, because you ate at home and you met up with your friends later for coffee? Remember when “going for coffee” meant talking with friends and strangers for hours over a bottomless mug- not rushing into a frantic lineup and looking at the time on your mobile every five seconds? The coffee house was a hub for group studying, solitary reading, people watching. It was the place where you wrote in your journal, back when you kept one.
I still wile away the hours in my local haunt, The Remarkable Bean, where the beans are roasted on site and worth the long streetcar ride to Queen’s far east end. But outside of my own neighbourhood, I’ve gotten into a real rut. Sometimes I meet my friends at the chains since we can never think of anything else off the top of our heads. And that’s just plain sad.
No more. Some elusive, mysterious genius thought up the coffee passport to help us get around. Discover Toronto’s independent coffee culture, reads the Indie Coffee Passport, a clever little card inviting carriers to 24 independent coffee houses across the city. For only 25 big ones, you get a free coffee or tea beverage, up to 5$ value, at each venue.
If you opt for the pricier bevs every time, that means you get $120 worth of coffee for a fifth of that. If you opt for the plain jane brew and pour, you’re still way ahead of the game. But the real value is finding new coffee shops or rediscovering forgotten ones. Get out more. Meet new people. Visit other parts of the city. Call up old friends and get together. Dust off your Voltaire and Yeats and fly solo on espresso and fine literature.
I picked up my passport at the Red Rocket at Queen and Greenwood, home of the famous five minute lemon bars. This fuel stop is popular among cycling aficionados and film crew types. My next destination is The One in the Only, which is the Danforth-Donlands addition to one of my favourite pubs, The Only. The vibe is rustic and bohemian, with dusty jumbles of odds and ends, thrift store board games and lamps and mirrors.
At Kensington Market’s shabby cosmic paradise, the Moonbean Café, punks and skaters and rockabilly lites mingle casually with offbeat students and a few cool stragglers from the button up set. Someone will definitely be reading Notes from the Underground in the corner; today we also have Ondaatje in the house. And here you’ll find a serious selection of take-home beans.
Te Aro Roasted at 983 Queen St. East serves up the mean bean in sleek style in a converted old garage. It turns out to be the perfect spot to nurse the contents of a French press and flip through a few couture mags while watching Leslieville antique hounds walk by.
But Broadview’s Rooster Coffee House boasts the best view in the city. The front window and patio overlook the sprawling valley of Riverdale Park. Chandeliers and retro curios dazzle against heavenly bricks and more bricks. The rooster insignia pokes out among other wonderful bric a brac surprises. The washrooms are the same ones you have at the cottage. Their website proudly quotes Alice in Wonderland: “We’re all mad here.”
Now who knew there’s an espresso bar on Sherbourne Street? Bisogno patrons commenting online seem pretty adamant that this hidden gem has Toronto’s best espresso. This one’s my next destination. But the promised land appears to be F’Coffee which is apparently in my hood but I can’t picture it. Can something really hide in plain sight? I look forward to that venture- fans say that in addition to fabulous coffee, there is also a vast selection of cheeses and affordable beer. Coffee. Cheese. Beer. Is a place like this truly possible? This kind of luxury karma simply sounds too good to be true, but we shall see. If it is so, I may never have any real reason to leave!
After that, I’ll head west of Bathurst, where coffee house surprises abound until the end of March, when my little passport expires.
I purposefully didn’t mention what I thought of the coffee at the stops I’d landed. Is it a sacrilege, considering we’re talking about coffee culture, to say that commenting on the coffee itself is irrelevant? I appreciate a good cup of coffee, don’t get me wrong. I put in my years as a barista learning all about Arabica vs. Robusta and the freshness factor. I love for my mind to be blown by coff-ity goodness. But I’d be lying if I told you I’m above licking up the instant crystals at the bottom of a jar, or brewing through a sock if no one bought paper filter refills. The purpose of THIS exercise is to get us out of a rut, and introduce hidden havens of the city which we might never otherwise stumble on. You shouldn’t nix a stop because all 24 can’t be my favourite. And one man’s poison, as they say… For me, the object of the exercise is to go to every single venue. A big slice of city life takes place in the proverbial Coffee House. What better investment for a cozy winter? Twenty-four adventures await for a pittance of $25 bucks. Go and get one.