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Capital Espresso

Posted by Staff / Posted on November 19, 2010

Capital Espresso TorontoCapital Espresso is a pleasant sight on the gloomy Saturday morning when my friend and I decide to meet early to check out what Parkdale's newest cafe has to offer. Just opened in the former Vice Magazine office on the corner of Queen and Dunn, the all-glass exterior reveals a warm, welcoming interior, and as we enter from the rainy outdoors, we're greeted by the uplifting scent of coffee and freshly baked muffins.

Capital Espresso TorontoFor fellow Parkdalians and coffee shop dwellers, there may be some familiar faces behind the bar at Capital. Owners Damien, Alex and Maggie were until recently tending to the caffeine deprived at Blondie's down the street, renting the bar as a coffee shop by day. Regardless of the telltale espresso machine, Blondie's dark bar and black furniture had an appearance that was distinctively more night club than cafe, and co-owner Damien explains that the trio fell in love with the old Vice space and decided it was time to open a place of their own.

Capital Espresso TorontoCapital's interior is reasonably large and open, but the exposed brick, wood floors and big couch in the front make it feel cozy. A row of blonde wood tables line one side of the room, and a few stools allow for some bar seating in front of the small kitchen set-up from which they prepare their fresh-daily snacks. The cafe might be professional in appearance, but something about the atmosphere makes it feel sort of like someone's living room as neighbourhood regulars perch in the dormer windows and cozy up in corners with their coffees, books and laptops.

The drink menu offers all your regular espresso drinks, as well as French press, loose-leaf teas and Italian sodas, and though the food menu alludes only to unidentified muffins and cookies, I get the feeling that customers are surprised daily with whatever interesting treats the baker decides to prepare.

Capital Espresso TorontoMy friend and I start by ordering an espresso ($2.25) and a cappuccino ($3.25) and it becomes immediately obvious that Damien is very much at home in front of an espresso machine. With him and Alex having acquired over ten years of barista experience, including stints at some of the city's favourite espresso bars - Te Aro, Dark Horse and Mercury to name a few - it's safe to say these guys know their coffee, and are very passionate about what they do.

After grinding the five-bean blend from Origins Coffee Company, an artisan roastery in Granville Island, the La Marzocco espresso machine is put to work, and moments later out comes my single espresso shot. I quickly make my way over to the counter where I drop a spoonful of raw sugar onto the espresso and watch with pleasure as the sugar hovers on top of the thick crema for awhile before slowly sinking into the espresso, which proves to taste as delicious as it looks.

Capital Espresso TorontoThe cappuccino then appears on the bar lovingly decorated with a leaf pattern, the milk perfectly frothed. These coffees disappear extremely quickly, and we also order a couple of americanos ($2.50) to enjoy with our baked goods.

Capital Espresso TorontoAt so early an hour, not much has emerged from the oven, but a couple cooling racks on the counter hold fresh, still-warm blueberry bran and banana chocolate chip muffins. Co-owner Maggie, a Cordon Bleu Paris-trained pastry chef, uses all her own recipes for the baked goods, and today in her absence Alex is in the kitchen following the instructions for her rustic muffins.

Capital Espresso TorontoI have some serious nostalgia for banana chocolate chip muffins; Not only were they one of my mom's specialties, they were also the first thing I ever baked on my own as a kid. There's nothing more comforting than food that brings back good childhood memories, and these large, moist muffins decorated with a sprinkling of chocolate chips are just how I hoped they would be.

Looking to grab a coffee and sample more of the baked goods, I stop by Capital a couple days later at a more appropriate hour to discover a counter full of delectable looking sweets. Sadly I'm without my butter tart-loving photographer when I discover three different kinds of butter tarts (all $2.50). The little cups come with classic plain filling, or prepared with the addition of walnuts or banana. I can't resist the banana, a tart with perfect pastry crust, sweet gooey filling, and the added flavour of a slice of banana baked into the middle.

I find myself headed home with a bag that also includes a dense vegan peanut butter chocolate chip cookie ($2), a warm, spicy pear and ginger muffin complete with chunks of pear throughout and a light glaze on top, and a hearty carrot coconut muffin (both $2.50). I leave convinced that Parkdale's bakery-deprived core finally has what I've been hoping for for a long time, a coffee shop that not only offers great coffee, but also lots of homemade treats.

Capital Espresso TorontoOn a corner currently housing a funeral home and a recently closed-down Blockbuster, I can't think of a more cheerful addition than Capital Espresso. In my humble opinion, Parkdale is made better and better with each new addition to the growing collection of shops, cafes and restaurants, and this spot is no exception. With its welcoming atmosphere, friendly staff and expertly prepared coffee and baked goods, Capital is sure to become a neighbourhood staple.

