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How to celebrate national coffee day without coffee

I can vibe with #NationalCoffeeDay. Aerial shots of aesthetic foam on minimalist backgrounds? Location-tagging cool, lesser-known coffee shops? I’m there.

There’s just one problem: I don’t drink coffee.

I can sip it, or stomach it, or blend it into something more sugary and dessert-like. Pure appreciation of coffee itself? Not so much. It makes me jittery, and the caffeine gets my neurons firing for a bit until I crash and feel even more lethargic than before.

Whether it’s the taste, the effects, or pure dislike, coffee just isn’t my “cup of tea.”

If you’re on the same page as me — or at least somewhere in the same book — don’t feel alienated by all the coffee posts today. There are still so many ways to partake and enjoy this social media holiday, without actually downing a full cup of joe!


1. Just enjoy the atmosphere. You don’t just go to a coffee shop for the coffee – you go for the ambiance, the ample desk space, and the free WiFi. Fika in Kensington is a great spot for all of these things – the backspace is brightly lit, with hanging plants and an entire wall covered in pinned books to get you feeling inspired and productive.

My consulting coffee enthusiast has assured me that their Cortado and their Flat White are “objectively amazing” and “very good.” For the non-coffee crowd who still want to sip something warm, they make an incredibly flavourful Lavender White Hot Chocolate that will get you feeling totally relaxed and ready to tackle life’s challenges.

2. Pick a hot chocolate with a kick. Spicy hot chocolates have been a recurring trend lately. Grab a cup of the city’s most well-known variety at Soma, where their noteworthy “Maya” drinking chocolate is brewed from pure melted-down chocolate infused with spices, locally-produced at their small factory in the west end.

For an authentic take on the spiced sipping chocolate, ChocoSol have been a familiar face at Union Market and other local markets, with their ethically-sourced coffee and cacao beans. For a world of variety, Montreal café chain Cacao 70 offers a range of melted-down drinking chocolates inspired by locales around the globe.

Da Hong Pao is a highly-oxidized “dark Oolong” tea

3. Switch to a smokier tea. Maybe you’re still looking for that “roasted” quality in your hot beverage. For a toastier tea alternative, Lapsang Souchong is a type of FuJian Chinese tea that is widely known for its smoky flavour notes. The leaves are traditionally smoke-dried in the Wuyi mountains, which gives the tea its unique character.

If bitterness is what you’re after, a highly-oxidized tea like Da Hong Pao has that heavily roasted characteristic, while still carrying a faint trace of heady, molasses-like sweetness that undercuts the bitterness and gives it a satisfying, rounded flavour. It’s considered more of an artisanal Oolong, so a cup of tea comes at a premium — but like many Oolongs, the leaves can be re-used for multiple steeps!

4. Or, grab a tea latte. You’ll get the pick-me-up without the crash. Rooster Coffee House has a board full of them, with enticing options like Ginger Honey, my personal favourite, and Toasty Almond Latte, a delicious crowd-pleaser. The caffeine will keep you going, and the range of flavours on offer will satisfy your craving for variety.

5. Enjoy it with a dessert. When I do drink a cup of coffee, it’s usually followed by an impulse to chase it with something sweet. If that’s your modus operandi, head over to Roselle Desserts. This King East storefront is the passion project of two young dessert chefs who met in Paris, and brought their mutual love of beautifully-crafted sweets to Toronto with the tagline “Dessert Makes You Happy.” Yes. Yes, it does.

A tiny cup of Turkish coffee looks harmless, but packs a punch

6. Travel around the world. Maybe you’re looking for a different take on your typical cup of coffee. Istanbul Cafe serves Turkish coffees and teas with traditional serving elements, in a bright and modern café space. The coffees even come with a marzipan offering of Turkish Delight, to sweeten the tongue after the strong, bitter beverage. In the downtown core, Simit & Chai on King West serves their Turkish coffee in colourful cup and saucer sets, alongside baked goods and sandwiches.

7. Enjoy some latte art. We eat — and drink — with our eyes. An artistic layer of foam can do a lot to sweeten the beverage underneath. Himalayan Java Coffee in the Yonge & Eg neighborhood is a cosy spot known for its adorable coffee artwork, which can still be ordered on a hot chocolate or matcha latte.  If you’re in the area often, add your name to the box on the counter to collect stamps toward a free drink!

If you’re all about the aesthetics, stop by Bulldog Coffee to get in on the trend of rainbow latte art, accomplished by mixing food colouring into the milk. They are also known for their Blanco Bull Dog, a white hot chocolate topped with dark chocolate, which bears the accolade of being voted best hot chocolate in the city.

8. Try something new. There are always new storefronts popping up downtown, and for some, the appeal of going to a new place is irresistible. Versus Coffee, which has recently materialized on Adelaide East, brings something new to the table with their Campfire Latte. The decadent drink is made with espresso blended in with maple syrup and topped with marshmallows, blowtorched to a campfire-y crisp.

9. Give your brain a workout. The building that houses King West’s Quantum Coffee is more than a coffee shop — once you get those neurons firing, use that extra energy to attend a workshop at Brainstation. With courses on business, technology, and design, you’re sure to find something to expand your skills.

Is it too late now to say coffee?

10. Explore a new neighborhood. For those who rarely trek north of Bloor, De Mello Palheta is a roaster and café between Lawrence and Davisville. The house blends range from dainty Sakura, to the smooth and classic Gentleman, to the full-bodied Deadman Walking. The café was born out of sheer love and enthusiasm for coffee and its craft, so if you’re not a fan of the beverage, it may just change your mind.

If the East end is uncharted territory, head over to Cake Town Cafe, located adjacent to Woodbine station (more than a portal to the beach.) The hot beverages are delicious, and served in a quirky array of different styles of cup. The baked goods are made fresh daily, and the scones are often sold out by end of day.

On the other end, if you rarely make it further west than Bathurst, Reunion Island Coffee Bar is a destination worthy of the journey. Situated in Roncesvalles, the storefront also functions as a pick-up location for online purchases of coffee beans and gear, for enthusiasts who want to take their interest a step further.

12. Or, just suck it up and grab a cup of coffee. All things considered, National Coffee Day is a celebration of coffee, and maybe today is your day to give it a “shot.” (Ha, ha.) Maybe you’ll find your perfect cup  courtesy of Mr. Sam James. Maybe you’ll get into the zone at Manic Coffee. Maybe your interest will take off at Pilot. And if you don’t find your blend this National Coffee Day, you can just say Sorry and move on.

Did you celebrate National Coffee Day? What are your favourite coffee spots in the city? Leave a comment below and share your finds!

Join the discussion!


Thanks for this list Zen, I’ll need to try most of these places! Dineen Coffee Co. is a great one. I don’t drink coffee a lot, so trust me when I say their mocha is fantastic. Their design is very spacious and nice to sit in.


[…] hot drinks, by the way, are great. I’m not a coffee drinker but I order a chai latte that goes down smoothly — light without compromising flavour. The […]