From smoked beans to language lessons, these five caffeine-slinging local spots offer perks well beyond your everyday latte
From early morning brews to leisurely evening sipping, Thunder Bay offers a variety of indie coffeehouses to satisfy all your coffee (and tea) cravings. It’s not a big city but it can boast of big-city amenities in its cafés: live music, yoga classes, local ingredients – including beans that are fair trade and/or roasted in Thunder Bay (and even smoked over mesquite there, too). Meanwhile, there are perks you won’t find anywhere else – where else but Thunder Bay can you learn to speak a little Ojibwe over a macchiato?
St. Paul Roastery
Is there such a thing as caffeinated air? There’s a buzz of energy in St. Paul Roastery, and it must be in part thanks to the beans that are roasted on site, creating that amazing fresh coffee aroma. Owner-baristas Stefan Pakylak and Cam Reid took their at-home coffee roasting habit to the next level when they invested in a premium commercial coffee roaster and opened the roastery in the hip northside Waterfront District last year. Your cup is ground and brewed individually, and comes served in a stoppered glass beaker on a slim wooden tray – a cosmopolitan detail that is right at home with the exposed brick walls, light wood and industrial metal. Loose leaf teas, such as a lovely vanilla cream rooibos, get similar VIP treatment with a French press. The roastery shares a wall and speakers with New Day Records, and you can wander over to flip through vintage and new vinyl and listen to tunes (one new release is from indie-pop northerners The Provincial Archive) as you savour your excellent coffee.
11 St. Paul St., 807-344-3900
The Bean Fiend Café and Sandwich Bar
Known for its friendly staff and vibe, The Bean Fiend quickly became a staple in Thunder Bay’s trendy Bay and Algoma neighborhood in the north end. Settle into one its booths or two in-season outdoor patios, and sample some coffee served in pottery mugs and made with organic fair trade beans from British Columbia-based Oso Negro. For tea drinkers, the offerings revolve around Silk Road’s organic portfolio; try, for example, the lemongrass-flavoured Philospher’s Brew. The coffee selection, in addition to the classics, includes a “red eye” (coffee with a shot of espresso) and a “bean fiend supremo” (coffee dolled up with honey, cream, two kinds of sugar and cinnamon). Or try a cupcake latte just because. And the extensive homemade baking selection? Totally worth the calories. (Try the “compost cookie.”) Or, go for more substantial fare like a roasted chicken, spinach and brie sandwich grilled on rye, or one of multiple vegetarian soups.
194 Algoma St., 807-768-2326
Another new addition to the local coffeehouse scene, Espresso Joya serves up staples like espresso (naturally), americanos and lattes decorated with those Instagrammable foam hearts or ferns, as well as more newfangled fare including matcha lattes and a house special called the “Jamiecano” (an americano with whipped cream). One local favourite is coffee made with Rose N Crantz Roasting Company coffee beans, roasted in small batches right in Thunder Bay. Decorated with some comfy thrift store chairs and colorful local art, Joya makes a great spot to enjoy homemade granola with locally made yogurt from Slate River Dairy, hearty homemade soups like minestrone or borscht, yoga on Tuesday nights, live music on Thursday evenings and the occasional music-and-chess event.
8 Cumberland St. S., 807-632-1411
Courtesy Espresso Joya
The Renaissance Café is tucked into the city’s southside core and offers organic, free-trade coffee, including a Thunder Bay product, Wolfhead Coffee, which finishes its beans by smoking them with aged mesquite hardwood. The spot itself is unassuming but welcoming, with big windows, local art and framed burlap coffee sacks on the walls. Choose from an assortment of coffee styles (the usual Italian staples: latte, espresso, macchiato, cortado, cappuccino), teas, baked goods including bagels, and house-made chili. On Saturday afternoons, stop by for the café’s Love of Language program, where you can learn or brush up on your French, Spanish, Italian, Finnish or Ojibwe with other patrons.
516A Victoria Ave. E., 807-622-2000
Easy to spot with its cheerful dark yellow exterior and enviable location beside Thunder Bay landmark restaurant The Hoito, the Calico combines coziness (bookshelves, striped-fabric booths, a fireplace, dark red pressed tin ceiling) with quirk (turquoise vinyl lounges, a side table that’s actually an old safe with the logo “Lauri’s Pawn Broker”). It’s a popular spot for local book or CD launches, and makes a low-key office-away-from-home for the self-employed and students. Calico uses organic and/or fair trade coffee to make espresso con panna, lattes, cappuccinos and all kinds of chilled coffee drinks, plus also feature non-java drinks like hot chocolate bianca, apple cider and herbal teas served in a pretty mesh twist with a side dish of honey. There’s a small meeting room for groups, and outdoor seating in the summer.
316 Bay St., 807-766-9087