The Best Coffee Roasters in Toronto
The best coffee roasters in Toronto are engaged in a polite battle over just how this coffee-obsessed city prepares and consumes its beans, a war that goes well beyond ethical disputes over fair trade and organic business practices. If your coffee habit extends much past buying a bag of whatever indifferent beans you find in the supermarket aisle, you'll likely find yourself being forced to ask questions like "micro-roast or home roaster?"
Most of these coffee roasters have storefront operations, and cafes where you're welcome to sample their wares, but two entries on the list don't, and work out of distant Scarborough and Concord, where they supply coffee to restaurants and consumers who've learned to look for their products. Ultimately, though, they're a testament to how serious we've gotten about our java; the day of instant crystals or dusty cans of pre-ground percolator coffee have gone the way of home perms and jellied desserts.
Here are the best coffee roasters in Toronto, as voted by readers of this site.
Dark City photo courtesy David Thompson.
Andy and Jessie Wilkins’ Leslieville coffee shop has come a long way in a year and a half, thanks mostly to the couple’s almost evangelical approach to the drink. They’re relentless in their pursuit of new and better beans, and sponsor regular coffee cuppings to help regulars figure out the flavour they favour, and hone discernment. Their policy is to roast lighter, but select a more complex bean that helps avoid the inevitable hint of toast and charcoal. More »
Located in an old warehouse next to the DVP, in an out-of-the-way corner of Riverside, this three-tiered operation deals, respectively, in coffee importing, consumer sales and business wholesaling. Since coffee loses its freshness a week or so after its been roasted, the Fresh Coffee Network sells a little countertop roaster and green beans, along with lessons on home roasting. More »
This small but stylish roastery near Spadina and King includes a former sommelier as one of the partners, and a very jovially masculine approach to creating flavour profiles, with stress on experimentation and competition. Beans are sold in season, blends shift accordingly, and the overall presentation is impeccable at this brand-new cafe. More »
David Thompson’s roastery began as a retail operation, and expanded into two storefronts before a catastrophic fire led to bankruptcy, a business reorganization and a relocation to Scarborough, where he roasts his daily orders to a carefully selected soundtrack. Orders made by phone will be filled the next day and delivered anywhere in the GTA. More »
While the Toronto locations are in Liberty Village and the Distillery District, the roastery is in Stoney Creek, where founder Diana Olsen still oversees production. Small, micro-roasters are still used, hand-operated, and with a reputation for an exemplary dark roast. More »
It’s no surprise that this collection of rambling rooms in Kensington is a bastion of Fair Trade, befitting its truly bohemian atmosphere. You can buy ethically starting at $10.99 a pound, but connoisseurs will find it hard to resist the Blue Mountain Mavis Bank Estate roast at $50 for the pound – one of the best deals in the city for this luxury coffee. More »
Opened, like many of the roasteries on this list, in the artisan coffee year zero of 1995, this Roncesvalles Village institution has a wooly, indie vibe that’s only underscored by the discrete Che picture on the wall. Specializing in Fair Trade coffees, their retail operations are augmented by wholesale sales to churches and schools. More »
The name stands for The Alternative Network, a variation on Fair Trade where beans are sourced directly from farmers, and sold as single-source beans. The West Queen West storefront is TAN’s outlier – there are four locations in Nova Scotia, and a new one in Ottawa, and though a new owner has recently taken over, the shop has retained its quality on this Starbucks-free stretch of Queen. More »
John Rufino’s engineering background inspired him to create the most nearly perfect roasting process imaginable – an all-stainless steel plant in Concord that recycles the heat from its roasters to increase energy efficiency. Since coffee’s footprint is hardly small – as long as we can’t grow it here, transportation will always be a factor – Classic tries to make what goes on here as low-emission as possible, while maximizing pure flavour. It’s worked, and customers include Bulldog Coffee, Cava, Woodlot, George and the Gladstone. More »
Besides the shelves full of green, unroasted beans, this Annex roastery sells a dizzying selection of brewing machinery, including home roasters, grinders, drip brewers and espresso machines. Started by a non-profit, they buy from farmers and offer a range of unique, distinctive beans, with a convenient cafe to help you decide what works for you. More »
This elegant Dundas West roastery puts its machinery in pride of place – a sample batch roaster displayed in the window, where customers can order roasts as small as half a pound, though a full pound is preferred for consistency. Owner Lori Nytko is happy to sit down with new customers to figure out what they want. “Everybody thinks they like a stronger coffee,” she says, though they're often surprised to discover that lighter roasts yield more flavour – the dirty secret of the roasting business. More »
This busy, cluttered Bloor West shop is the granddaddy of Toronto roasteries – in business for 22 years, and the training ground for many of the roasting professionals that have built the city’s coffee boom. The sample roasters at the front always seem to be in operation, lineups are common, and it’s no surprise that the European emigres that once dominated this strip of Bloor made it a favorite when the city was still getting by on plain old joe. More »