Review: Empire Espresso

Empire Espresso

668 College St. W. (at Grace)

7am-7pm, Cash and Debit

I was excited by the electric neon pink sandwich board sign in front of Empire Espresso, a refreshing change to the neutrals common to the neighbourhood of Little Italy.

Inside, the fluorescence continued as a surprising contrast to the pale and gorgeous wood paneling.  Brightly embroidered cushions on the vintage metal chairs were enticing, but I chose to rest on the low, wrap-around window seat bench, where I was able to capture this amazing view while I waited for my americano, made with Santa Clara beans, roasted locally by Pig Iron Coffee:


I should have taken a photo of it, because my mug was beautiful, and the coffee itself was a true indulgence. It is a testament to its deliciousness that I added zero sugar, since I normally like my caffeinated drinks sweet and milky.

I started to document my visit with these shots:



My amazingly chipper barista, Bren, gaffed at my choice. “You’ve got a custom-painted La Marzocco espresso machine behind you and you’re taking pictures of lanterns?!?!?!?”  I shrugged and told him I was sorry… I’m a bit of a shadow chaser.

But while the machine IS beautiful, I was more there for the atmosphere and the great coffee… but because of his enthusiasm, here’s a close up of my favourite part of it:


And of course the man who pulls shots from it so well… though he assures me that even though he’s been working in the fine coffee business for quite a few years now, he’s still got much to learn from his co-baristas, and the owners of Empire:


Since I am such a fan of the play between light and darkness, he insisted I get a shot of the firefly lantern, which sits on an open shelf at the top of some stairs that differentiate the space between the kitchen (where their baker creates many treats including their not-overly-sweet-but-deliciously-clovey cinnamon buns) and the cafe:


Empire Espresso’s a really lovely, community-like addition to College Street.

There is just one low-lying table in the front, and plenty of bench space around it, so I do hope it encourages a bit more random conversation (like the book club that seemed to be meeting there) and a little less laptop-face-lighting. There is even a really wonderful and eclectic selection of music to discuss, which is piped in from June Records next door.  But, should you choose to do some tap-a-tapping, or phone-charging, they do have an outlet right in the seating area.

They’ve been doing well a few other reviewers too (who focus more on the coffee than the shadows!): Toronto Life likes them here and blogTO likes them here.


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