Java, the hunt – Taking customers on a Union Station coffee run
Cups runneth over with choices inside Toronto’s premier transit hub.
May 7, 2019
We exit our trains and step down from our buses and we are unified in one desire.
Find that cup of coffee.
We are the ornery army of under-caffeinated commuters who every morning struggle against early rises. We are legion when it comes to needing a dose of decaf – a portion of a pot of perk – at least twice every day.
According to the Coffee Association of Canada, about 72 per cent of adults drink coffee. In fact, with more Canadians reporting in a 2018 study that they drank coffee the day before, java rates above even water when it comes to the most commonly consumed beverage in our nation.
So here we are, first thing in the morning, in the heart of Canada’s best-known transit hub, all looking for the same thing – our first meeting of the day with good old honest joe.
We’re lucky. Union Station happens to be an epicentre of brew, with steaming cups – yes, we’re including you our beloved tea-drinking brothers and sisters – available in every direction. But through half-opened eyes, you may have missed the many options – literally a cornucopia of cappuccino and haven of hot stuff.
We begin this brew hunt just outside GO Transit’s lost and found – symbolically a good choice, because if you’re lost on where to find good coffee options at Union Station, we’ve found you all the choices.
On your behalf, we have bean there, and drank that.
Mere seconds away from the lost and found, we make our first discovery. From the people that brought us the Golden Arches, it’s hard to miss the horde of jitter juice aficionados in line at McCafé. If you’re not in the mood to queue, you can get your brew at the full-service McDonald’s directly below you in the newly completed York Concourse food court (more on that later).
If it’s choices you crave, head across the hall to Bagel Stop, where java junkies enjoy the age old partnership of carbs and coffee. More than a dozen varieties of the delicious dough rings are on offer – which pair nicely with the six varieties of coffee. It’s one of the only places in Union Station to offer both fill-it-yourself and flavoured coffee options.
Our search for rocket fuel inevitably takes us a few steps further, to the home of the Grande. After nearly 40 years in the brewing business, few companies have a more loyal following than Starbucks. Quenching that morning thirst for coffee is a Tall task, but a Venti Pike Place certainly hits the spot.
Tim Hortons kiosk
We walk a couple minutes deeper into Union Station and find the small-but-mighty Tim Hortons kiosk. They are the coffee purists – sticking to beverages only. They might be tucked into the corner between Wurst and Amano, but fellow caffeine chaser and local office worker Alex Goldstein says she chooses the Timmies kiosk mainly because it has the shortest line – though this isn’t always the case. During Roll Up the Rim, Tim Hortons loyalists instinctively flock here – as Jim Carrey once uttered – like the ‘salmon of Capistrano’.
It might be just around the corner, but the next stop on the java journey feels like we’ve taken a trip across the pond. We venture into Amano’s café where they specialize in more refined Italian espresso beverages. Barista Barry McKiernan says cappuccinos are most popular with the pasta loving patrons, but tells us not to pass on the ‘dirty chai latte’ as they’re made with house-made syrup.
Danish Pastry House
We follow the signs towards the TTC and European flavours are a reoccurring theme. Danish Pastry House (DPH) might be best known for their delicious treats, but we recommend astute caffeine seekers grab a cup of Kontra Coffee. DPH employee Gary Krivtsov proudly tell us they’re the only place in Canada that carries this specialty blend of beans shipped directly from Copenhagen. Krivstov says they attract a steady stream of espresso-loving Scandinavians – it’s no wonder they’re often sold out of Viking Slices.
Greenhouse Juice Co.
Two stores over in the bustling Front Street Promenade, drowsy transit riders can explore exotic options at Greenhouse Juice Company. Don’t be fooled by the name says Greenhouse Juice Co. manager Jana Dergharn, who notes her shop boasts the largest spread of plant-based and dairy-free drinks in Union Station. Need a hit of wakey juice? Dergharn can whip up a matcha latte, a turmeric chilli latte, or pour you some cold brew (supplied by neighbouring store Pilot Coffee).
Pilot Coffee Co.
Are you even from Toronto if you don’t recognize Pilot Coffee Co.? Right next to Greenhouse Juice Co. you’ll find the always-busy Pilot Coffee Co. – a Toronto staple that is known and loved across the city. This coffee shop draws a crowd with high quality, tasty coffee from a familiar and trusted brand. Pilot regulars, Bryan Hill and Jennifer Mak, choose Pilot because it tastes great and offers a boutique coffee experience.
Yes, they do have coffee! And vegan options! Right across from Pilot Coffee Co. is Calii Love which you might have overlooked as a spot for a caffeine fix because they’re so popular for their poke bowls. Thea Berang, Calii Love manager, says you’re missing out by not trying one of their 100 per cent espresso based drinks made from Hawaiian Kona coffee. Walking into Calii Love you immediately feel the good vibes atmosphere and we all know that a well-crafted hot drink in hand will only help extend those good vibes into the rest of your day. Try the vegan bulletproof coffee – it’ll clear your mind, help you focus, and set you up to take on the day.
Head down the stairs to the York Concourse food court and the options for coffee might seem obvious. Trust us, take a walk to the south end of the food court and you’ll find a cute little spot for coffee and pastries. Pure and made simple, Italian style. Scaccia offers a quality selection of Italian coffee and classic Italian espresso drinks with dairy and non-dairy add-in options. They open at 8 am. so you can grab an Americano or Latte – the most popular caffeine choice among customers – and a tiramisu before you start your day. Yeah, we said it. A tiramisu to start the day.
Also in the York Concourse food court is the coffee shop bigwig, Tim Hortons. Loved by many for obvious reasons – great coffee, friendly staff, pastries, bagels and Roll Up the Rim – Tim Hortons also has great options for the novice coffee drinker. Tim Hortons novice, Daniel Clarke, isn’t much of a coffee drinker and actually prefers tea. But after receiving a gift card he thought he’d start wading into the world of coffee with a Tim Hortons Iced Capp. And now that Tim Hortons offers a rewards program? The more coffee you drink, the more free drinks you can get!
Take a walk up to the Great Hall and follow the Union Station Path to the UP Express and you’ve found another Toronto favourite. At Balzacs you’re not a customer, there are no baristas – it’s a community; a family. And the employees do a great job of making sure that’s your experience every time. Balzac’s employee Abby is proud to know people’s regular orders just by seeing their faces every morning. Whether it’s a drip coffee or latte you’re after, your drink will be made using organic, fair-trade, bird-friendly beans. If you choose the Las Rosas Blend you’re directly contributing to breaking the cycle of poverty in Columbia so you can feel good about your morning brew. Local Balzacs regular Kyle Roland advises his fellow commuters to stay tuned for the cold brew. Roland says it’s what got him hooked on Balzacs to begin with.
Pro-tip for all of our brew brothers and sisters, bring your reusable travel mug with you and take advantage of the discount offered by many of the fine establishments in Union Station.
We hope this guided brew cruise will help open those sleepy eyes to some of the possibilities available as you take GO and UP through Union Station. We’re all on this great journey together. And, as we’re often unified by our public transit habits and rituals, many of us can agree that having plenty of nearby coffee options is, well, a real perk.
by Sara Wilbur Metrolinx communications senior advisor, subway program, Scott Money Metrolinx editorial content manager