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  • Writer's pictureDoriana Mazzone, Realtor

For The Love of Coffee

My TOP 4 COFFEE HOUSES IN TORONTO


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  1. TRE MARI BAKERY

  2. ORETTA

  3. BOM DIA CAFE

  4. BISOU


Are these the only ones?… NO!

Will there be more to come?... YES!


What makes these COFFEE HOUSES good?


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Bisou, Toronto Cafe

  1. CONSISTENCY They all use different beans for their coffees and they all bake in-house.  No two Cafes, Cappuccinos, Croissants or Pastries taste the same even though I order the same thing. However, they are consistently fresh and taste so damn good every time I go!








2. THE ATMOSPHERE


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Oretta Cafe, Toronto

They all have a different vibe. Each of them pays homage to their cultural background and the interior design is a reflection of that culture and brings forward a great energy. So depending on what mood I'm in, that's where I will want to go. Quiet, loud, intimate… you get the idea!

But just know, no two coffee houses look and feel the same. They are all themed differently and their interior style is a reflection of their cultural coffee house.





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Tre Mari Bakery, Toronto

3. TRADITIONAL

All of these places have the, ‘Come in, have a seat and stay a while’ energy. None of that paper cup, take it to go business, even though they offer it. Traditional Coffee Houses were invented in Europe in the 16th Century. It was meant to be the same type of establishment as Pubs, 'Bars'. The only difference? This was a place that would serve coffee and not alcoholic beverages. But the concept was to remain the same, to come in and socialize with friends, family and colleagues or just a place to go alone.



On Saturday and Sunday mornings before 10 am, I will always go out for a cafe and croissant.


Am I an expert? Absolutely Not! 

But,

Can I tell the difference between a fresh pastry and a stale pastry?… Yes! 

Can I tell if the coffee bean is strong versus weak?... Yes. 

Can I tell if the milk is burnt?… YES!

Can I tell if it's Italian-baked versus French-baked?... Yes.

Can I tell if it's baked from frozen versus baked fresh?... Oh, you better believe it. Yes!


What makes me think I know what I'm talking about? 

Anyone who knows me knows my love for espressos, cappuccinos, croissants and prosecco… from childhood. Also, my mother baked every single night, and guess who was her taste tester… yours truly... moi!

Also, having a cafe and croissant for breakfast is a daily routine I inherited from Italy, so I decided to adapt my Italian lifestyle here in Toronto. 


So here you go, allow me to describe to you my top 4 Cafes in Toronto and in no way are these in any particular order.



1. ORETTA Cafe


Location: Oretta King West.

Type: Italian Cafe and Restaurant


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This place is located in Downtown Toronto's King West neighbourhood.

Right off King St. W., there is a thorough way right off of King St. W. In between their Oretta Restaurant and Lavalle. 

Oretta has 2 entrances, one for the restaurant off King St. and the other for the cafe around the side in the thoroughfare.


Atmosphere / Italian

This is an Italian Cafe. The aesthetics and atmosphere feel very Italian. This is also one of those interiors that you know will age well. I would describe it as being very Cosmopolitan. It has many coloured tiles laid out in a herringbone pattern on the floor and the walls. They also have this beautiful white marble counter which is literally in every bar counter in Italy. They also have an open kitchen where you can see the bakers baking on one side prepping, and the chefs and sous chefs prepping for the dining area on the other side. Open-concept kitchens in a restaurant or cafe make you feel like you're at a chef's table. What makes this scene even more Italian is that Oretta Cafe is in a throughway and not on the main street. In Europe it's not always the obvious coffee house on the main street that are the good ones, it's usually the ones that are tucked away down some side street or alley!


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What's Italian about it? 

The marble surfaces, the tiled flooring, the open kitchen, the vibrant colours.


What do the materials have to do with this? Everything!

To create an Italian atmosphere all your surfaces have to make noise.

It’s not meant to be a quiet place. This is very typical in any Italian Cafe. 


Cafes in Italy are called ‘Bar’ not Cafes. Because you're getting more than just coffee here. They will also serve Alcoholic beverages and that's what we call Apperitivo hours!

Which by the way, Oretta has from Monday to Friday from 3-7 pm.


WHAT MAKES AN ATMOSPHERE ITALIAN?


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You can hear the plates and the clatter of the mug when it hits the saucer plate. You can hear the spoons tapping the mugs and one of the most Italian things is you can hear the conversations from the back of the kitchen.

That's what makes this atmosphere Italian. So when you come here and you sit down don't be shy you can talk at your normal volume. Or, if you’re Italian, your dramatic volume.


Heck, their staff is straight off the boat from Italy and that's why I love the fact that I can come in here and say ‘Ciao’ in my language and order in Italian. 





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WHAT DOES ORETTA HAVE TO OFFER?

