Toronto is a city with plenty of coffee shops, and Torontonians are spoiled for choice. If you venture downtown, and you’re looking for a nice, quiet place to spend hours in, and sip coffee at snail pace, undisturbed, it’s not always easy to find a place where it will be not only the right atmosphere, and good quality coffee, but also a place that you can really feel at home inside for a couple hours, or sometimes even an entire day.
Places such as Starbucks and Timmies are everywhere, which is why none of the places included in this list are a neighbourhood’s Starbucks, Second Cup, or Timmies location. All of the coffee shops that made it to this list are indie classics that are only available in Toronto, or specific Toronto neighbourhoods. They excel at creating the perfect environment, for customers to stick around for long periods of time, undisturbed. We've compiled the top 8 indie Toronto coffee shops to spend hours in, so that you can spend more time thinking about visiting these places for your next date, casual get together with friends, or maybe even during your well deserved, quiet “me” time.
The root of Empire Espresso’s charm is its small size. If you sit on the chairs, across from the counter you're extremely close by the soothing sights and aroma of Empire’s freshly made baked goods, which are made by hand, in Empire’s kitchen, located at the back of the store. Smooth jazz and mellow pop is always playing inside, and a limited amount of customers can fit inside, which creates a perfectly subdued environment.
If you're craving something savoury Empire’s one-handed pies, especially the veggie ones are a satisfactory snack, and if you're lucky you'll make it before Empire Espresso's hit, its cinnamon buns, sell out. On a sunny day Empire is a great place to sit outside on patio chairs, and drink lemonade and cold brew, and when it's raining, or cold out it’s a great place to cozy up by the windowsill and drink herbal tea, or if you're craving caffeine, you'll love Empire’s artfully crafted lattes, cappuccinos, and espressos.
Crafted is located at the Ossington and Queen intersection, and the nearest Ossington bus stop is seconds away, which is convenient for people who either want to stop in at Crafted, on there way to their destination, or get to and from Crafted via TTC. It’s also a haven for people that are looking for a place to study, or do something work related because of the large number of customers that go there to do quiet, solitary work on their laptop.
The music is always at a low volume and it’s spacious enough for the overall background noises to not be too disruptive for those who are seeking a quiet environment to focus. On sunny, summer days the entrance window is wide open in order to let the sunshine through, and their outdoor patio is like sitting in the backyard of a childhood home. Although the amount of food available is limited, the staff makes up for it, via the food’s overall high quality. The ginger cookies are a perfect harmony of mild bitterness, and subtle sweetness, which goes perfectly with Crafted highlight, its creamy chai lattes.
A step inside Manic coffee is a step inside intellectual, indie, artsy paradise. It’s walking distance from the University Of Toronto’s St. George Campus therefore it’s a student and freelance artist dominated crowd. Tasteful artwork is widespread throughout the café, and contemporary indie pop, and soft rock quietly contributes to the overall atmosphere.
Its back corner is perfect for dates and casual school and/or work related meetings because it’s far away enough from the cafe's unavoidable background noises to provide the perfect level of space and privacy, while being close by enough to the counter for it to not be too isolated of an environment. It’s a great place to get a high quality croissant sandwich and on hot, summer days it offers a reasonable selection of gelato flavours to choose from. It’s also one of the best places in the city to get a latte, while listening to music by bands you may not of even heard of before.
4. White Squirrel Café: Queen West Location
White Squirrel Café’s Queen West location was its first ever home but it now has one other store in Rosedale. Because it’s across from Trinity Bellwoods Park it’s a haven for casual, avid people watchers, especially if you sit directly above the area where coffee is made, which provides customers with a perfect view of passersby, wandering Queen street, and coming in and out of Trinity Bellwoods Park.
Finding a place to sit involves climbing a set of stairs, and sitting above the overall action so it’s a good place to go for peace and quiet and subdued conversations. Plus: White Squirrel’s music library is both eclectic and massive so it’s also a good place to sit back, relax, and just enjoy the music and atmosphere. Highlights include the chocolate chip cookies, the cappuccinos, and the staff’s consistently genuine friendliness.
5. Jimmy’s Coffee: Baldwin Street/ Kensington Market Location
The best part of Jimmy’s Coffee’s Kensington Market location is its spacious environment so there’s plenty of room to spread out, even on its busy days. Plus: the photography on the walls, and the antique books on large bookshelf, beside the counter are attention grabbers, which are also excellent icebreakers for those who have chosen Jimmy’s for dates, job interviews, and literally anything that’s about making a good first impression.
If you want high quality coffee this is one of the best places in the city to go, for high quality taste, and reasonable prices, and their hot chocolate is a delicious, perfect companion for chilly and rainy days. Plus: they have a beautiful patio, with tasteful graffiti on the walls, that’s fenced off from the rest of the neighbourhood, and a great place to go for space, peace, and quiet.
6. El Almacen
El Almacen is a South American style coffee shop, in the heart of Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood. Its coffee is made via Mate, a tea like infusion, made from a type of holly found in parts of South America. It’s the perfect place for tea enthusiasts, looking to quench their thirst for caffeine. It’s a South American approach to coffee, that’s a laid back, relaxed, and a refreshing alternative to the typical fast paced coffee shop experience.
Its bistro style, outdoor, metal patio chairs are the perfect place to sit around and either watch the world go by, or read a book. When it’s cold or rainy it’s also a really cozy, indoor environment. The entrance is made of glass therefore there’s a perfect view of Queen Street West. If you're feeling a bit hungry El Almacen also does Toronto’s best empanadas.
7. CSI Coffee Bar
CSI Coffee Bar’s coffee and tea is served in pint glasses, and they often use local and/or organic ingredients. It’s also located in the basement of the Centre For Social Innovation’s Annex location so going there involves being surrounded by bright, creative, entrepreneurial people who work for, or founded a social enterprise. They also have meeting spaces for rent, and free Wi-Fi.
It’s a good meeting place, and workspace because a majority of the customers are also there to either work and focus, or quietly recharge after they've been working and focusing all day. Highlights include their espressos, their sandwiches, and their herbal tea.
8.Dark Horse Coffee Spadina Location
The music at Dark Horse Coffee’s Spadina Location varies, in terms of how much it takes over the atmosphere, based on the time of day, but its back corner, above the stairwell provides maximum privacy, without being too far away from what’s going on in the foreground.
The best time of day to visit is a weekday afternoon or morning, when the place is buzzing with people in an intense state of concentration, on their laptops, and occasionally job interviews, and fascinating conversations, are within earshot. Dark Horse coffee has consistently high quality coffee and lemonade, and their croissant sandwiches are the best croissant sandwiches in the city. Plus there’s lots, and lots of room to spread out.