Canada’s tastemakers describe their favourite coffee houses – and what keeps them coming back.
Getting your caffeine fix is an important part of the day, a rejuvenating ritual few can forgo. In this series of coffee shop reviews, we showcase Canada’s top java spots as chosen by some of our most renowned industry insiders. Here’s our list of 21 outstanding coffee shops across the country.
Address: 3 Oakwood Ave., Wychwood
Recommended by Zach Kolomeir
Rave Review: “Carmelina and I live just around the block,” Kolomeir says. They have the best staff, the best service and it’s always a bit of a scene.” He likes to grab a savoury croissant here in the mornings after a run. “Ross is the sweetest guy. One time, we were going camping and he gave us a couple of litres of cold brew.” The café’s Davenport location also has an assortment of wine and liqueurs for sale.
Kolomeir says a silver medal goes to White Squirrel Coffee Shop for their great coffee and for carrying the equally delicious Breadhead baked goods.
Address: 6840 St. Laurent Blvd., Little Italy
Recommended by Chef Ariel Schor
Rave Review: Opened in the 1950s, Caffè Italia is Schor’s first stop in the area before heading to Jean Talon Market. It’s his favourite for a few reasons, but what he truly loves is that it feels unfazed by the passing of time.
“There are no gimmicks. There’s no oat milk or blender drinks. No one pulls out a laptop or asks for Wi-Fi,” he says. “I don’t think they go out of their way to create a vibe. There’s always a table of 50-year-olds in the back from the Old Country watching soccer and seemingly making fun of one another. It’s a place where time truly stops, and that’s important to me.”
About Ariel Schor: Championing the culinary roots of Argentinian gastronomy, Schor is chef-owner of the intimate Restaurant Beba in Verdun.
Address: 1 Duckworth St., The Battery
Recommended by Chef Lori McCarthy
Rave Review: “Life in Newfoundland is all about being home and having a place to hang your hat for a coffee,” McCarthy says about this local hang-out housed in a charming old building at the bottom of National Historic Site Signal Hill. “I like a coffee shop to be a social scene, not a place where you put in your earphones and work. That’s some people’s jam, but for me it’s a social moment – like Happy Hour, but for the morning!”
McCarthy says the café is passionate about what they do, encouraging community spirit, and supporting local charities with cookie drives and donations. “And they always remember what you have.”
Address: 456 Ossington Ave., Dufferin Grove
Recommended by Chef Anthony Walsh
Rave Review: “They do a phenomenal job across the board,” Walsh says of this small enterprise, the home of Colombian coffee culture in Toronto. Here, high-grade coffee is served alongside unique pastries and a selection of global goods. “Everything is 100% organic and fair trade, and they are so aware of what makes the perfect cup.”
Maderas beans are of single-origin, harvested at the Maderas family farm in the tradition of micro-climate coffee cultivation unique to the Sierra Nevada region in Colombia. They work with Indigenous Colombian communities in the area, striving for the smallest eco-footprint.
Address: 325 Cambie St., Gastown
Recommended by Chef Apoorva Prakash
Rave Review: “This is my favourite place for coffee,” Apoorva says. “They run a vast coffee roaster program with more than 30 beans from across North America, brewed fresh right in front of you. I leave each time with a new bean in tow.”
Located in what used to be a printing company, the café has a rustic ambience with high windows and brick walls. Apoorva thinks it’s a cozy place for an afternoon read and a great cup of joe. “I’ve been into cold brews recently and this place crafts a well-rounded one with ease.”
About Apoorva Prakash: Previously at Masque in Mumbai, GAA in Bangkok and L’espalier in Boston, Prakash is Junior Sous Chef at Hawksworth Restaurant. She is also a travel and food writer.
Address: 1613 9 St. SW, Lower Mount Royal
Recommended by Chef Jinhee Lee
Rave Review: “When I came to Canada, Caffe Beano was the first place I went to have a cup of coffee,” Lee says. “I fell in love with the ambiance, vintage-style décor and relaxing atmosphere – people reading or talking, people with their dogs outside. It’s one of my favourite things to do in my free time.”
Serving superlative coffee and homemade pastries for 365 days a year since 1990, Caffe Beano is an icon, consistently considered the best coffee shop in Calgary. Their baked items sell out every day. “It’s my go-to place when I need time to relax or create a menu with a dark, rich espresso.”
About Jinhee Lee: A Top Chef Canada finalist and Wall of Chefs judge, Lee is chef and owner of Calgary’s popular JINBAR, offering her creative take on Korean comfort food.
Address: 1013 Wellington St. W., Hintonburg
Recommended by Chef Lewis Robinson
“This is my go-to,” Robinson says of this independently owned coffee shop that has expanded to four locations across Ottawa. “They have always purposefully showcased Canadian roasters and are now roasting their own coffee.” He says the communal spaces and seating make it a great spot to work on new menus and ideas, and to chat with people from the neighbourhood.
