Calgary is popularly known as the gateway to the Rockies, a city situated just east of breathtaking mountains, crystal clear streams, and impressive wildlife. Throw in a yearly rodeo and of course the Calgary Tower and you've pretty much summed up this iconic western Canadian city.
But while these are recognizable (and somewhat stereotypical) Calgary icons, what has quickly become apparent is the specialty coffee culture in this city has deep roots, and remains red hot here in 2021. Not only is there a growing number of top caliber cafes and coffee roasters, but Calgary lays claim to being the home of Canada's top baristas for much of the last decade. Canadian Barista Champions like Jeremy Ho, Ben Put, Cole Torode, Jill Hoff, and others have helped cement this city's reputation as a global hub of coffee excellence.
Canada’s fourth largest city has a coffee culture that's second to none. Whether you’re a lucky resident, or just passing through on a drive along the Trans-Canada Highway, Calgary's world-class coffee scene beckons.
Rosso Coffee Roasters
Rosso Coffee Roasters is home to two-time Canadian Barista Champion Cole Torode. They have seven cafes located throughout the city, each one serving the brand's wide array of roasts, from standard daily offerings (Tipping Point, Two Wheel Espresso) to outstanding Limited Edition roasts like the recent Finca Hawaii. Rosso's take on modern roasting is proudly served by independent shops across the city.
Rosso's original Ramsay location opened back in September 2007, and makes a great first stop. Rosso roasts on their new-to-them fully retrofitted Probat G45 with all new bells and whistles from Kirsch + Mausser. Here they offer a full range of espresso-based drinks from their state-of-the-art La Marzocco Linea PB ABR that you can find showcased in the center of the cafe. Filter coffee can be enjoyed as a rotating menu of seasonal coffee brewed by batch via FETCO.
Monogram Coffee are undoubtably one of the biggest names in Calgary. Their launch in 2014 was featured in Sprudge, led by three former Phil & Sebastian employees: Jeremy Ho, Ben Put, and Justin Eyford. Since then they've gone from strength to strength, opening multiple locations and building a wholesale network that stretches across North America. Monogram sources and roasts all of their own coffee, and the attention to detail and quality that comes from this is second to none.
Their first cafe, located in the Altadore neighborhood of Calgary opened its doors in March 2015. They have since opened two more locations in the city. Their 5th Ave downtown location offers a free educational tasting experience the last Wednesday of every month at noon. (I’ve been, and it’s a great experience.) Their Britannia location is home to “the vault,” which is their collection of some of the most exciting coffees you'll taste in the country/world. This location also features their “Atlas” program, which curates unique coffees from various roasters every month from across the globe.
Phil & Sebastian
Phil & Sebastian is a local favorite of many Calgarians. It is the story of two University of Calgary engineers—Phil Robertson and Sebastian Sztabzyb—who rose from humble Farmers Market beginnings in 2007 to what is now a globally recognized coffee brand, deeply associated with coffee culture in Calgary. Today there are a total of six Phil & Sebastian locations throughout the city, with one more slated to open in 2021. Many of the Phil & Sebastian cafes feature donuts from their sibling company Hoopla Donuts. This entry into the donut scene has been a natural fit for the company, and is a must try for any Calgary coffee lover.
Make sure to visit the Simmons Building location in East Village. It’s their Roastery HQ and a great place to people watch. They offer tours (free and paid) as well, which can be found on their website. What I love about this specific cafe location is that when you walk up to the bar the barista will handle your order and make your drink on the spot. There is no ordering at a till and then waiting elsewhere for your drink. This is due to the two-station Modbar setup Phil & Sebastian employs at Simmons, while grinding happens on two Nuova Simonelli Mythos II grinders. Batch brew is done on FETCO, ground on a Mahlkönig EK-43. Pause at the large glass windows and watch as the coffee is roasted fresh in front of your eyes. It’s a great place to get the full Phil & Sebastian experience.
Sought x Found
Founded by a husband and wife team with a clear passion for coffee, Sought x Found are one of the newest excellent Calgary coffee roasting and cafe brands.
Their focus and attention to detail is clear from the moment you step foot inside the cafe. Make sure to order a coffee from their Pure Coffee hand brew bar. The coffee selection covers a wide spectrum of unique flavor characters, and there are anywhere from six to eight coffees on rotation each season. Not only do they focus on the quality and experience of the coffee but they have a significant focus on sustainability and care of the environment. They offer discounts for customers who bring in their own cup for coffee or their own container for beans. Sought x Found has also recently expanded their footprint with the opening of The Gallery, their new seating area attached to their original cafe featuring beautiful greenery by Kokedama.
Roasting happens in small batches on two San Franciscan Roasters (1lb and 6lb) right there in the back half of the cafe. At the coffee bar they're running a two group La Marzocco Linea PB; their main espresso service uses the Nuova Simonelli Mythos grinder, and for all single dose coffee including their hand brew and premium espresso, they use a Mahlkönig EK43. For hand brew coffee they brew using the Hario Switch.
Take note of the ample (and free!) parking in the gravel lot behind this cafe, a rarity in Calgary, where parking is sometimes the trickiest part of finding great coffee.
Calgary Heritage Roasting Co.
Located in the historical C.C. Snowdon building, Calgary Heritage Roasting Co. officially opened up June 1, 2019 and not only is it full of local history, it is absolutely gorgeous! The brain-child of Mike Wenzlawe and Jamie Parker, these two former wild-land firefighters, have created something truly stunning and unlike any other cafe in the city.
Pull up to the tables made from the actual 100-year-old floorboards reclaimed from the basement and sip on a hand-crafted drink made from their baristas. Want to see how coffee is stored, bagged, and packaged? Head down into their basement to see the inner workings of a roastery.
Inside the cafe you can find twin La Marzocco Linea Mini's paired with Compac grinders. All their coffee roasting happens on site with their Loring S15 Falcon. Batch brew is handled by percolation, an old convective style brewing method.
Good Trade Co.
Good Trade first popped up at the Crossroads Farmers Market in 2018, before putting down roots in the heart of the Kensington neighborhood with their first brick-and-mortar location.
Their flagship cafe location officially opened in December 2019, and has been a welcome addition to the city’s coffee scene. They are running inside a two-group La Marzocco Linea PB Auto-Volumetric espresso machine with two Nuova Simonelli Mythos One grinders, while their batch brew is handled by a FETCO 3L Twin Station XTS brewing system.
Good Trade is unique as all of their coffee is sourced exclusively from Colombia. “All in with people means all-in with Colombia” says co-founder Brandon Waardenburg. When you visit make sure to snag a seat in their giant half-circle window called the living room. It’s a great place to chat with friends and family, or just people watch as they stroll through the streets of Kensington.
Lukes Drug Mart
Coffee… in a drug store? Yup, welcome to Lukes Drug Mart. While it may be a little unusual, Calgary residents have long known Lukes as home to one of the very best retail coffee selections in the city, alongside ice cream, vinyl records, and flu shots (it's still a working pharmacy). They feature a great selection of Canadian and American roasters as well as some international options, with recent offerings including Sweet Bloom, Coffee Collective, Intelligentsia and more.
Espresso and a soft serve is the perfect order, particularly if you're lucky enough to catch the Charcoal & Super-Milk option. Lukes has multiple locations throughout Calgary, including two new locations inside the New Central Calgary Public Library. This award-winning architectural masterpiece is a fitting home to two Lukes cafes.
Tyler Hagan is the creator of Calgary-based coffee blog Commonly Coffee. This is Tyler Hagan's first feature for Sprudge.