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Vegan-Friendly Coffee Shops that Aren’t Starbucks

Coffee is a staple beverage for (pretty much) every university student. No elixir can boost your mood or energy so infallibly or deliciously as coffee. I started drinking it when I was 17 and never looked back. However, when I adopted a vegan diet, my coffee lost its devout companion: milk. So I became one of those insufferable snobs who drinks her coffee black and brags about it. Those of you who drink plain coffee know that if you let your palate adjust, you’ll appreciate the coffee’s  flavour more when it’s devoid milk and sugar. Most of the time, I like a cup of earthy, tar-black, unadulterated coffee but I’ll admit that it gets boring. Luckily, most cafés accommodate to their plant-eating patrons now so there’s a bounty of options to chose from.

With a shop on every corner, Starbucks has monopolized both the mainstream and vegan coffee market. Unfortunately, their siren-emblazoned cups have also become synonymous with “basic.” Thankfully though, the Ryerson neighbourhood is teeming with other coffee shops that have alternative creamers. If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, you know how cumbersome it is to ask the barista for non-dairy milk every time. Lucky for you, I’m here to spare you the hassle and embarrassment. An unapologetic caffeine addict, I’ve tried every coffee purveyor within a five-minute walk from campus in my past three years here. So I’ve distilled for you the unique features of each one and graded them based on personal liking. Of course, this is a grossly subjective evaluation so it’s best to try them out yourself.

Also, I want to note that I did not assess them based on taste because I’ve found flavour preference a highly polarizing subject among coffee enthusiasts. Well, except for when it comes to Timmie’s. I think that as a nation, we’ve unanimously recognized that their coffee is hella nasty but just won’t admit it out loud. I get it, Tim Horton’s has become an emblem of Canadian culture and must be revered accordingly. But still, yuck. You’ll notice that McDonald’s McCafé isn’t on the list, either. I’ve omitted the two franchises – coffee titans they may be – because they don’t offer any non-dairy milk. Also, both restaurants serve coffee that tastes like the swamp water that Shrek himself bathed in.

Nonetheless, I’ve ranked them by the following categories:

Location: the higher the score, the closer

Price: the higher the score, the cheaper

Environment: the higher the score, the nicer ambiance

Ideal uses: studying, casual reading, relaxing, or dating

Non-dairy options

What I like

What I don’t like

1. Jimmy’s Coffee (84 Gerrard Street West)

Location: 2/5 (far)

Price: 3/5 (reasonable)

Environment: 5/5 (historical building)

Ideal uses: Studying, casual reading, relaxing, dating

Non-dairy milk options: soy and almond

What I like: Really good music, vintage décor, three storeys (including conference room!)

What I don’t like: Furthest away from campus

2. Balzac’s Coffee Roasters (122 Bond Street)

Location: 5/5 (very close)

Price: 2/5 (expensive)

Environment: 4/5 (hipster-magnet)

Ideal uses: casual reading, relaxing, dating

Non-dairy milk options: soy, almond, and macadamia (yeah, apparent it exists)

What I like: On-campus, vegan desserts, vintage decor

What I don’t like: Overcrowded and noisy – pretty much every hour is peak traffic hour

3. Black Bear Espresso (25 Carlton Street)

Location: 3/5 (kind of close)

Price: 1/5 (expensive)

Environment: 4/5 (Scandinavian décor)

Ideal uses: studying, casual reading, relaxing, dating

Non-dairy milk options: almond and coconut

What I like: Photogenic, vegan desserts, close to the MAC and College Station

What I don’t like: Far away from campus epicentre and not enough seating

4. Zavida Coffee Roasters (382 Yonge Street, № 3)

Location: 4/5 (close)

Price: 3/5 (reasonable)

Environment: 3/5 (warm, homely theme)

Ideal uses: studying, casual reading, relaxing, dating

Non-dairy milk options: soy and almond

What I like: Well-illuminated setting, sugar-free flavour syrups, vegan protein balls

What I don’t like: Not enough seating, Wifi time-limit

5. Aroma Espresso Bar (562 Bay Street)

Location: 4/5 (close)

Price: 1/5 (expensive)

Environment: 3/5 (minimalist theme)

Ideal uses: studying, casual reading, relaxing

Non-dairy milk options: soy and almond

What I like: Close to TRSM, vegan and gluten-free alternatives for menu items

What I don’t like: Their free chocolate isn’t vegan

6. Panera Bread (322 Yonge Street)

Location: 5/5 (very close)

Price: 5/5 (cheap)

Environment: 1/5 (meh)

Ideal uses: studying, casual reading, relaxing

Non-dairy milk options: almond

What I like: Unlimited refills, two-storeys, homespun meals

What I don’t like: Very crowded during meal-time rush, Your-Granny’s-House décor

Honorable mention: Second Cup (Eaton Centre)

They don’t have any seating but they do offer soy milk. Plus, they’re Canadian!

Photo sources:








Vic is currently pursuing a BA in English Literature. She loves her program but unfortunately spends more time browsing dank memes than studying. You can read some of her daily drivel on her Twitter, @LovePoisonNo9, where she is obscenely candid. Vic's also pretty thirsty for Insta followers, too.
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