When it comes to a great cup of coffee, most Torontonians are quick to step into their local coffee shop, a Tim Hortons or a nearby Starbucks. Although all three are fine places to get your morning fix, they really can’t hold a candle to some of the specialty coffee venues you can find downtown, one of which is the excellent Sam James Coffee Bar.
What makes Sam James Coffee Bar consistently top various internet polls as well as Eye Weekly and Now Magazine lists of the best coffee shops in the city are, in my opinion, two things: a great product coupled with great service. Although Starbucks staffers will be sure to offer their customer a friendly hello and make small talk, the enthusiasm feels forced. At Sam James, the cool baristas make you feel at home without the over-the-top greetings. In the battle between the large conglomerate company versus the independent coffee shop, the latter is a definite winner in terms of customer relations.
The Sam James Coffee also has the upper hand in terms of product. Although they only offer about a dozen drink choices and about six varieties of pastry, both are guaranteed to please. The drinks are divided into two categories, Old School and New School, and feature classic choices like Americanos, lattes, espresso, and cappucinos, alongside more stylish fare like chai lattes, soy lattes, hot chocolate, and vanilla lattes. To date, I’ve tried their Americano, espresso, brew coffee, soy latte and hot chocolate, all of which I can recommend to anyone who should ask. As for food, the selection includes croissants, banana bread and a berry pastry. They’re all delicious and will nicely complement your drink.
Although all the above choices are flavourful fare, the absolute highlight simply has to be their espresso. I’m a bit of an espresso enthusiast and I have to say theirs tops my charts. It’s smooth, rich, velvety, flavourful and roasted to perfection. It has a caramel aftertaste indicative of truly well made espresso, and what’s more, a caffeine kick to match. If espresso is a bit too powerful for your tastes, opt for their Americano (basically espresso and hot water) and add a little raw sugar for a delicious, but milder, experience.
The prices are also fair, with each drink coming in at about two or three dollars. You can enjoy eat in or take away, of which take away is the better option. It’s this one aspect of Sam James that I have an issue with. The venue is quite small, which works most of the time, except weekends when the rush rolls in. The intimate vibe is great, but when it turns into a crowded feel, things can get a bit uncomfortable. Another issue is the location: at 297 Harbord just past Bathurst, the coffee is a bit of an issue to get to in terms of public transit. Your best bet is to subway to Bathurst and walk for about ten or twelve minutes.
However, the coffee and atmosphere are worth the walk and possible crowd, so head over to Sam James for a coffee experience you’re guaranteed to enjoy!
The bar is open on weekdays from 7AM-7PM, on Saturdays from 8AM-6PM, and on Sundays from 9AM-5PM with major holiday closings.