myke’s Hamilton and beyond café crawl

A while back I wrote on the incredible renaissance of independent coffee culture that my hometown Hamilton is experiencing.  More recently, I reviewed chain coffee alternatives with surprising results.  I’m heading back to my indie roots and focusing on two new cafés that have recently opened in Hamilton, Ontario and branching out to places I frequent while out of my home city who are definitely deserving of a mention!

Baltimore House recently opened on King William at Hughson, providing the downtown core a coffeehouse with plenty of atmosphere, good drinks and a variety of delicious sandwiches and house-baked goodies.  Their coffee is sourced from various local roasters including Homegrown Hamilton and Red Hill Coffee Trade (I believe they use their decaf).

The room looks gothic and dark, however the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.  The recent addition of the beautifully decorated “parlour” space, christened with a theatrical production, makes this a good location to sit while you savour and enjoy a quality coffee.  The European-style service (beverages are served on silver platters with a glass of water to cleanse your palate and a chocolate) adds a touch of class and makes you want to linger and soak in the atmosphere.

Baltimore house has become a favourite place of mine and DH’s to relax, write and enjoy a drink.

Cannon Coffee Company is the latest addition to the Hamilton coffee scene, bringing a bright and open space to the corner of Ottawa St. and Cannon St. East.  The room is bright and spacious and they serve up a smooth, delicious espresso shot (Detour’s Punch Buggy Roast) and are beginning to explore their food options with a variety of house-baked goodies and goods from Cake and Loaf Bakery.  Recently they had a lovely weekend brunch with your choice of house-baked quiche or waffles with local maple syrup. 

I am lucky to have this wonderful coffee house within walking distance of my home and anticipate many a weekend afternoon spent enjoying their hospitality and high quality beverage options.  The fact the owners Anne and Cindy make you feel welcome and an honoured guest in their establishment goes a long way and they always seem to go the extra step to make you feel like a valued customer.

Homegrown Hamilton  Formerly the Bread and Roses café and located in the Sky Dragon Center.  Homegrown Hamilton roasts their coffee on site, using only fair-trade green beans.  They also have a menu with a variety of vegetarian and vegan light meal and snack options.  Their coffee is very good, however quality of the espresso shots depends on who is working the machine.  Mike is an excellent barista and offers coffee cupping sessions on occasion.

The atmosphere is loose and artistic and they have a grass-roots and community-minded connection to the inner city.  The Sky Dragon Co-operative supports various community organizations and often offers classes and seminars aimed at effecting positive change in the world and community.

Cake and Loaf Bakery is a wonderful local bakery who specializes in quality baked goods made from ingredients that are organic, fair trade and sourced from local farmers and purveyors.  They offer a delivery lunch service (their soups, salads and vegan quinoa pies are incredible), in cooperation with THAAT Delivery (www.thaat.ca) and they also serve up a wonderful latte made from Detour Coffee that is always enjoyable, so when you pick up a treat or your bakery order, ensure you partake while you are there!

Coffee Tree Roastery, Toronto, ON was a recent find of mine in Toronto.  Despite being one of the oldest roasteries in Toronto, it wasn’t until a foray into Bloor West Village, did I find this gem!  I fully respect a place that smells of roasting coffee and has a wall of single source varietals and blends to choose from and yes, you can order the coffee that you drink from one of the MANY varieties available in French press or pour-over (Chemex to be exact!) style as well as what brewed or espresso blends they are serving that day.

The café itself has a small but delicious looking menu of products from local ACE Bakery, Jumbo Empanada and Wanda’s Pies and they specialize in a variety of breakfast burritos in the morning.  They also sell a nice selection of implements to brew their coffee at home including some beautiful Bodum and Chemex (perhaps the Rolls-Royce of pour-over coffee makers) products.  John, their roastmaster is usually on hand to assist you in selecting a blend, varietal and roast for your needs!

Their focus is on freshly roasted, coffee that is ethically sourced and is socially, environmentally and economically responsible.  They also have a wide variety of teas that fall under the Ethical Tea Partnership and are certified organic.  They also regularly support local and international charities through fundraising, auctions and donations.  Their coffee grounds are collected for garden and coffee sacks are recycled for use by their customers and various organizations.

