Coffee shop alternatives

Shoptalk over a cup of coffee is a standard practice. I don’t know about you, but I am getting rather bored with the same old, same old.


According to A Brief History of Coffee Houses as Meeting Places (what a great read, thanks!):

….the first coffeehouses started springing up in the late 1600’s, there was at last an alternative to the perpetual drunken haze, people “who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of their work improved.”

In coffeehouses, the people met not to drink and sing, but to exchange ideas, to discuss poetry, philosophy, politics science. One could even argue that coffee was the drink that brought the Enlightenment to Europe.

Career women, especially those in the entrepreneur world, know the value of “Let’s have coffee”. I am particularly fond of one-on-one conversations, where I get to know someone more upclose and personal. In my work, many of my conversations happen virtually – Skype, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. – so putting a (real life) face to an Avator or voice is always an exciting moment to look forward to.

By default, coffee chats happen in coffee shops. And again by default, Starbucks or similar chains are the typical choices because of their locations.

So lately I have been thinking: Why default to the same old, same old? Why not explore other ways to do out-of-the-office shoptalk? Why not make the experience more unique and enjoyable?

Alternative #1: Independent cafes


The first step of course is to explore the many independent cafes that have sprouted up in the city in recent years. Some remain small and unique, a few have expanded to become a “mini chain”, as described by  Shame to admit that I have not explored many yet – more goodness waiting to be discovered!

Here’s a couple of useful links for independent cafes in Toronto:

Recommendations by
A comprehensive list and reviews by

What about YOUR city? Any good ones?

Alternative #2: Art Studios


I recently had a reunion with an ex-colleague at Studio Fuse, an art studio and exhibit space with a quiet cafe that is open to public. Situated in the Distillery Historical District, it certain beats a commercial joint amidst office buildings. During the afternoon hours of our visit, the space was relatively empty, so we pretty much had the whole room without worrying about eavesdropping (a concern in coffee shops in the business districts).

There are many similar establishments in Toronto and I am sure in other cities around the world as well. I have attended many functions in spaces like that, including an intimate birthday party in a cupcake studio and a Red Cross Canada fund-raising event in another art studio, etc.

Do you know of similar spaces in any city? If so, please share!

Alternative #3: Chinese Tea House


I stumbled upon Tao Tea Leaf while looking for a quick workday lunch spot. There were 2 options in the busy business district: this tea place (showcasing some interesting-looking vegetarian dishes) or greasy pub fare next door. No brainer.

It was quite an experience to step in from the buzzing summer heat into a quiet tea house. Much like other tea retailers, it had rows and rows of tea leaves (and the accompanying aroma), but the space was also decked out in Chinese rose-wood furnitures.  I felt rather regal, to be honest, and even slowed down to enjoy every bite of my lunch.

The place worked equally well for one-on-one meetings.  My client and I had a nice quiet conversation over lunch. It was 2 years ago and I am not sure if they have changed – but according to their website, they also host tea tasting events and workshops.

Does anyone know of other Chinese (or maybe Japanese and Indian too?) tea houses? Did you enjoy the experience?


4 thoughts on “Coffee shop alternatives”

  1. Timely post. I like to meet clients and friends at different coffee shops in and around Toronto so I can experience them. I write an annual coffee shop ranking and it’s nice to include some of the smaller ones that have wowed me, like Aroma, or Bulldog, or Fair Trade,

    I also like talking business over tea because it generally takes longer and is a lot quieter in tea shops. Different crowd!

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