Capital Espresso TorontoWriting by Meaghan Binstock. Photos by Taralyn Marshall.



Jane / November 19, 2010 at 03:23 pm
Why do these places never open past 7pm?
lucky / November 19, 2010 at 04:17 pm
because nobody really buys coffee after 7pm. people just sit around using wireless.
Sam / November 19, 2010 at 04:51 pm
I can't figure out why these 'indie' cafe's have their roasted coffee shipped in from places like Granville Island instead of finding a local roaster. The double carbon footprint on coffee shipped twice (once from where they were grown and again from where they were roasted) just leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
Jdan / November 19, 2010 at 05:07 pm
Jane, I know what you mean!

Hanging out at cafes in the late evening is one of my favourite things to do. It seems not too many cafes around the city do that. Sad.
Dave Z / November 19, 2010 at 05:37 pm
Coffee you Tran believe in...
declan / November 19, 2010 at 07:27 pm
It would be great if they were opened until ten or so.

No time for Coffee Time
Nick / November 19, 2010 at 10:40 pm
Sam -- These 'indie' cafes ship their coffee because they can't source better in town. You notice that it's the same handful of roasters from Vancouver, Montreal and Chicago popping up at the better shops in town? It's because they're better. Trust me, nobody would choose to import coffee if they could avoid it - it's costly, it causes inventory complications (keeping a fresh supply is tricky when you take into account resting time as well), and as you rightly point out it has a bad carbon impact. It's not an optimal situation, but it's part of the reason people rave about the coffee. And really, if you're bothered by the environmental implications you should probably cut coffee out of your diet.

Nice work Capital!
Nick replying to a comment from Sam / November 19, 2010 at 11:16 pm
Sam it's because sometimes, it's not ONLY about sourcing local. If local product isn't up to snuff, then what's the point of selling it? Selling an inferior product only because it's local isn't exactly the most prudent way to run a business and turn a profit.
tim paye / November 20, 2010 at 09:56 am
They should get the FTO beans imported, ground, and roasted by The Coffee Tree in Bloor West
Nick / November 20, 2010 at 10:33 am
No, they shouldn't.
alexd / November 20, 2010 at 10:34 am
Nice looking spot guys! Still miss you in the east end though! Best wishes for the new venture and I hope to pop by for a large Americano soon.

Sam replying to a comment from Nick / November 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm
Oh Hey Nick-

I could agree, but have you even looked at the local roasters? We have some of the most discerning people in the world sourcing and roasting right here in this city- including the FIRST importer of Fair Trade coffee in Canada Merchants of Green Coffee who work with local roasters to get their green beans roasted.

Since coffee isn't grown here and is imported from all over the world, the notion that we don't/can't have good coffee imported to and roasted in Toronto is absurd.

To start, off the top of my head: (these guys are used by gourmet chefs all over the city- but hey- probably not very good)

Of course, there are a number of other smaller folks doing it well, Te Aro, I Deal Coffee etc. If you know of more, list them here!
Sam replying to a comment from Nick / November 20, 2010 at 01:31 pm
Why was my last comment censored? There was nothing inappropriate in it at all.
Coffeestork / November 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm
Loved the espresso at Capital as I outlined in my own blog review, but found it a bit of a crime that the reviewer here ladled raw sugar into this. Anyhow.

As for all of the roaster talk - there are great local artisan roasters in Toronto - Social, Te Aro, Detour, and now Sense Appeal. At the same time, I enjoy having some of the best roasters from around North America featured here in Toronto - diversity is fun enjoy it. Would you enjoy just drinking Ontario wines because of the carbon footprint. Live a little.
Tim replying to a comment from Sam / November 21, 2010 at 11:02 am
Sorry about that. Your comment was caught in our spam filter. It's now published.
Bryan replying to a comment from Sam / November 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

While yes, perhaps there is some roasters around the city that deserve praise. I can tell you that most of them do not reach the standard that is expected in current third wave shops. If you want to open a cafe and just make money, then sure get your stuff locally, I encourage that completely. But if you want to have a signature, something that sets you apart from all the other "indie" shops, then you need to go beyond the status quo. We, as coffee drinkers would be bored to death if all that was served was Dark City or Te Aro in every store in town. It's boring, and because coffee is a completely personal preference, there needs to be variety. There is simply not enough roasters in the city offering what the Owners, Baristi, and Customers are looking for. It sucks that we have to create such a footprint, but when coffee is an art, like it is to a lot of us, you need to think of personal taste and preference.
Nick / November 21, 2010 at 11:34 am
Sam, in response to your question "have you even looked at the local roasters?" the answer is yes. I am perfectly aware of what the local roasters have to offer and I would like nothing more for them to exceed the standards set by roasters in the pacific northwest and in chicago. We have a very young coffee scene, and it follows that while we're enjoying a period of growth in the quality of indie coffee shops we're still waiting for the roasters to catch up. This could take a very long time. And please, please! Do not ever use gourmet chefs as examples to lead by.

