I’m a strong believer that cafés, bakeries and small restaurants make the neighbourhoods… and now, here we go again with a fourth wave, having to be very careful to protect these fragile ecosystems we used to take for granted.
“Step into my office…” is what I would say to people meeting me in cafés. Ever since I got my first laptop, I've been writing in coffee shops. I’ve always loved the white noise and welcomed the distraction of watching regulars go about their daily life. (I call it productive procrastination.)
My first guide, Toronto Fun Places, was written in Tango Palace Coffee Company on Queen East (then one of the few cool options, and still an institution in Leslieville). My first walking guide for girlfriends was mainly done at Merchants of Green Coffee (when they had a live-in cat!). They are moving now, and don’t know where yet. For Toronto Urban Walks for Girlfriends 2, it was a tie between Dark Horse Espresso Bar in Riverside and Te Aro (now called Pilot Coffee Roasters). Then, I started to work in cafés all over Toronto as I scouted for my next guide.
Bean counters will agree with me…
One thing I've learned in 2020-21, is that neighbourhood life can survive if everyone (who can afford it) accepts to pay a bit more to help local businesses.
In 2020 and 2021, I felt that each dollar I did NOT save
by choosing to buy from small businesses was actually
an investment to maintain the quality of life in my neighbourhood.
In March 2020, I started to order take-out from the local restaurants we would normally visit. From then on, as often as possible, I ordered coffee and desserts to go whenever I walked by a café or a bakery, I bought bread at the local bakery instead of the supermarket. Got my gifts in the local boutiques instead of ordering on Amazon. My tiny actions to make sure they would still be there when we get on the other side of the many curves…
One month into the pandemic, I got the best birthday gift: the Breville Barista Express espresso machine. (It was a landmark birthday, I‘ll say no more.) From then on, I decided to buy a pound of beans whenever I stopped at an independent café.
Trying different beans from various roasters in the GTA, I came to realize that the taste of coffee differs, depending if it was prepared on the big fancy espresso machines at the café, or at home, with my French press or the Breville. It became a little project of mine to find the best beans to get the most of my new machine.
I discovered the wide range of beans of roasters De Mello in their back store on Yonge. Each bean bag bares their trademark funky tiger in the back with evocative tasting notes on the front. I loved the Butterfly Kiss blend (apricot jam, jasmin, mixed berries), light as a butterfly, but the sturdy kind, that can fly to Mexico. The Gentleman roast (rich, smooth, dark chocolate) is a got-to when I want a stronger coffee. Their very mellow Myanmar Moe blend is described as having notes of fig, green apple and cacao nibs.
If, like me, you miss working in cafés (such as the Rooster Coffee House in Riverdale seen here in better days)... you might like my idea to cheat my brain into thinking it's business as usual (watch this clip sound on!). You're welcome.
Nathalie Prézeau is the author of the walking guide Toronto BEST Urban Strolls available in Toronto’s major bookstores, on torontourbangems.com/shop and amazon.ca or indigo.ca. We also deliver or contact the author directly at email@example.com to arrange for a pick up with a discount at 299 Booth Avenue, in Leslieville.