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Coffee Culture

Posted by Emily Thomas / Posted on August 28, 2009

Coffee CultureCoffee Culture is a franchise. Let's just get that point out of the way. It's a medium-sized (31 stores) Canadian franchise spread across Ontario. Furthermore, it's a franchise that decided to open its first Toronto location right across the street from (arguably) the most celebrated little quality coffee shop in the city. C'mon, that is gutsy. That is oddly impressive. Who are these people at Coffee Culture? More importantly, who do they think they are?Coffee CultureIf their gaudy website and/or info pamphlet are any indication, they are first and foremost a place that has free Internet and a plasma TV. Now, I haven't thought about plasma TV in a long time, but I don't remember it being such a bad thing. Plus, the website says they carry sandwiches and welcome casual business meetings, so Alyssa and I and one of our business partners went over there for lunch on Monday to check out this confusing establishment.Coffee CultureThe first thing I notice about Coffee Culture is... the booths. There are many and they look really comfortable and over/undersized (each side is not quite big enough for two people, not quite small enough for just one). Most booths are occupied by lone individuals on their laptops, presumably enjoying that advertised free wifi, so the three of us are left with some comfy chairs in the corner next to the faux fireplace and plasma TV broadcasting a muted CP24.Coffee CultureThe offerings are extensive: grilled sandwiches of all sorts, bagels and soups of the day, espresso drinks and freshly baked (from frozen) Danishes. There is also a selection of "famous cookies" and cakes from La Rocca. Although no one can tell me where the bread and bagels come from, the service so adorably pleasant that I can only assume these people are happy I'm here.Coffee CultureCollectively, we have three different sandwiches (margherita chicken, chicken and roasted vegetables and honey grilled ham with Swiss), a soup of the day (tomato bisque) and one coffee. The soup ($2.50 to add) "tastes kind of homemade." The sandwiches ('bout $6 each) are not terribly disappointing, obviously recently assembled and about on par with any mid level food franchise (like one of those Subway sandwiches). Alyssa is the one with the coffee and she shrugs her shoulders about it. "On the better side of standard," she says.Coffee CultureTo sum up: as far as the food and drink go, there are no surprises here at Coffee Culture, which is precisely what's so... surprising. The place is full to the brim. We couldn't even get a booth! Sandwiches are being ordered left, right n' centre and the place appears to be doing killer business, even across the street from Manic, and Kahawa which we dropped into for comparisons sake and found pretty quiet (and they even have a lunch menu and a sign offering free wifi at Kahawa).Coffee CultureI like to drop into Tim Horton's from time to time because it's a remnant comfort from my childhood. I understand the presence of Second Cup and Starbucks because they were around way before this indie coffee house Toronto blow-up in recent years. But this new place confuses me. It's comfortable in there, but I wouldn't expect it to thrive in a quality coffee neighbourhood like this. I wouldn't even expect it to appear in a neighbourhood like this. Who are these people at Coffee Culture with their comfortable booths and their standard brew?Coffee CultureCoffee CultureCoffee CultureCoffee CultureCoffee Culture

Photos by Alyssa Bistonath



Katy McDevitt / August 29, 2009 at 09:57 am
I've never been to Coffee Culture, so can't pass judgment on its charms or lack thereof. But I do wonder if maybe, in part, people don't even know that it's a chain. Honestly, I didn't. And the only thing that's prevented me from trying it is loyalty to Manic, which is my favourite coffee joint in that neck of the woods.

Equally, I'm sure, there are people who DO know it's a chain and like that cos at a chain you never have to expect the unexpected, yeah?
Dave / August 29, 2009 at 10:48 am
You rave about the booths, the seating, but no pics? I would much rather see the layout of the place then a close-up shot of pie.
nutellapr / August 29, 2009 at 11:13 am
meh, have a look at the pics on their website. Looks and feels like a typical American shopping mall chain restaurant that specializes in coffee.
DS / August 29, 2009 at 01:38 pm
Coffee Culture's parent company is The Obsidian Group, who also controls the mediocre Crabby Joe's chain.
Gloria / August 29, 2009 at 01:44 pm
Well, if places like Manic are frequented by people who like to talk about *other* people's baffling tastes in mediocre cuisine, then I can see why they'd rather go to Coffee Culture.
nick d / August 29, 2009 at 01:53 pm
I love how the place is called Coffee Culture, yet Coffee seems to be the furthest thing from their priority ("On the better side of standard" ...really?). Not one photo of their "espresso drinks" (the first thing on the mind of any 'true' coffee lover), instead, promises of free wi-fi and TV (why not just stay home?)

This review merely reinforces my original aversion to even trying this place out- especially since Manic offers everything I could ask for from a coffee shop (ie: amazing espresso, minimal saturation of laptop-toting internet-junkies, and an unregulated soundtrack.)
Randy / August 29, 2009 at 02:32 pm
I would rather go to Coffee Culture than the Manic and Kahawa after reading this review as per Gloria's comment.
Dave / August 29, 2009 at 04:42 pm
The real answer to the question is that Coffee Culture, when planning for this location, only cared if there was a Tim Hortons nearby, not if there was an espresso bar or serious coffee place close. I think that's obvious isn't it?
Tim / August 29, 2009 at 08:20 pm
Coffee Culture have a location in Hanover, Ontario, which is a godsend for me when I visit my parents who are in dial-up hell. Their coffee is better than Tim Horton's (basically the only other option, other than fast food coffee), but I've found it not on par with smaller places in Toronto (e.g. Cherry Bomb, Lit, Ella's Uncle).