Lit Espresso Bar, Toronto, ON Lit is one of the first independent specialty coffee bars in Toronto, specializing in Stumptown Roasters’ coffee.  Their trained baristas focus on every shot and their two locations are stylish and provide great places to relax and meet folks.  They also bake their own pastries in house and have regularly scheduled cuppings to help people understand their coffee better.  Their dedication to coffee perfection and education is admirable their locations are comfortable and, for the most part, free from pretension.

Moonbeam Café, Toronto, ON On the outskirts of Toronto’s Kensington Market lies Moonbeam Coffee Company.  I was shocked when I was first dragged into this coffee house (the name and exterior had me fearing the smell of patchouli incense and love beads), as I wasn’t expecting the smell of freshly roasted coffee (they roast their own blends from green beans) mingling with the smell of fresh baked goodies.

This narrow storefront provides a surprisingly large selection of fresh roasted fair-trade coffees, homemade baked goods and one of the larger tea selections in the city of Toronto.  Don’t let the small unassuming storefront fool you, there is adequate space to sit back and relax and enjoy a cup and a fresh made baked good.  The hippie-ish name belies their sensible nature and commitment to organic and fair trade coffees and teas.  Plus they pull a wicked good shot of espresso.

Balzac’s Coffee, Toronto, ON. Located in the Distillery District (with other locations in Liberty Village, Stratford, Niagara on the Lake and Kitchener), Balzac’s inhabits the former case goods warehouse and has an open, airy, almost European atmosphere.  Their snacks and goodies come from a who’s who of Toronto-area bakeries (including Dufflet, Stratford and the local Brick Street Bakery).  Their coffee is roasted in the Hamilton area (Stoney Creek if I recall) and they are able to pull a decent shot of espresso.  This location is absolutely HUGE and you should be able to find a table, except perhaps on busy weekends.

The upper level is a great space, displaying art by local artists and also serving as a cozy and intimate event space.  I have been to no less than two weddings at Balzac and have greatly enjoyed both occasions!  One warning though, don’t go to Balzac’s expecting wifi.  They do not provide it, so just sit back and enjoy the great atmosphere (all of their locations are in historic buildings chosen for their unique character), decent coffee and conversation.

Scratch Seasonal Bakery, Durham, NC Scratch is a small artisanal bakery located in Downtown Durham, NC whose aim is to support and nurture relationships with their local farmers and producers.  Their bakery has a variety of goods that changes daily based on what ingredients are available and they take their coffee seriously.  Like Cake and Loaf, they ensure that their baked goods and foods are accompanied by quality beverages.  Their location is light, airy and informal and a joy to visit!

I’ve heard from a very reliable source that their baked goods are truly delicious!

Uncommon Grounds, Saratoga Springs, NY  I was in Saratoga Springs, NY lecturing at a clown convention when the need for coffee beyond the dreck the hotel was serving was identified (really! this lasted after the first morning’s coffee infusion went down the bathroom sink).  In between classes, I walked down Broadway in the downtown area and was lured by the smell of freshly roasting beans.

I walked into Uncommon Grounds and found a beautiful shop filled with wood, warm lighting and the smell of roasting coffee and freshly baked bagels.  Needless to say, a coffee infusion and a bagel were absolutely necessary (as I was still fat, I still ate baked goods then).  Their coffee was wonderful and warranted repeat daily visits during my stay that week.  I was invited to attend my first cupping and enjoyed my first REAL espresso that week.

Uncommon Grounds was my first serious initiation into coffee culture and I quite enjoyed this unassuming place that focused on EVERY SINGLE aspect of their coffee from sourcing the beans, to roasting to brewing them perfectly.  This attention to detail both shocked and impressed me greatly and changed my life as a coffee drinker.

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2 thoughts on “myke’s Hamilton and beyond café crawl

  1. I happen to like My Dog Joe in Westdale, and the associated Mulberry Street Café on James Street North. I’m a simple fellow who likes a good cookie or muffin or slice of lemon loaf with a tea, and the treats at both places are home-made and yummy! Plus the decor, especially at MDJ, is retro in a comfortable, unpretentious way, like hanging out ’round grandma’s kitchen table. Love the green couch at My Dog Joe! –Mike

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