Niagara’s Best Independent Coffee Houses

By Jill Tham

Finding a good cup of coffee is easy, however the search for a truly unique and incredible cup of Joe is not such a simple task.  You need not look any further as these three independent coffeehouses in the Niagara Region are as warm and inviting as the coffee itself. Nowhere else can you find coffee shops that are this full of character, community involvement, comforting food and premium coffee, along with owners who are charismatic and in tune with fair trade.

Mahtay Cafe

Want to drink mate? Or should you say, “Unos Mate?” Be careful, the cup of tea comes with an extensive set of rules to follow while drinking, such as don’t touch the straw, never complain and certainly don’t take too long to drink your share. The Mahtay Café and Lounge in St. Catharines, Ont., was named after the South American tea yerba mate; a tea that symbolizes community and friendship.
The Mahtay Café and Lounge opened its doors to the downtown core three years ago. “It was always a romance in cafés and finally opportunity met circumstance and that is how it all started,” recalls Chris Lowes, owner and operator of the café. Lowe recalls the harmonious occasion when he selected his coffee roaster. “When you open up a coffee shop you get to taste a bunch of different coffees from a bunch of different roasters. It was the perfect mix for us,” explains Lowes.

Lowes definitely made the right choice with his selection of the Union Island Coffee Roaster.  “Our roaster was just named coffee roaster of the year by Roast Magazine,” explains Lowes. “It’s the crème de la crème of coffee roasters.” The Café offers at least three roasts at one time that vary from fair trade, direct trade or organic. “We are quite proud of our coffee,” states Lowes.

The Mahtay Café is also proud of their commitment to promoting Niagara’s artists and community groups. “It’s our mandate to never say no,” states Lowes. In order to fulfill their promise of opening their doors to community groups, last August Lowes expanded the café to include a community room where events can be held while others continue to enjoy the café atmosphere. “We host a variety of events from music, poetry, book signings, plays, readings, Twilight Jazz Series, open mic and local groups who like to use our facility for their meetings,” says Lowes. To further keep their feet planted in the community, 50 paintings from local artists, that change monthly, hang on display in the art gallery.

Being a downtown location allows the Café to serve a diverse array of customers. “The people that cross our threshold come from different backgrounds. We serve office workers, lawyers, Brock University professors and students,” says Lowes.

Free Wi-Fi, bookshelves filled with an eclectic assortment of books and a variety of board games are also available to customers of the café to use at their leisure, further adding to the homey experience.

Fresh ingredients and a homemade touch is what makes Mahtay Café stand out. “We often get people phoning in to ask us what the soup of the day is,” laughs Lowes. “We make all of our soups from scratch.” The menu has something to appeal to every palate, and includes a variety of vegan and gluten free options. In fact, the staff is happy to make any sandwich vegan or gluten free upon request. The secret to the great taste is the wholesome ingredients such as apple jam and roasted chicken. “The Chicken Apple Club and Quinoa Salad are our most popular menu items,” says Lowes.

Unos Mate? The drink of the Gods is a perfect fit for the namesake of the Mahtay Café. The Yerba Mate is designed to strengthen the immune system and increase endurance. Whether you drink the tea or not, you will most definitely be rejuvenated and feel a boost of energy after your visit to the Mahtay Café and Lounge. For more information visit mahtay.ca

Station 1 Coffee House

Laurie Didyk-Mindorff, owner and manager of Station 1 Coffeehouse in Grimsby, always envisioned a place where organic coffee and fresh baked goods would come together in perfect harmony. “My husband and I had been thinking about it for a long time. The old fire hall became available and we decided to go for it,” recalls Didyk-Mindorff.

Didyk-Mindorff set out to find a solid cup of coffee and a skilled baker and didn’t have to look far to find both. “Everything is made in house; not many places make their own baked goods,” states Didyk-Mindorff. “We brew fair trade organic coffee that is roasted in Hamilton. You don’t have to ask for it.”

The savoury muffins, which sell out fast, are made with local and wholesome ingredients such as cheddar and broccoli or sundried tomato and corn. They also serve sweet muffins on their menu, with options such as chocolate chip, date, blueberry, blueberry cranberry, and morning glory. “All our muffins and our chocolate cupcakes are made with gluten free flour. We also have vegetarian options like our chilli which is very popular with everyone,” states Didyk-Mindorff.