The Ministry has a large selection of small-batch roasters that changes every week, with baked goods made on-site. “They do à la minute pour-over coffee that adds a deeper and more refined flavour and texture to a traditional black coffee. It’s a great way to allow more nuanced and delicate flavours and aromas to shine through.”
About Lewis Robinson: Formerly at Bar Laurel and now chef de cuisine at Bar Lupulus, Robinson is an avid forager and accomplished fermentologist, noted for his Nordic-inspired Canadian cuisine at this Hintonburg hotspot.
Address: 3780 St. Patrick St., inside the Canadian Roasting Society
Recommended by Chef Dyan Solomon
This coffee shop-supermarket hybrid has one of the biggest selections of coffee in the city, with a bakery specializing in Southern-style biscuits. “The coffee is always roasted in-house, and regularly features new roasters,” Solomon says. “And every weekend, they serve the most dreamy scones you have ever tasted. It’s an amazing spot and the baristas are world-class.”
Solomon says that just about anyone can take a crack at roasting coffee at the CRS, so there are many start-ups roasting there. “The coffee that we use at Olive et Gourmando – Foxy and Un Po di Piu – is roasted there by Canal Coffee Roasters under our own label.”
About Dyan Solomon: Co-founders Solomon and Eric Girard of bakery-café-restaurant Olive et Gourmando have been enjoying success in the Old Port for more than 20 years. Patrons still swoon over artisanal breads and sweets, sandwiches and salads.
Address: 93 Tannery Rd.
Recommended by Chef Nathan Guggenheimer
Rave Review: “The salty sea air mixed with the enzymatic properties of a fine coffee equals one of the best java experiences in Canada,” Guggenheimer says about sitting on the patio of this brewery/coffee shop hybrid across from the colourful UNESCO heritage town of Lunenburg, a coffee-shop view second to none in the world. The Barn has two other locations in nearby Mahone Bay and Bridgewater. “The coffee is always perfectly balanced, and the service is the friendliest humans you could imagine.”
About Nathan Guggenheimer: With a passion for eating, cooking and laughing, Chef Googs is culinary director at Oak Island Resort, and culinary partner at Grassroots Restaurant Group and The Old Black Forest Restaurant.
Address: 55 Powell St., Gastown
Recommended by Chef Jean-Christophe Poirier
Rave Review: “They have a solid coffee program that is not too ‘coffee nerd,’” Poirier says, “just great beans and good execution. Their creative small breakfast and lunch items are consistently good and they are committed to only using great ingredients,” Poirier says. “And all their breads are made in-house.”
After 5 p.m., the café turns into what they call The Juice Bar, pouring natural wine and often inviting in a guest chef to create a few small plates. “Coffee by day and wine by night – what’s not to love?”
About J-C Poirier: This chef is owner of award-winning St. Lawrence Restaurant in Japantown, which serves Poirier’s signature “haute country cooking,” offering classic French food styled with Québécois flair and an exclusively French wine list.
Address: 40 Chemin Scott, Chelsea, QC
Recommended by Genna Woolston
Rave Review: This café, bar and dinette rolled into one 20 minutes north of Gatineau is an escape from the everyday for Woolston. “Their forested patio nestled in the Gatineau Hills is a perfect place for a refreshing bevvy, light meal or warm cuppa after a hike or après ski,” she says. “Their clean-lined décor – with light wood, soft colours, warm light and lots of plants – makes it a true oasis.”
About Genna Woolston: This community builder is co-founder of Silver Swallow Kombucha, a non-alcoholic sparkling drink made with a rare white tea. You can enjoy it with celebrations, brunch or a hangover-free night on the town.
Address: 314 10 St. NW, Kensington
Recommended by Chef Stephen Smee
Rave Review: A long-term hub for the arts community, The Roasterie is a Calgary Classic. “They have a very small roasting machine, but it burns all day – and the aroma is a fixture in Calgary’s Kensington district,” says Smee about his favourite coffee spot, which helped him develop the espresso program at his restaurant Ten Foot Henry. “There’s no B.S., just coffee.
“And this is not Third Wave coffee,” Smee says, “they’re one of the old guard, importing and roasting coffee in Calgary since the 1980s.”
About Stephen Smee: Along with Aja Lapoint, Smee is the owner-operator of Ten Foot Henry, an all-day restaurant delivering family-style dining from a vegetable-forward menu. It’s named after a 1930s comic strip cartoon boy.
Address: 400 Bowen Island Trunk Rd., Bowen Island
Recommended by Chef Lee Cooper
Rave Review: “This small cafe is located on the dock at Bowen Island Marina on Bowen Island, where I live,” Cooper says. “They make a fine Americano – my coffee of choice – and have a nice selection of house-made baked goods, light lunches and breakfasts. The seating is all outdoors and you can watch the boats come and go.”