I think it's also symptomatic of the provincial mindset here in TO that people deign to chime in about better local options when they obviously lack knowledge and credibility. Sam, I'm not talking about you here, I'm referring to the poor misguided fellow that suggested Capital have their coffee ground elsewhere. Some people are not meant to be critics.
Muffin Man / November 21, 2010 at 12:30 pm
I really like the coffee from the Capital / Blondies crew. Those muffins are really good too. I think it's great that they have their own space now, it's much brighter and more appropriate. On more than one occasion in the past, I'd get a bit trashed at Blondie's, then return the very next morning for a hangover coffee or two. It was a bit odd, although they did do a great job of disguising the place (sometimes I actually forgot that I had been knocking back beers at the same 'bar' just hours earlier). Anyway, the new place is looking great. I'm still amazed out how suddenly parkdale was blessed with so many great coffee options. It used to be that the best coffee 'round here was Rustic Cosmo or the Gladstone... no offense to them but their coffee is ass.

Cindy / November 21, 2010 at 07:46 pm
We've been in here early the past two Sundays and it's always such a homey feeling. The sweet smell of freshly baked muffins is delicious. Americano was perfect. If only they were closer to us over in the east!
Coffeestork / November 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm
Sam -
As for top chefs, I never order coffee in a restaurant. With very exceptions, coffee is an after thought for a chef that is served with dessert.

Additionally, in my humble opinion, I have to disagree that Merchants of Green Coffee, Fresh Coffee Network and Dark City are in the top tier in the city. I would much sooner put Social, Detour, Te Aro, and from what I've heard Sense Appeal into this top tier.

As to comparing these roasters to the likes of Stumptown, 49th Parallel Roasters and Intelligentsia, I don't think this can be fairly done. I do think the quality and the product of the new upcoming Toronto roasters should be celebrated and enjoyed as I've had some wonderful coffees from all of the ones that I mentioned. I look forward to see how these roasters blossom as I know some of them have their sites set on this top tier.
mike in parkdale / November 23, 2010 at 02:07 pm
went in for coffee this morning - I was very impressed with it.

as for the reviewers line:

"I leave convinced that Parkdale's bakery-deprived core finally has what I've been hoping for for a long time, a coffee shop that not only offers great coffee, but also lots of homemade treats."

"Bakery-deprived" ??

While the coffee isn't as good at Brown Sugar, the selection of baked goods is far superior. Or at least it was compared to my first visit to Capital.
aren / November 25, 2010 at 09:14 am
These are certainly the best muffins in Toronto. If their high quality keeps up Capital, I'll keep coming and bringing friends.
V / November 27, 2010 at 08:47 am
Super well-designed space. It's fairly narrow but they absolutely made the most of it with benches all along the walls, and bar stool seating at the counter. I love the coat hangers they have under the ledge of the bar, so you can hang your coat up instead of draping it ineffectively over your stool, or putting it on the floor. That's the kind of attention to detail you get when you know a place is serious about being good. Most importantly, however, the coffee was excellent. I had an espresso and a cappuccino personally, plus a sip of my friend's hot chocolate, and all were well made. I also like that the prices on the menu board are post-tax.
Anonymous / December 1, 2010 at 06:20 pm
I wonder which shops "Bryan" and "Nick" own in the city.

Coffee shop owners ruin comments feeds.
Try to make it less obvious

Opa replying to a comment from Nick / December 11, 2010 at 06:58 pm
You don't have to post the same thing twice.
More Anonymous replying to a comment from Anonymous / December 30, 2010 at 01:22 am
Both people you referred to offered thoughtful and insightful responses.

You did not.
Try to contribute
Tim / January 3, 2011 at 03:03 pm
I have to agree with some of the above posters in wishing that more coffee places were open a bit later in the evening. I really like Lit on Roncesvalles, but it closes during the week at 6pm.

Although, I asked about coffee shops/cafes being open later, and I guess there's a dead-zone from about 5-8 where not much would be sold, so perhaps it's not really a sustainable thing to do from an income point of view.
thunderbuster replying to a comment from Nick / May 11, 2011 at 02:28 pm
that is hilarious... no they shouldn't
Paul / June 2, 2011 at 04:49 pm
Great article. And the comments are even better.
I loved the one about, that noone drinks the coffee after 7 p.m. ... and after that time they just sit and use wierless...
that is a huge problem - we are losing the ability to communicate as we keep twittering or facebooking 24/7. I wish the wierless would be banned from coffee shops. So people could talk! Not type!!!
doug replying to a comment from Paul / December 5, 2011 at 05:14 pm
paul its not the computers, its you. they just all pretend to look at their computers, because you're there.

once you leave, they all talk to each other, because there is no longer 'that guy to avoid eye contact with'.
baz / December 7, 2011 at 03:23 pm
As often as I can, I pop in for an Americano. Capital is right around the corner from me, and the staff/owners are super sweet. And yes, I bought a shirt too! Will hit a muffin this weekend...
Jan replying to a comment from Bryan / April 24, 2012 at 05:11 pm
I'd like to address those people that are defending the practice of importing beans roasted far away, rather than just using locally roasted beans.

