When it comes to java, a lot of us can be creatures of habit. We walk into our favourite coffee shop every morning and order the usual. As far as getting that fix, we want what we know we like. But there's a whole wonderful world out there with all kinds of special coffee drinks — especially in Toronto. We scoured the city to find the best of the most unique coffees you can find to help you mix things up a little.
1. Bulldog: The Triple Chocolate Maple Passion
The Drink: It's no surprise that one of the best specialty coffees in the city comes from Bulldog's award-winning barista, Stuart Ross. The drink is "an espresso blend with dark chocolate notes on the finish" made with maple syrup cream, chocolate syrup placed on the inside of the glass, and even a touch of chilli powder. Ross' goal is "to make your tongue dance," and he succeeds. You'll want to nurse this coffee as slowly as possible to let every sweet, delicious sip linger. It's practically a drinkable dessert. This much delicious chocolate flavour is so hard to say no to, you almost want to buy two of them.
The Place: We've raved about Bulldog before. In a quiet little side street around the corner from Maple Leaf Gardens (rename it all you want — it will always be Maple Leaf Gardens), those who like their coffee great eagerly make their way here. It's the rare coffee shop where you don't hear a lot of regular latte or americano orders. Instead, everyone wants Ross' specialty drinks — whether it's The Bulldog or The Triple Chocolate Maple Passion.
2. Black Canary Espresso Bar: The Nutella Latte/Cappuccino
The Drink: Everybody loves Nutella. So you can imagine how easy it is to love coffee that's given that chocolate hazelnut boost. Before you even take a sip, Black Canary gives you a preview of what's to come. After the barista puts some Nutella at the bottom of the cup, you're given the spoon to lick clean (because Nutella should never be wasted). From there, they pull a shot of espresso, pour in the milk, and stir it a little before pouring the rest in to make sure the Nutella really mixes into your coffee. The result is a wonderful hazelnut flavour throughout the hot beverage that made me nurse this drink longer than any other drink I've ever had. It's hard to imagine anything better than licking Nutella off the spoon, but Black Canary's Nutella Latte is much, much better than that.
The Place: Black Canary Espresso Bar is great because it has a lot of character. It's an eclectic mix of all sorts of fantastic styles. There's prominent tiling on the floor, a fancy dining room table for seating, a chandelier-like light fixture, and a cozy nook with a vintage floral-patterned couch. There's basically a spot in here for every kind of personality. And even the baristas have character. They're full of life and energy and friendliness. That's probably why, when you're asked to lick that Nutella spoon, it doesn't feel weird to do so in public. Given its proximity to George Brown College, this place also has a great studious atmosphere that makes it perfect for getting work done.
3. Ella's Uncle: The Ella
The Drink: The first thing you'll notice about The Ella is its wonderful brown foam. That's because, as the café's barista shared with us, "We put the maple syrup into the milk and steam that together." It makes for a soft easing into the drink. You almost don't want to start going for the double shot of espresso below and enjoy the foam for as long as you can. But when you do move beyond, you're glad you did. You're not only rewarded by the nice kick from the espresso, but also the Maple-kissed flavours throughout the drink.
The Place: A step away from Ossington Station, Ella's Uncle is as charming as it sounds. It's the kind of place you walk into and immediately think, "I like it here." The interior is warm and bright. So is the staff who greet you like an old friend the moment you enter. And there's great bar-stool style seating here, in particular with two prime spots by the front windows facing Bloor Street. I tend to work a lot in cafés, but the comforting feel of Ella's Uncle had me so relaxed, I found myself just people-watching as I enjoyed every relaxed, mapley-good sip of me Ella coffee.
4. Arte Gelato: Hot Gelato
The Drink: It might seem counterintuitive to take something we love cold and make it hot. Arte Gelato proves it's anything but counter-intuitive. As the barista told us, "Hot Gelato is made from any milk-based gelato. We grab two or three scoops and we broth it up." The result is a sweet, creamy concoction that's pure bliss and that you'll not want to share (if you're anything like me). Basically, imagine an amazing mix of a milkshake and a hot chocolate. Who doesn't want that? Now, technically the Hot Gelato isn't always coffee. We were told, "It depends on which gelato we have out at the time. Our coffee gelato is actually made with our coffee." So if it's out there, be sure to go for it. Depending on the gelato, the drink can be a little too sweet for some, but a little bitter coffee taste would be just the thing to make a Hot Gelato absolutely perfect.
The Place: Coffee shop, gelateria, and sandwich place Arte Gelato is a European-style all-in-one stop for all kinds of deliciousness. And who doesn't like enjoying gelato while feeling like you're in Europe? Right outside the Delaware Avenue exist of Ossington Station, come summer, Arte Gelato is a very hard place to walk past — especially given how incredibly friendly and welcoming the staff are from the moment you step through the door into the colourful, relaxed interior. Perfect gelato eating conditions!
5. Café Novo: The Latte au Miel
The Drink: Honey is usually tea's domain — understandable, given that its powerful, dominating taste could easily smother the welcome bitterness of coffee. Café Novo proves honey and java can be a perfect match with the Latte au Miel. Their barista told us they "coat the bottom of the glass in a thin layer of honey, and when the espresso shot hits it, it changes its flavour profile. You have a more viscous fluid to work with when you're pouring the milk in." The result is a latte with a perfect, subtle sweetness that makes for one delicious coffee treat. You almost forget that honey is even there, until you take a sip and every time wonder, "What is that amazing hint of sweetness?" And then you remember. And then you marvel all over again at how honey in coffee can work this well and taste this good.
The Place: Rooster Coffee House (another one of our favourites) may have the best view of any java spot in the city, but Café Novo comes pretty close. Located right across from High Park, this coffee shop is quintessential Bloor West: a cozy, neighbourly home away from home. Something as soothing as honey (in coffee) makes a lot of sense for this spot. Oh, and it's worth mentioning that the coffee shop also has a welcome piano and an amazing patio in the summer.