The cafe was opened by Zac Bligh and Renée Turner in 2019, who offer both vegetarian and vegan options on their menu and within their coffee and tea offerings. “I know they source a lot of their ingredients locally,” Cooper says, “and you will usually find either Zac or Renée working in the cafe themselves, making everything with care.”
About Lee Cooper: One of Canada’s top culinary talents, Cooper is the owner and chef of Gastown’s celebrated L’Abattoiras well as nearby No. 1 Gaoler’s Mews, home to charity dinners that benefit the BC Hospitality Foundation.
Address: Two locations, 8708 109 St. in Garneau and 9570 76 Ave. NW in the Ritchie Market
Recommended by Chef Christine Sandford
Rave Review: “My drink is the oat milk flat white, and they do it the best in the city,” Sandford says. “I respect the level of work they put into sourcing their coffee and the care they take roasting and preparing it.”
Transcend has been around for more than 10 years, opening at a time when there were few roasteries in the city. The Ritchie location, being in the market, has more of a modern industrial feeling, while the Garneau location is a cozy university hangout.
Sandford says the team here puts a ton of effort into training the staff and offers comprehensive coffee training to community coffee-lovers, too. “I also respect their direct support of farmers. They are transparent fair-trade buyers and supporters of green coffee-buying.”
Address: 368 King St. E., Corktown
Recommended by Chef Stephanie Duong & Chef Bruce Lee
Rave Review: “Just a few doors down from our pastry shop, Tandem is run by a lovely couple, Eugene and Michi, who are there serving customers every day that they’re open,” Lee says. “They rotate their coffee beans frequently, which helps us discover new small-batch roasters.”
Lee says that the espresso drinks are always well-balanced and not overly acidic and that the menu includes unique prepared drinks like a yuzu fizzy soda in the summer and a black sesame latte year-round. “Good spot, good people, good coffee.”
About Stephanie Duong & Bruce Lee: This husband-and-wife team runs Roselle Desserts, a tiny bakery offering French-inspired traditional pastries and inventive desserts fused with local influences.
Address: 998 Harbourside Dr., North Vancouver
Recommended by Chef Alex Chen
Rave Review: “Haas’ shop is cozy, functional and well-displayed, his wares consistent and delicious,” Chen says. “There’s always a good cup of espresso and a perfect double-baked almond croissant for me, a cappuccino and pain au chocolat for Liz, and hot chocolate and a couple of macarons each for the kids,” Chen says. “The whole family is happy as a clam.”
This acclaimed chocolatier is a fourth-generation pâtissier, continuing a long-standing family tradition of handmade chocolates and pastries. Chen thinks Haas continues to look for new ideas while respecting the fundamentals and tradition of his craft – and that he’s one of the nicest mentors in the business. “We are very lucky to have such talent in Canada, shaping one commis at a time and elevating our pastry game year after year.
About Alex Chen: This multi-award-winning Canadian chef and founder of Vancouver’s Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar is a chef and judge on Food Network’s Wall of Chefs.
Address: 5761 St. Laurent Blvd., Mile End
Recommended by Chef Chanthy Yen
Rave Review: “It’s a comfortable meeting-ground for inspiring creatives and caffeine addicts, a beautifully designed gem that makes you feel as if you were transported to France.” Yen says Pastel Rita not only serves beautifully decorated coffee and a great brunch, but it also showcases the talents of local artists, offering a variety of ceramics.
“It also didn’t hurt that Pastel Rita is just a few steps away from Fieldstone, my very first restaurant,” Yen says. “Whenever I was in a pinch to find great earthenware for a specific dish, I knew I could count on them to have that unique piece.”
About Chanthy Yen: Former Executive Chef at Parliament in Montreal’s Old Port, Yen is also riding the wave of the success of Touk, a pop-up kitchen project showcasing authentic Cambodian street food.
Address: 974 College St., Little Italy
Recommended by Chef Rob Gentile
Rave Review: The delicious partnership of Canadian coffee roaster Barocco Coffee Company and Italian bakery Nino D’Aversa is Gentile’s pick. “Barocco x Nino is my absolute favourite. They really understand how to roast beans for optimum flavour,” he says. “My favourite blend for an espresso – even one at home – is their Forte blend. It’s the perfect ratio of arabica and robusta beans roasted super-dark for that true Italian flavour profile.”
Food hall-style offerings here include fresh pastries, bread and pizza dough prepared daily by the Nino D’Aversa team, using the same tried-and-true methods honed for more than 50 years. Gelato, too!
About Rob Gentile: With a visionary approach to Italian cooking, Gentile is featured on Food Network Canada’s Wall of Chefs and is a consultant for ChefDrop, a custom home-meal kit company.