It seems like in recent months, we keep hearing about a new, trendy restaurant or bar in Toronto. There's the Harry Potter-themed bar and an ice cream shop that wants so badly for you to exclaim "Sweet Jesus!" when you eat there that the place is actually named Sweet Jesus. But beyond that scene, there's a whole other scene that is just blowing up, and that is the coffee scene. I recently teamed up with Hilton HHonors, Live Nation, and Canadian recording artists Tegan and Sara to explore some of Toronto's best coffee shops and find out what makes Canadian coffee so special.
Tegan and Sara and I started at Jimmy's Coffee in Kensington Market. While Tegan and Sara got to work making cappuccinos with barista Shelby Hebert, I sipped on a JVO (Jimmy's Very Own).
The JVO is a vanilla iced latte with a caramel drizzle on top and what I would consider to be the shop's signature drink. It is Jimmy's very own, after all. The barista who prepared it for me chatted amiably with me, which is only one facet of what makes Jimmy's a coffee shop to check out if you're in town. The ambiance of the shop is the second aspect of what makes Jimmy's special. The walls are lined with photos of famous people named Jimmy, and the back patio is breezy and pleasant.
The best part of Jimmy's, however, are the drinks themselves. Shelby, who taught Tegan and Sara to make cappuccinos, complete with latte art on top, said the cappuccinos are the shop's specialty. "They're extra creamy and milky here," she said. "They're different from a cappuccino you'd get elsewhere in the world." She credits the milk for the distinction, and when I tried it, I had to agree with her statement about the creaminess. Tegan even told me later that she genuinely enjoys Jimmy's and tries to make a stop there any time she's in Toronto.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Hedy Phillips
Next we made our way through Toronto's kitschy Kensington Market to Casa Coffee. This corner coffee shop doubles as a candy store, with bulk bins of a vast array of options. You can also buy bulk coffee beans from the bins, but Tegan and Sara went straight for the candy tubs and filled up a bag. Tegan, a relatively new coffee drinker, circled back, though, to fill up another bag with coffee beans and admitted that Casa Coffee was where she first started to get into coffee. Sara convinced her to get the beans and told her, "You should bring it home and be like, 'This is my origin story with coffee.'"
"You should bring it home and be like, 'This is my origin story with coffee.'"
We went back to the coffee shop part of the establishment and I was sold after seeing just one word on the chalk-written menu board: affogato. Sold. I'm a sucker for affogato as it is, and on that hot Canadian day, the affogato hit the spot. One of the baristas also recommended the cherry rose green tea, for those who are laying low on the coffee. She said it's a crowd favorite and a nearby customer sipping on one agreed on it being a good choice and said it was very refreshing.
Our third stop on the coffee tour of Toronto's Kensington Market was at Fika, which lives in an adorable renovated house. While the barista in the cafe got started making Tegan and Sara's drinks, the three of us, along with a camera crew who was capturing the whole experience, went to a cozy back room that had walls lined with old book pages so we could chat about their real love of coffee and how they legitimately believe Canada has some of the best on offer.
Behind the scenes at Fika while Tegan and Sara film a spot for Hilton HHonors. Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Hedy Phillips
The coffee at Fika has that special something to it, just like the house that holds the shop. The Fika Cardamom Spiced Latte that Sara got had that extra kick of cinnamon to it that even Tegan couldn't deny was a nice touch. "It's like easing you into your day," she told Sara. The twins also shared a semlor, which is Fika's take on a Swedish classic. It is a cardamom bun with seasonal jam and almond paste topped with honey-sweetened whipped cream. They heartily dug in and sang its praises.
The baristas at Fika, like those at Jimmy's and Casa Coffee, were warm and inviting. Dare I say the myth about Canadians all being so friendly might actually be true? I have often believed that your barista has more to do with the coffee you drink than anything else, including the beans. I want to say that part of what makes Canadian coffee — Toronto specifically — so special is the lovely people who work at all these shops. Tegan and Sara could help but agree when I shared my opinion with them later on in the day. "We're huge fans of coffee," Tegan said. "There's something special about it here, so we love it," Sara agreed.