All of their pastries and croissants or I should say ‘Cornetti’, their sandwiches and pizzas are incredible. This is ideally what you would see in a typical Italian Bar in Italy. This one is just on a smaller scale. Respectively they have a full restaurant on the other side where they host their Appertivos hours, Brunch, Lunch and Dinners. 

Every time you go to an Italian cafe, the idea is that it is always hectic, loud, full and always has people coming in and out. So if you're looking for something close to having an Italian experience, then try Oretta! 

If I had to tell you where you would find a typical bar like this in Italy, it would be Central to Northern parts of Italy in major cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, Bologna and the regions in between!

Because the Interiors are very modern and Chic and the cafes are a little more upscale than in the southern regions of Italy or the smaller traditional towns in Italy. 



That being said, let me take you to the next cafe spot, which is another Italian cafe, but much different in terms of vibe.



2. Tre Mari Bakery


Location: Tre Mari Bakery

Type: Italian Cafe and Bakery



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SAME SPOT AND STILL STANDING… BUT BIGGER AND BETTER THAN EVER!

This one is not directly downtown. Tre Mari is located in Midtown Toronto on St. Clair W. in the Corso Italia neighborhood and sitting in the same spot since 1960. Up until a few years ago it finally expanded its cafe and bakery, thankfully because it would get ridiculously crowded in there. This place is near and dear to me. I've been coming here since childhood. Long before the extended renovations. 



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The third generation extended and renovated a few years back and probably has one of the best interior spaces that I've seen for a cafe and bakery. This interior design is a great reflection of Italian cafe culture.  I would probably relate this to a more traditional rustic Italian Bar. If you want to know where you can find bars like this in Italy, it would have to be in the Southern regions; like Calabria or Sicily. 


TELL ME THIS IS ITALIAN WITHOUT TELLING ME THIS IS ITALIAN, I'LL GO FIRST

You know the scene from the movie "Eat Pray Love" when Liz arrives in Rome and tries to order a cafe, but it's so chaotic, she doesn't know who to look at to order?… okay, Tre Mari can be that chaotic, especially on Sundays after Church and especially during the holidays!


This is probably the only Italian bakery in Toronto that I have ever been to that no matter what time you walk in, morning, noon, or evening, this place is always busy. The tables are full of people, the atmosphere is loud, and it's always a good time here. This place always has great energy!


This place is like travelling to Italy. 


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Italy is known for their food and cafes, but also the markets. That is what Tre Mari feels like to me. A great big Old Italian style market! 

This is more of a Cafe and Bakery. So here you will find a service counter for every department; Cafes, Pastries, Fresh Bread, Cheese and Colt cuts, and a nice Hot Table! You can pick up fresh bread that they make in-house daily and shop around for imported Italian products. 

Sometimes this place reminds me of a High School cafeteria. There are a lot of students that eat here during their school hour breaks! But Tre Mari always has a great mix of the new younger generation coming in and the original boomers still sitting here!


This place truly makes me feel like I'm in Italy every time I walk in because there is always someone who knows someone. Keep in mind, this place has been around in this neighbourhood during the period when most Italians immigrated to Toronto, which was between 1950-1970. 

Sometimes it's so chaotic, there are line-ups everywhere and I think because I'm a regular here you just know where to move and go and pay for things and grab a table quicker. 



It's amazing to see this place still around today. Having a family-owned business being passed down the family line is a hard enough task to maintain. They typically never survive. 

Not only has this place survived, it is thriving as it has always been. 





3. BISOU


Location: Bisou.to

Type: French Cafe and Bistro


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These top four Cafes were in no particular order. These are the regular places that I constantly rotate between and then when I go to new places it's who I compare them with! I go to my regular cafes depending on what I'm craving, if I'm bringing someone with me, or what mood I'm in. 


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HOW GOOD IS BISOU?

However, this particular place here, Bisou.. is So. Damn. Good! 

When I'm having my cappuccino and almond pastry here, don't talk to me, don't even look at me! Because I look like I'm sexing this food!

I usually don't even come here with people. I sit alone because this has to be one of the best cappuccinos and croissants that I have ever had anywhere in Toronto, Hands Downs! and I enjoy every second of it all to myself! That butter almond croissant has me weak in the knees and if you think that everyone makes their cappuccinos the same.. You have got to be kidding me



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WHAT IS THE ATMOSPHERE LIKE AT BISOU?

This place is not old at all, they opened up in 2019. But it's located in Cabbagetown, Downtown Toronto East End. So if anyone knows this area, this is one of Toronto's oldest neighbourhoods. Home to many original immigrants and is known for having one of the most preserved Victorian homes in Toronto. That being said, this was a perfect spot for Bisou. This cafe sits inside what appears to be a well-preserved typical Cabbagetown Townhome and Bisou being a French Cafe there is just something nostalgic about that!








Fun fact: It wasn't the French that invented Croissants, it was the Austrians. However, it was the French that changed the recipe and made them with butter sometime in the early 1800s and it was the French that translated the original name Kipfel to name them 'Croissant'. The French essentially put these delicacies on the map and eventually in my belly! Thank you for that!!! 







