Because a French Vanilla from Tim Hortons just doesn’t have the same insta appeal…
Balzac’s Coffee Roasters
Best for: location choices, the coffee
Balzac’s is undoubtedly one of the most lovely Ontario-based coffee chains. It boasts nine cafes in great locations – from Liberty Village to the Distillery District to opposite St Lawrence Market (pictured above). Adorned with cute posters and French-style decor, they’re all attractive and very laid-back. Oh, and fair trade organic beans make for a fabulous coffee. Though pricey, the toasted almond latte is definitely worth a try.
Best for: being productive, chilled vibes
R Squared has all the trappings of a place that’s too cool for school: minimalist decor, hip baristas and yuppies aplenty, tapping away on their Apple Macs. Not to mention the prime Queen West location. Surprisingly, it’s a very peaceful, welcoming environment. The staff were happy to give recommendations and I felt at home immediately, unlike in the similar but snooty Early Bird Espresso down the road. Like the loser I am, I was intrigued and excited by the Spanish latte (espresso, condensed milk and cayenne). Creamy and sweet, with a kick, it sure delivered.
Best for: trendy decor, serving brunch
If you’re looking for a coffee go-to in Toronto’s trendy Kensington Market, look no further than Fika Cafe. The turquoise house boasts Scandinavian inspiration, adorable decor and not one, but two patios. If you still need persuading then try a sip of their lavender white hot chocolate (divine), or get brunching – ELLE Canada recently recommended it. If it’s stylish enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
Black Canary Espresso Bar
Best for: drink flavours, central location
The interior of this hidden gem doesn’t win awards for its appearance, but indulge in one of their well-known ‘Nutellacinos’ and all woes will be forgotten. Despite literally overlooking Dundas Square (there’s another location in King East), it’s very chilled, and the staff are exceptionally nice. I was even given the Nutella-filled spoon to lick during coffee prep, and remain baffled by whether this was a flirtatious or friendly gesture. Sit back and relax – with offerings from toasted marshmallow lattes to raspberry mochas, you’ll be transported worlds away from the HMV that Black Canary sits above.
White Squirrel Coffee Shop
Best for: sweet treats, park proximity
Though the Queen West area is over-saturated with quirky coffee shops, White Squirrel remains a welcome addition. The location is fab (just opposite Trinity Bellwoods park) and their flat whites are even better. Seating is pretty limited (upstairs, not pictured), but a major plus is its serving of quality ice-cream. Summer just improved infinitely.
Dark Horse Espresso Bar
Best for: chilled atmosphere, friendly baristas
Dark Horse is one of my favourite cafes, a definite win for Toronto’s cafe-bloated down-town core. After a lively chat with the indie barista (who mocked my flavoured latte fetish) I was given an unflavoured latte on the house. It was one of the best I’ve ever had, and not just because it was free. Though the four locations seem bizarrely lacking in plug sockets, there’s loads of spots to work or chill. Attractive but not showy, peaceful but not library-esque, there’s little more you could want from a cafe.