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Cafes

Moonbean Cafe

Posted by Sarah Ratchford / Posted on August 23, 2013

Moonbean Cafe TorontoMoonbean Cafe has been a beacon of caffeinated hope in Kensington Market for 18 years, and while it's changed with the times, owner Alan Erdstein has always kept coffee as the root of his cause.

New espresso bars like Cafe Pamenar and Jimmy's Coffee have been popping up in the hood in recent years, and as the treasured area's landscape changes, I thought I'd check with a coffee shop that helped establish the neighbourhood's character in the first place.

Moonbeam Cafe Kensington"We opened during the rougher times of Kensington Market, before it was trendy," Erdstein tells me late one afternoon, sitting in the café's sunny front window. He opened Moonbean's doors during a time that was tough economically, and because of that, the cafe was one of the first new businesses to come to the market in a while.

Moonbean CafeMoonbean's focus has always been on roasting and brewing its own coffee, all of which is fair-trade certified. Erdstein stocks an overwhelming number of bean varieties, housed in massive glass jars along the cafe's easternmost wall. As he explains his craft to me, I notice Erdsiten is a thoughtful speaker who chooses his words carefully. I ask if he writes, and he says he "writes his coffee." I get confused, so he shows me the labels on the jars.

Moonbean Cafe"This coffee differs a bit from other Ethiopians in that it is a dry processed coffee; only 20%-25% are produced this way. With this process, certain flavour profiles are retained within the coffee, and of course the strong blueberry notes are prevalent...The Harrar has an aroma that is magnificent and a heavier body than the washed coffees from Ethiopia generally have. Enjoy all the little nuanced flavours that shine in each cup." Clearly, Erdstein has a tender passion for his craft, and he knows what he's talking about.

"It was a unique thing...roasting coffee that wasn't from a chain," he says. In the '90s, before everything was neatly itemized and searchable online, it was much more difficult to start up an independent business. Back then, people found out about Moonbean through word of mouth.

Moonbean CafeTo be fair, that's how I found out about Moonbean. When I moved to the city, people I met who were born and raised in Toronto, and specifically near the market, would suggest it as a spot to study or meet to catch up. I say so to Erdstein, and he seems fairly pleased. It's still very much a neighbourhood institution, though the kinds of characters who frequent the shop have changed.

Erdstein says, for example, that people who lived in Kensington and visited the cafe as students tend to come back when they're older to grab beans for their French press. That aside, though, another major change is the sheer number of people around who seem to have become coffee aficionados. (Largely due, of course, to the fact that researching different varieties has become so much easier).

Moonbean CafeMoonbean has expanded over the years in order to welcome the growing number of clientele. In the early days, there was no patio, and no back room. Erdstein added those about five years after opening, and now the cafe seats about 100 people, including the space available on the patio.

Moonbean Cafe TorontoAs we chat, I sip a cappuccino made by Erdstein himself. It is perfectly frothy, perfectly sized, and includes just the amount of kick Goldilocks would be stoked about. Aside from the typical espresso-based beverages, though, Moonbean also has the capacity to make four different kinds of matcha latte, and Erdstein casually whips up his own chai, using about 10 different spices. It takes about 12 hours to cook.

Though Erdstein has remained committed to his craft for almost 20 years, he's open to new espresso spots trying their hand at living in the market.

"They're trendy, but they can do whatever they need to do," he says. Whatever happens, Moonbean has roots in the market, and the hood just wouldn't be the same without it.

Moonbean Cafe TorontoThanks to the New Listerine UltraClean for sponsoring our coffee-fueled adventures.

Photos by Jesse Milns

Discussion

13 Comments

Graham / August 23, 2013 at 01:03 pm
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Easily my favourite cafe in Toronto, and has been for the past 10 years. Moonbean was arguably the first of its kind in tihs city. It is a Kensington and Toronto institution.

I started going there as a student, and being in close proximity to this cafe was a deciding factor in my decision to move to Kensington Market. Although I have recently moved away, I still drink Moonbean's coffee every day. I'm currently on the Indian Monsoon Malabaar. It is some of the best coffee I've ever had!

As a student who used to go to Moonbean, and then came back later for beans for my French Press, I have to thank Alan for his indepth knowledge of his craft, and always being ready and willing to help with whatever questions I had (he taught me how to brew properly with my French Press - it's not as intuitive as you think).

If you haven't been here yet, you must go!
Peter / August 23, 2013 at 04:09 pm
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I like this place, but they need to do something about the layout, it's really busy inside, and always feels cramped when you're trying to order or pour a drip coffee
Adda / August 23, 2013 at 06:24 pm
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Love this place. Yes, it can get a little crowded but I like that it's different and a tiny bit chaotic in that way. Plus the back room is a really nice and cozy place to study in the winter.

AND, the owner is so friendly! Huge plus for me :)
ttraveller / August 24, 2013 at 04:58 am
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Alan Erdstein is a founding father of coffee culture in Toronto. He virtually, single-handedly invented on-site fresh roasting. If you love being in a place where every age, fashion, and coffee taste is celebrated, the Moonbean is your go-to. After 20 years of attending, I don't know anyone who has had less than a great coffee experience here.
J / August 26, 2013 at 02:19 am
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They make terrible iced coffee.
Rhonda / August 26, 2013 at 05:30 pm
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Found Moonbean by accident last year. I was born and raised in Toronto but left when I was 27. My husband wanted to visit the Market as there's nothing like it where he's from (Montreal). We found Moonbean, walked in and bought our first pound. We LOVED it! By far, hands down, THE best coffee we have EVER come across so far, so good that I now drive in from Waterloo every 6-8 weeks for more and will continue to do so.
markosaar / August 26, 2013 at 10:07 pm
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Moonbean is my go-to source for fresh roasted beans. Some of the best in the city, and unmatched in price.
Weirded out / September 3, 2013 at 05:40 pm
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I'm just going to come out and say it. I think its weird he only hires young asian girls.
marlene / September 23, 2013 at 06:59 am
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Excellent coffee and food. Gypsy Flame
Showband entertained outside the cafe one month ago at the
Kensington Pedestrian Mall and it was our first time there
and the service was superb. We can't wait to get back
there. However, we will be performing outside cafe Sept.29
from 1pm to 3pm. From now on it's going to be the destination
for Sunday afternoons.
marlene / September 23, 2013 at 07:01 am
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Love your delicious coffee and great food.
Jj / October 27, 2013 at 11:57 pm
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Great variety, and Al is overflowing with personality but what's with the coffee being consistently weak? Tasting all the burned flavours described on the label becomes an impossible task.
Jj / October 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm
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*nuanced
Cat Walker / October 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm
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Was there this past weekend, leading up to Halloween, and one of the servers was wearing a 'Pocahontus' type 'costume' ... There were about 6 of us, plus baby in stroller ... All set to enjoy a warm cuppa coffee and /or tea ... We we left after explaining to the young lady AND the owner how offensive we found her dress up to be ... Explaining how it would be just as offensive for her to be wearing 'blackface', or a yamaca (sorry -spelling?) a big nose and curly hair; or a little cap with a braid down the back , a satin kimono and say "ah so!"... and "no tikky, no laundry!"

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