Inside is nothing short of old-world charm. From the creaky wooden floors that make you feel like you walked into the past, the built-in wooden bookcases and shelves and the tight bistro tables. Almost every table sits alongside a window which makes you feel like you're sitting in a home. That’s why this place feels good to me. This place feels like I'm home.

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WHY BISOU FEELS LIKE I’M ON AN EPISODE OF ‘FRIENDS’



I grew up watching the TV show ‘Friends. We all know the main scenes from that show were the ‘Central Perk’ Cafe moments. This is what that place reminds me of. Worn-up sofas, upholstered chairs, old wood chairs that you know had sat so many people. Unlike the Italian cafes that are good old-fashioned Italian loud, this is the complete opposite. The interior is very warm and inviting. It's more of a chill, quiet space. I would have to describe this place as comfortable. Once you sit, I find it very hard to leave here. This is the kind of place you read a newspaper or book, or scroll on your phone, whatever!






4. BOM DIA


Type: Portuguese Cage and Bakery


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WHAT DID PORTUGAL DO TO ME?

Take me back to Portugal, please!

A few years ago I went to Portugal for the first time and this is someone coming from vowing to never travel anywhere out of my Italy jurisdiction because no country is better than Italy.

That’s the ‘Italian mentality’ for you in a nutshell!

I've been to Italy 15 times in my life and each time I go it is a minimum of a 7 WEEK stay. 

Sometimes I go twice a year! (I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, don't ask me what I’m doing living here either!)

A few years ago never having been to Portugal somehow I managed to book a flight to Lisbon and I am forever grateful for that glitch moment that I had in my life because I went back twice to Portugal that same year. That's how much I fell in love with this country!

So obviously when I came back to Toronto, I was on the hunt for Portuguese cuisine and cafes!


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HOW PORTUGUESE IS BOM DIA?

At times it can be a little challenging to find a place that is as authentic as the culture here in Toronto. To find a Portuguese coffee shop I wasn't sure what to expect here in Toronto. However, this is why I go to cafes that are authentic to their culture, like French, Italian and Portuguese, because these places not only have immigrants from their homeland working there or it’s their very own establishment, but they make it their way and they bake their homeland pastries. You don't get this experience in regular Joe Shmo coffee shops in Toronto. 


But Bom Dia puts me right back to all the small towns I went to visit in Peniche, Ericeria, Sintra, Fatima, Nazare and others in between. I stayed in so many surf towns and this was what this place reminded me of. The cafe shop off the beaches. 

The interior atmosphere of Bom Dia is complete with mosaics and the colours of whites and blues, it's exactly what it feels like in some of the Portuguese cafes I’d been to! Clean and airy with lots of windows and natural sunlight coming through. 


WHAT'S BOM DIA LIKE ON THE INSIDE?


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This place has 2 levels. Off the main entrance is the cafe bar and the sitting area is on the upper level. The upper level is a great space to come grab a coffee and work from here. That's the scene here. This is the place that I would recommend if you wanted to work in a cafe that has great food, coffee and a sitting area. This is the work-from-cafe spot!


Here is one of the things that I absolutely love about Bom Dia. It is very typical in any Toronto cafe that you pay first and then you get your coffee and pastry. Only in our restaurants do you eat first and then get the bill. However, Cafes in Europe are also the same, you eat first then you pay. I almost died when this was part of the service here. I'm not saying that this is important to me. It just sits differently when it's the contrary especially when having a cafe. I prefer to pay when I am done rather than before, for some reason I find it to be a lot more mature and respectful that way. 




The Ambiance here is not French nor Italian but somewhere in between is a perfect way of saying Portuguese. 

It has all the materials that make echo sounds, like stone, mosaics and high ceilings. However, the Portuguese culture likes to sit and enjoy their cafes quietly as well. To be loud in a cafe is Italian etiquette, and to be quieter is French etiquette. So the Portuguese etiquette is somewhere in between. I think when you have large floor-to-ceiling windows that bring so much light into this cafe, it's like being at the beach, you just want to enjoy the moment!

And that’s the Portuguese way of life, Pura-Vida, (Pure-Life). 





WHY THESE PLACES ARE THE REAL COFFEE HOUSES OF TORONTO

Okay, there you have it. These are my top 4 for now. I’ve been going to these for the past year, I added Bom Dia recently, it was one of the new spots that I tried and I just had to go back. All of these places have the triple threat combination, which is: Great tasting Cafe, in-house fresh baked pastries and an interior ambiance that sets the scene. Not every cafe has to be modern or trendy. Cafes are places that are meant for you to come in and stay a while, that’s why they’ve always been known as Coffee Houses, they are meant for you to come in, sit down and enjoy a coffee and pastry as if you have been invited over and that is what I look for in a real Coffee House!




And there you have My Top 4 Coffee Houses in Toronto. On to the next!


My Name is Doriana, and I'm outta here!





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