Most of them claim that the beans are "not up to snuff", in other words they're just not good enough to sell to our collective discerning coffee palates. Let's be real here: most people are ordering americanos (which they promptly fill with cream and sugar) or milk-based espresso beverages (which is mostly filled with milk, and later probably some sugar as well). If you were actually concerned with the taste of your product you'd be as concerned about the source of your water as well as the source of your milk and sugar. Last I checked, nobody is importing specialty sugars or the best possible milk. Nor is any coffee shop using some difficult to find mineral water, or employing some sophisticated filtering process to ensure high quality water. Afterall, if most of my drink is water or milk you'd think that you'd start there if you were really concerned with the quality of the coffee.

Even for those of us that do order espresso or drink our coffee black, we need to really concentrate on what we're drinking in order to be able to appraise those supposed quality differences between the Vancouver roaster and Toronto roaster. No offence, but that happens probably less than 1 in 10 times.

So, unless you're coffee shop is specifically directed at the 1 in 100 people that meet those criteria I doubt it will really matter whether you're sourcing your beans from quality roasters here or elsewhere.

But let's be real here, what you're actually worried about is the coffee shop narrative, something along the lines of: "our award-winning barristas only use the finest beans imported from Columbia and subsequently roasted in the lush verdant forests of our nation west coast." etc. Now, obviously you can't reveal that what you're cultivating is merely an image because that would send the entire project crashing down. However, lying online isn't going to help you either. Your best option would have been to just ignore the nay-sayers.

The end.
John / April 25, 2012 at 10:07 pm
Went in there last Saturday morning at about 10am and asked for a latte to go. The The "Y" generation ignorant jack-off behind the counter looks at me as though he's doing me a favour.
He didn't even utter a single word. Not one.
Might be a reason why there was only 2 people in the place.

Lose the f--ing attitude...

I'll spend my money somewhere else.
DM replying to a comment from lucky / April 15, 2014 at 11:41 am
Tis tru
Steve replying to a comment from John / April 17, 2014 at 03:04 pm
100% agree. Pretentious hipster douchebags think they are god's gift to coffee and can fuck right off. Enjoy slinging java for the next decade of your livers you pricks before you realize your lives are shit.
nida / September 1, 2014 at 03:33 pm
Always loveeee the cortado is my favourite cortado in the city! ... didn t like at all the muffin and today after drinking cortado and cappuccino everyday i tried the ice cap it s a big joke ... the cup was 3/4 full a kind of ice in ... very bitter... really i think that the jce cap of tim hortons is better. So guys i love you especially your customer service and your hot beverages but please stop doing this weird thing that i bought for 4bucks today.
Kai / September 26, 2014 at 08:49 pm
I kind of agree that this place is a magnet for the aging hipster type, you will see one sipping on the bench as you enter. If that's your thing you will love it there. The coffee is pricey and isn't very good but that's common. It's too bad that they don't use compostable cups and lids. I don't think it's Capital that bothers me as much as feeling douchey walking around with a four dollar to go cup in my hand. I think coffee culture is starting to become too wasteful and gross in general.
Kai's happier side replying to a comment from Kai / September 29, 2014 at 06:48 am
@Kai: You're a whining baby. But you fit right in with the complainers of comment sections. Capital is a great, little place. No better or worse than te aro, Mercury, Social, or any of the zillion cool shops in the city. Some of us remember only Second Cups everywhere, then Starbucks. Nice to have people who give a shit making good coffee. Life is good! Compost yourself as a start lol
Kai / October 1, 2014 at 02:43 pm
Okay...but what have you to say about the wastefulness of coffee culture? Just that I should shut up because life is so good and you don't give a shit? You're actually somewhat right in that not one specific cafe is at fault but I live in Parkdale and it's capital cups that I see overflowing waste bins. I'm interested in your response to that.
Elizabeth / October 16, 2014 at 02:51 am
Does anyone know where Capitol buys its muffins from? Particularly, the pumpkin-chocolate.
Jordan / December 16, 2014 at 01:05 am
The Steady has free wifi and a full espresso/tea menu and is open nights from 6pm onwards. Lots of seating, cool vibe.

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