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Torontonians can now take their pick of coffee trucks

Posted by Natalia Manzocco / July 14, 2014

coffee food truckThe Toronto food truck scene is heating up in a major way this summer, with the creation of not one, but two new food truck alleys, and a slew of new trucks hitting the road. Thanks to some new coffee food trucks, it's about to get a major caffeine jolt, too.

Steel Cut Coffee rolled onto Toronto's streets this May, with Macchina following closely on its heels. It's an exponential rise in the number of coffee-slinging trucks: Until recently, the lone player was Detour Coffee, who also operate a roastery and a cafe in Dundas, Ont. (Last year, Junction Triangle cafe Hula Girl was also flogging their wares out of a truck of their own but it was shut down and re-branded.)

Macchina, the newest kid on the block, packs a lever-arm Astoria espresso machine into a traditional Italian truck - a tiny, three-wheeled Piaggio Ape. When owner Jeff Douglas (also of the CBC's As It Happens) and his wife Ana Maria Diez stumbled upon the truck, he says, "it didn't become so much as a food truck as a portable espresso bar."

The espresso in question: a custom blend created by Spitfire Coffee Roasters (behind the team that runs Cherry Bomb on Roncesvalles). They've also agreed to partner up with Cookie Martinez to serve some baked goods.

coffee food truckSteel Cut is similarly European on the outside (they're set into a refurbished Citroen van), but set themselves apart by offering hearty breakfasts like steel-cut oatmeal (with your choice of fruit and nut toppings) and homemade baked goods, including loaves, squares and cookies. They're also getting rave reviews for their espresso, courtesy of Pig Iron.

Detour, who often show up at different markets, festivals and other events around southwestern Ontario, can still be seen in Toronto on occasion in their little yellow '60s trailer, dishing out espresso drinks, cookies, and a few seasonal specials/oddities, like coffee soda.

That motley assortment of vehicles gives Toronto's coffee trucks the novelty they need to break folks away from their tried-and-true brews. (People are creatures of habit; coffee drinkers, doubly so.)

"The Ape is very popular - I think the curb appeal, when people see it, it makes them feel good. It makes them happy. It looks like a clown car or a toy, you know?" The downside: The city still requires coffee food trucks to include all the necessary gear that a full-service food truck handling raw ingredients would need, meaning Douglas had to shoehorn it all - including four sinks - onto the Ape's 25 square feet of space.

You'll find the coffee trucks at festivals and food truck-friendly events, and they're a popular draw for businesses or private events looking to treat their employees or guests to coffee. But given Toronto's strong cafe scene, and the relative newness of the coffee truck as an idea in Toronto, Steel Cut's Janet Chant says location is crucial.

"We've certainly learned a lot about choosing our destinations wisely, in terms of fairs and festivals and that sort of thing. The demographics do make a big, big difference." The Steel Cut customer, she adds, is generally 25 to 45, has had some exposure to the downtown coffee scene, and knows what a good cup of espresso can offer over your standard Tim Hortons drip.

Interestingly, Chant says, Steel Cut wants to become a neighbourhood cafe in its own right by finding an area not served by its own coffee shop, and staking out a spot there every day. "We want to be the go-to for a certain population for breakfast and coffee, which means we've got to be in the same spot every day. Basically, break people's habits of going to the Tim Hortons or the Starbucks."

coffee food truckMacchina, however, is content to go where the wind takes them. "The great thing about having a portable business is you get the chance to interface with a lot of different people in a lot of different neighbourhoods," Douglas says. "And that, for us, has been really rewarding already."

Photos by Jesse Milns



CR / July 14, 2014 at 05:30 am
Rob ford is proposing a new legislation next month to allow food trucks only to operate between the hours of 9am-5pm. The company behind lobbying ford: Tim Hortons. The moving coffee trucks are ruffling TH feathers who are planning to roll out portable stores. You might have seen them pop-up during renovations to existing brick-mortar outlets. McDonalds is also in the works partnering with Nescafe to launch several mini-bake shops offering muffins, tarts and obviously coffee. These bake shops will operate out of pop-up trailers at summer events, festivals, bbqs starting April 2015. Sadly the Toronto FT scene is about to get some fierce competition from the large chains. We can only hope citizens have their allegiences to support the start-ups and little guys.
Ronin / July 14, 2014 at 06:28 am
It would be nice to support start-up businesses, anyway they first thought of the idea.
S replying to a comment from CR / July 14, 2014 at 08:06 am
Somehow I doubt that. Have you ever seen a Timmy's without a massive line in the morning? Hell, near my work there's a Tim's on both floors (with a Starbucks across the street) and both Tim's have a massive lineup. I really doubt a fleet of food trucks could make a dent in the revenue. Plus, Timmy's black coffee taste like boiled gym socks so I'm not sure how many members of their customer base would buy gourmet coffee.
Donuts / July 14, 2014 at 08:29 am
Mobile donuts from Sugar Mamma's go well with all of these guys and they have a cute little truck too. Organic Coconut Oil too, so screw you TH.
Hi replying to a comment from Donuts / July 14, 2014 at 09:41 am
That's one way to come across as an idiot. If you want to highjack a thread about coffee and promote a business you should try and do it without telling others to "Screw You".

WOW great they use Coconut Oil from the Philippines which is known to use Child Labor. Looks and Tastes good from over here doesn't it.
Mark Dowling / July 14, 2014 at 10:41 am
"you get the chance to interface with a lot of different people"

No. Just... no.

Am shocked that the combination of an uptight "licence raj" at Toronto City Hall and our bricks-and-mortar preferring councillors haven't found a way to deflate their tyres yet.
Rafa / July 14, 2014 at 10:50 am
Does anyone know the typical location(s) of these various trucks? I'd love to try them out.
Jesse Edwards replying to a comment from CR / July 14, 2014 at 10:57 am
At this point I think anything Robby Bobby proposes will be voted out of council just to spite him, so I'm not gonna fret Timmy Ho's stopping this. Why people love that garbage coffee is beyond me. And there food is even worse!
Amy replying to a comment from CR / July 14, 2014 at 12:28 pm
Yes its the open market y'all. There's room for all to play just like in the bricks and mortar shops. Indie Cafes are on the same street along Second Cup, Tim Hortons, McCafe etc. No one gets a strangle hold on the market.

Let the masses line up for Tim Hortons coffee as they already do they probably won't appreciate your blend anyway, they know what they like and what they want. The rest of people that don't support the mega chains will still come to your truck for specialty coffee and a shorter wait time.
What is Rob Ford doing? / July 14, 2014 at 03:42 pm
After Oct. 27, he's gonna drive a food/label truck. Undecided what food, so he's currying favour. Probably with Sandro & Dixon Bloods, so food/labels + crack, etc.
Macchina replying to a comment from Mark Dowling / July 14, 2014 at 04:47 pm
Not quite sure what your response to the quote in the article means. Would you clarify.

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