However, my experiences have been pretty positive and really cheap refills. I doubt I'll go to the Toronto location, but do wish them well.
Ansanter / August 30, 2009 at 02:54 am
So you are discounting the value of your experience based on the fact that it is a chain? Sometimes I find that by being a chain an establishment can lose it's charms, but I didn't even know Coffee Culture was a chain when I went there. The service is super friendly, the seating is comfy, the lighting is nice, the drinks and food are all good. Other cafes which comparison have been drawn too have a much much smaller selection of beverages and food. Yes they aren't going to have vegan chocolate cookies, but the place isn't brimming with people wearing over sized sunglasses. Hipsters just feel uncomfortable when they aren't included. I say this with an air of cheekiness. The place is just nice, get over it. This place is what chains like star bucks or second cup are aspiring to be and fall flat.
Ansanter replying to a comment from nick d / August 30, 2009 at 03:06 am
I am sorry there feller, but you mustn't have much of a sweet tooth because manics sweet selection is lacking. And I love their vegan chocolate cookies darn it. So when you go to a coffee shop you sit there and judge the internet junkies? Maybe you should get a hobby that involves something better than judging others through your oversize sunglasses you tight jean, American Apparel white t vneck wearing pretensions dip $#!t. And what in the name of all that is good is an unregulated sound track? "My itunes play list is on random. I live on the edge of what we conceive as being cool. I am beyond what any human dialect can describe." Any sound track is regulated by someones frekking taste and runs the risk of being disliked. Put in your white ear buds, crank up your iphone and shut up. If we had it your way we would just be avoiding anything that might be conformist. Nuff said. And please, can we all get a little aggressive in comment sections now and then without people whinging about it? Otherwise this might happen
jane / August 30, 2009 at 08:29 pm
william's coffee pub by another name
Gastronomic gastroenterologist / August 30, 2009 at 08:44 pm
This is so typical... A pathetic review of a cafe/coffee place without a proper review or even understanding of real coffee... Until then, this city will continue to be populated by "coffee joints" like TH/SB etc.
David replying to a comment from Gastronomic gastroenterologist / August 31, 2009 at 12:17 am
Hey, maybe take a moment and try to see a perspective other than your own. Now imagine that everyone in the world is not interested in a convoluted, flavour profile in a cafe review. Also, Every city has places like this, and Starbucks, etc. Did you think that average/middle of the road cafes were somehow exclusives of Toronto? I think the one typical thing about this review is the critical/pompous comment posting with someone going by the name "Gastronomic gastroenterologist". I bet your foodie friends love you. In my opinion, I wouldn't blame the success of Tim Horton's or Coffee Culture on a blog posting. Just saying.
Cheese / August 31, 2009 at 09:36 am
I really love coffee culture - perhaps because I had a great hangover coffee there one day at the Burlington location, and now it's just a sentimental thing. Think of it as somewhere between Tim's and Starbuckle. Yes, it's average. I think that's what I like about it.

p.s. their chocolate croissants are filled with a nutella-like ganache. it's intense.
Tanks / August 31, 2009 at 10:07 am
I haven't had their regular coffee, but their frozen drinks are okay (if sugary). I do appreciate the large patio. I think I've gone there three times, and the last two times the music was exactly the same playlist - I think it was from some kind of adult-contemporary satellite radio station, or at least that was the impression I had. Music's not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it was a little annoying to hear exactly the same thing like that.

I still prefer Kahawa.
Sean M. / August 31, 2009 at 06:42 pm
I will commend Coffee Culture for having a bold location strategy. Hanover, Ontario is the perfect example. They have locations in Downtown Milton and Downtown Brampton, which really needed a good hang-out joint. CC has been one of the best things happen recently to Downtown Brampton, and the coffee is good, the sandwiches fine, and open late and really comfy.
Sean M. / August 31, 2009 at 06:47 pm
An addendum: the College Street store is a surprising deviation - the chain seems to have done well by going into smaller towns and neglected downtowns (like Brampton, Oshawa, Sarnia).

Heck, they have a location in Downtown Brantford, which a few years ago looked like a war zone (and parts of it still do). At least someone is taking a bit of a risk and doing well.
Robson / September 1, 2009 at 05:17 pm
I get the appeal of Manic, but their espresso is hideously bitter and unfortunate.

Kahawa suffers from an all too confusing name and questionable graphic design, which makes the place a bit unmemorable when walking by.

Coffee Culture is an alright place. It's not Tim Hortons and it's not Starbucks. It's full because some people just don't fit into skinny jeans and don't like deep-vs...
tanya / September 3, 2009 at 02:00 pm
Admittedly I haven't tried the College St location, but when I was in vacation in Owen Sound two weeks ago, the coffee at CC was so bad that I had to throw it in the garbage. Even after I put milk in it. Even though I had been sleeping in a tent for a week and desperately in need of coffee, I had to throw it in the garbage. That's pretty bad.
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