Independent Coffee Lovers

Like it or not, for better or for worse, coffee has become an integral part of our lives. For years we have heard that the best part of waking up is the coffee in our cup, and that each cup tells a story. We are constantly bombarded with images of people sipping coffee, coffee cups filling up our garbage cans, and the smell wafting through the air as we walk down almost any street laden with coffee shops. Coffee is everywhere, seriously.

Scholars discuss their newest project over hot cups, truck drivers use it as a liquid friend who allows them to remain conscious through out the night, new parents indulge in their first decadent, silent sip prior to their kids morning cries, university students use it as life line that allows them to pull all nighters and make it through class the next day, and lovers hold hands as their cups turn cold. It can keep you company on a lonely, cold day. Iit can calm you down after a stressful day, or it can pump you up for an early meeting.

Caffeine it appears has become our most wildly accepted drug. Whether you choose to drink it or not, it influences your life on some miniscule scale each and every day. Be it from its strong persuasive smell in the office, or from a café where your colleague chooses to meet you for a meeting or perhaps you have become immune to recognizing it due to the magnitude of coffee shops that assault your senses on your daily commute. Regardless coffee is everywhere, and appears to have a strong grip on our local community.

Despite its far reach, how much do we really know about this alluring beast that croons to us as we struggle to awaken our senses each morning? Yes, we can brew it ourselves or watch a barista do the job for us, but how much do we know about its production? It is easy to imagine a fairy delivers these magical beans of alertness, but as mystically lovely as this sounds, it is not quite the case. Each bean has a long and sordid journey before it reaches your taste buds and bloodstream. Let’s explore….

A few months back I toured an organic coffee plantation in Panama, in the Boquete Region. It was a fascinating experience. The farmer took seven years to convert his farm to organic, and really it was ingenious how this man found ways to NOT use chemicals in a way that was both practical and efficient. On this tour we got to see the planted coffee plants, understand how the bean is collected and all the processes it must go through. From roasting to hand shelling, the process is quite intricate and every step directly affects the taste. For more information on coffee production click here or here and here for information on the importance of upholding labour standards in the farming of coffee crops.

Recently Eye Weekly published an article featuring the best independent coffee shops in Toronto. As we spend copious amounts of time-consuming coffee across the GTA, Sway and I feel as though we have become coffee connoisseurs of our own. The majority of our brain waves are dedicated to developing Local Buttons, and if we are not discussing how to make ethical consumption more viable, or attempting to understand the opposite sex, well then we are most likely talking about coffee, more specifically where we will sip the next cup. After reading Eye Weekly’s special coffee issue, we were inspired to create our own!

This past summer we sipped on many various cups of coffee across the city, yet continue to find ourselves returning the same places over and over again. Why might this be wondered? It seems without meaning to we have created our own coffee shop criteria. First and foremost the coffee must be delectable, and of course eco-friendly and ethically produced and bought. At each café we visit we inquire on where the coffee beans are from, if they are from a coffee co-operative, or fair trade and shade grown, bird friendly and quite importantly where the beans are roasted. The freshness of the roasted bean ultimately impacts the taste of the coffee.

Aside from this, we are drawn to ambiance and how welcoming the atmosphere of the café is. What makes the ambiance for us is definitely the staff, and there are many lovely baristas across the city. As such we have come up with our own list of Toronto’s top eleven independent cafés.

11. Jet Fuel: 519 Parliament St. Located at in Cabbage Town, the cafe features interesting art and with free wi-fi is a perfect place to get some work done while sunlight pours in the front window

10. Crafted: 135 Ossington Ave. is the sister cafe to Te Aro on Queen East. The coffee is delicious, the staff great and has a magical little patio located in the back.

9. White Squirrel 907 Queen West. Just across from Trinity Bellwoods, it is a fantastic place to people both inside and outside the cafe. Try the hot chocolate, you won’t be disappointed.

8. Scoop and Bean: 2 Follis Ave. Just off Bathurst is a great little hidden gem. How can you refuse delicious coffee where you can purchase a scoop of ice cream at the same time? Look for the Barista, Sasha, a creative writer who is sure to engage you in some great conversation.

7. The Green Grind: 567 College St. With an incredible green mandate, the Green Grind takes their name literally. All the coffee is shade grown, organic, fair trade and rain forest certified. The cafe is committed to its green initiative, through ‘1% for the planet’ giving 1% of all sales go towards environmental organizations.  Check out here for more info.

6. One in the Only Cafe: 996 Danforth Ave. Both a cafe and a bar, you are free to walk interchangeably between the two areas. Featuring art shows and movie nights, it’s the perfect place to meet and stay for hours.

5. T.A.N. Coffee: 992 Queen West. T.A.N features a large roasting machine as they roast all their coffee competition co-operative bought coffee in house. T.A.N. is where the Local Buttons Ethical Fashion show was born, and will always have a warm place in our hearts. On top of its extremely fresh coffee, Merilyn, the cafe owner is as insightful as she is friendly.

4. The Bellevue at 91A Bellevue in Kensington Market hosts some deliciously strong coffee and amazing food. The outdoor patio showcases some of Kensington’s finest on the piano that sits outside permanently.

3. I.Deal 84 Nassau St.  The Kensington Market location has amazing coffee. The intricate espresso machine ensures that each cup of coffee is as unique as the barista that makes it. The cafe is always host to hip hop music, a welcoming change from most cafe music selections.

2. Sam James: 297 Harbord St. The new cafe is the creation of Sam James himself, reputed Toronto barista. The cafe is small, but always busy as the coffee draws people from all around. The staff is so friendly and with such baffling drink memories you cannot help but return and return.

1. Ezra’s Pound. 213 Dupont St and 913 Dundas St West.  This is our original stomping yard. The always tempting coffee is roasted daily, and each cup brewed when you order it. The cafes, constructed by Ezra, are inviting, and the staff friendly.  Check out our post on Ezra here to read more.

One last tid bit…

Why purchase from an independent café versus a chain? Often it boils down to a question of convenience and/or price. However, if the chain is a Starbucks, Second Cup or Timothy’s chances are you are paying the same price as if you were to go to an independent café. It seems as though at almost every corner you turn onto you will find a chain of coffee shops. We have certainly become a coffee culture, but really more so a FAST coffee culture. Somehow the aspect of taking time to relax, to engage with others, to read or to indulge seems to have escaped within the coffee consumption ritual. Instead, coffee is what is used to fuel people to run from one duty to the next.

I am definitely no exception to this rule. As a student who worked nights in a bar to pay  my way through school, I often turned to a morning coffee just to make it to class. This drink was consumed on the subway on the long trek to York from downtown. I began to associate coffee as the only way to wake me up, and thus it became a necessity, and one that was consumed on the go. It wasn’t until I finished school and was traveling through Europe where coffees were not giant in size, and were mostly drunk in house rather than on the go that I truly began to understand how coffee could be an experience rather than solely a drink.

Yes, I believe that coffee or tea can really be a philosophical experience if we just let it. Each of these cafes featured on our top eleven will offer you a different tasting coffee and a unique cafe experience in which you can engage in your own philosophical experience.

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