Coffee in Canada

I am a regularly caffeinated person. A great morning starts off with a nice strong espresso and continues from there. It’s been interesting adapting the slightly different Canadian coffee market. In general, weaker is the rule of the day for coffee although you can find stronger (not necessarily better) coffee if you look for it. There are some other nuances too.

Where to Buy

There are a few major coffee shop chains, supplemented by a mass of independent stores.  I tend towards the chains because they’re more reliable if I go from one store to another, and I don’t have a “local” store I can hit up regularly.  If you’re in Canada, or at least the greater Toronto area, you’ll most likely run into Tim Hortons, Second Cup, Timothy’s World Coffee, and Starbucks.  While Tim’s is a national icon (and Canadians are attached to Timbits along with hockey and the maple leaf!), you’re stuck with either mild or mild coffee.  It’s fine in a pinch but it seems to be a relatively unremarkable cup of joe.  My preferred cups right now are either Second Cup’s bold coffee (usually Paradiso Dark) or Starbuck’s bold (changes depending on location, stock).  For the price and coffee quality, the latter is the better choice.

Doctoring It

I haven’t figured out where this comes from, but I first came across the concept of “double double” at a Tim Hortons; references to the concept also refer to it as having originated at Tim’s.  The cashier asked how I wanted my coffee and I just looked at her blankly, and then she explained the intracies of the ordering.  She mentioned combinations beyond the double/double, but I haven’t seen these used anywhere, even at Tim Horton’s.  I went into a McDonalds in Canada, and was able to order a “double double” coffee there as well, although I think it’s a more manual process.  Tim Horton’s seems to have some sort of prepared mixture to meet the needs of its drinkers.

Cultural Difference?

I wondered if the preference for non-bitter coffee comes from the cultural history of British tea drinkers.  Certainly I’ve never heard so many comments about the problems of “bitter” coffee, mostly in relation to Starbucks.  On the other hand, try walking into a Starbucks within 15 blocks of downtown and not find a line!?  So business is good, even if most people prefer the milder coffee at Tim’s.  [I can’t find a Web cite but there was an article in Monday’s (June 23, 2008) National Post that said Tim Horton’s has 80% of Canada’s bakery market, and 90% of the coffee market; I’ll add if I can unearth it.  Tim Horton’s says they have 75% of the coffee and baked goods market in Canada, with 399 stores in the U.S.]

I’ve been seeing more news about Tim Horton’s attempting to move further into the US.  They’ve got a bit of a beachhead, so my folks no longer have to go to Windsor to get butter tarts!  But the coffee and bakery items are not distinctive enough to hold off the behemoths like Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds, as they shift into premium coffees.  Starbucks, Peets, and Seattle’s Best serve a broader array of coffee tastes, and the quality of the coffee is at least as good, if not better, than the stores that sell food as well.

But there are no coffee wars for me.  I’m just out for the flavor and the caffeine, the bolder the better!  When in Canada, though, do as the Canadians – enjoy Tim Hortons for the experience, even if it’s not your cup of tea.  Sometimes it’s nice to mix up your bitter coffee with a nice, puffy XL double/double.  Save an ‘old fashioned’ donut for me!