With their signature homemade Panini’s such as the turkey and brie and the three chesse on freshly baked focaccia bread, Station 1 is the perfect lunch destination for those seeking tasty and healthy options. Cappuccinos and Lattes are made the old fashioned way. “We freshly grind the beans and we put the grinds in the filter and press it ourselves. People who really know coffee can tell the difference and enjoy it,” says Didyk-Mindorff. For those wanting to pair their Panini with a beverage other than coffee, they have local wine and beer on tap.

Each month the coffeehouse sponsors a local charity and donates a percentage of their hot beverage sales to the cause. “We give back to the community by running events for them in our shop. We stay closely connected to community organizations,” states Didyk-Mindorff. Station 1 is bursting with a diverse clientele. From children to grandparents, all ages of people can be seen enjoying the atmosphere and the fare in the coffeehouse. From social gatherings amongst friends to business meetings, the coffeehouse is both an ideal place for friends to share laughter and for professionals to woo their clients. With a diverse calendar of events, customers can take advantage of the open mic, talented musicians, book clubs and trivia nights.

The décor inside Station 1 is a testament to their dedication to the environment and the local community. With reclaimed wood on the walls, vintage cupboards and a countertop from the 1800s from Forks Road Pottery in Grimsby the old-fashioned décor is worth the trip all on its own. An ever-changing collection of local art, all for sale, adorns the distressed walls and gives visitors a chance to appreciate some of the local talent the community has to offer.

While there are many places to get a cup of coffee, few can deliver a complete sensory experience like Station 1. One visit to the café and you will be hooked on the mouth-watering baked goods, the aroma and fully body taste of the organic coffee and eclectic décor. For more information and menu options visit stationonecoffeehouse.ca

Vincenzo’s Café

Vincent Spacone is a true entrepreneur who has spent his career being self-employed. Dedication and delivery of a high quality product or service is ingrained in him. “I used to own a pizza business and a refrigeration business, but owning a coffee shop was my dream. I could be in the coffee shop 24 hours a day,” states Spacone.

Vincenzo’s Café, located on Portage Road in Niagara Falls, has been serving 100% organic coffee to satisfied customers for the last five years. Vincenzo’s Café stands out from all the others, first and foremost, by the quality and texture of its coffee. “It’s not a blend,” states Spacone, owner of the café.

Spacone confidently brags about his coffee. Claiming he will turn you into a connoisseur with just one cup of his brew.  “My coffee is top quality. It comes from Honduras, 5000 feet above sea level,” he states. Spacone’s coffee is selected from only fully ripened beans. The flesh is removed from the “berries,” a process that some processing plants omit. The result: a smooth cup of coffee that Spacone trusts does not irritate the digestive system. “My coffee will never keep you up at night. If it does, call me I will make you breakfast,” laughs Spacone. Although his coffee has a delicate taste when served black, Spacone recommends adding real sugar cane and half and half cream to bring out the full flavour of the coffee.

The golden coloured “crema” on top of the expresso at Vincenzo’s Café has a bold taste. “My expresso is different because there is no foam on top of the expresso, what you see is the natural oil of the coffee,” states Spacone as he downs his expresso in one shot.
Vincenzo’s is open 8am to 6pm six days a week with the exception of Sunday, which Spacone reserves as a time to be with his family.
Vincenzo’s Café has a dedicated following of loyal customers ready to pledge their allegiance to Spacone’s craft. “It’s the only place I drink coffee. It is unique; strong not bitter. I find other coffee watered down,” explains Mike Riddick, one of the many devoted customers, adding “It’s the best in Niagara.”

Although the coffee is the number one seller at the Café, followed by the All Day Breakfast, expresso and Panini’s are also popular items on the varied menu. “We often have high school French classes come by for our crepes,” states Spacone. Refusing to provide any inferior quality, Spacone food is made to order, “Call ahead and we will make you fresh pasta. We don’t put it in the cooler and warm it up again,” says Spacone.

The warm and inviting décor inside the café will make you feel as though you are enjoying your beverage in the comfort of your own home. Meetings and small groups take advantage of the couched area and the television often entertains the little ones while the mom’s catch up with each other. Vincenzo’s also serves as a place for old friends to socialize, while other individuals pull out their laptop and get some work done.

You will fall in love with Vincent’s charisma, friendly demeanor and his passion for the perfect cup of coffee. “Finally I found a great quality coffee. I can do something different than everybody else. It’s a dream come true,” says Spacone.