Sam James (Toronto St.)
Sam James now has a fifth coffee outpost, this time on Toronto St., where a mom-and-pop lunch takeout spot called Young Cafe used to be, beside Mercatto .
Like the others, this location makes maximum use of a small space, again collaborating with artist Jeremy Jansen to give it that signature black and white (with the occasional splash of red) minimalist look, this time with a ceiling print inspired by the texture of marble and a subtle dot motif running throughout the shop. I overhear someone describe the place as "the Coffee Pocket on steroids," which seems apt.
When I visit on opening day, I enter to find the man himself pulling shots at the La Marzocco and chatting up a storm with the customers, many who seem to be friends or fans (or both). There's almost a non-stop flow of people, including those involved in the local coffee scene, and James is more than happy to talk shop with them or just shoot the breeze, all while expertly slinging coffee.
While the aesthetic and the offerings here are consistent with the other SJCBs (simple menu, cash only) - "New can, same Coke," James jokes - it's clear this isn't just any old indie coffee chain. He really knows his coffee and he knows his clientele - literally - he even recognizes Financial District regulars from the PATH location when they stop by for an espresso ($2.62).
I order my go-to latte ($3.58/$4), which uses an espresso blend of beans from Brazil and Indonesia roasted by James's own Cut Coffee brand, and it tastes so smooth and creamy I don't even need to add any sugar.
There's decaf available as well as single-origin drip ($2.38/$2.62), which currently features beans from Kenya. One-pound bags of Cut Coffee are available for purchase ($14 espresso blend, $15 single origin), as are badass-looking mugs ($9 each) specific to this location.
Baked goods consist of various croissants ($2.35-$3.10), cookies ($2.15) and cinnamon rolls ($2.62) from James's pal Bertrand AlĂŠpĂŠe of Parkdale's Tempered Room .
James tells me he's had his eye on this particular spot for six years, and finally nabbed it when the Korean couple who ran Young Cafe decided to call it quits.
He was drawn to the history and ominousness of the area: apparently the courtyard in the back used to be the city gallows, and the old Toronto Post Office/Bank of Canada/former headquarters of disgraced media baron Conrad Black is across the street.
I must admit I'm a bit of an SJCB fangirl, having been to all of the others (the original Harbord location and the Ossington joint are my personal faves), and this one doesn't disappoint. James doesn't appear to have any qualms when it comes to choosing favourites: "I think this is the best one yet."
Photos by Jesse Milns