Ottawa, Ontario—Canada’s capital, caught between Montreal and Toronto on too many bands’ Canadian tour legs. At first blush, when thinking of its coffee culture, Ottawa might conjure something of a blank slate—but that just might be all the snow.
Truthfully, Ottawa’s coffee scene has exploded as of late. Having just hosted its inaugural Ottawa Coffee Fest in the 4,900-square-foot, historic Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park, Ottawa stands poised to counter an ill-deserved reputation as a sleepy government town with a Starbucks at every corner.
Whether as a way-point or a destination on your next trip up north, Ottawa has in recent years become a distinctive stop for coffee drinkers, with a robust and lively scene and a litany of well-differentiated takes on the local shop.
Any exploration of Ottawa’s third wave scene starts here—both literally and figuratively. Founded in 2000 and having since grown to a sizable chain (that has thus far resisted expansion beyond city limits), Bridgehead holds down the capital with a roastery location at the crossroads of Little Italy and Chinatown, in an architecturally impressive warehouse.
A Probat roaster proudly hums along just behind the seating area; beside it, a German stone mill grinds away for fresh loaves of their in-house bread. The cupping lab and other open offices innocuously line the back of the establishment.
On-demand Kalita pour-overs and house made kombucha feature on the menu, while expansive murals highlight Bridgehead’s fair trade relationships dating back to the beginning when the company was at one point run by Oxfam.
Most anyone familiar with Ottawa’s coffee scene will readily acknowledge Bridgehead’s pioneering influence. Although Ottawa is now home to a couple dozen Bridgehead shops, partnerships such as with Ottawa’s LOAM Clay Studio for a hand-thrown ceramic mug illustrate an ongoing attention to detail.
Black Squirrel Books
Black Squirrel Books hews closer to the coffeehouse as an intellectual hub than the average establishment. Serving coffee by local roasters Bluebarn and Cloudforest (the latter of which specializes in coffees from Ecuador), Black Squirrel also recently launched a new cocktail menu and charcuterie board. Acting as a hub for the city’s small but vibrant experimental and new music scene, it’s not unusual to see mainstay local improvisors like Linsey Wellman filling the space with curious sounds, or to find the walls reverberating with drone music well into the night.
Possibly more impressive than the coffees and local microbrews up front is the book collection located towards the back. A massive library sprawls right down to the basement, all but guaranteeing a chance encounter with a new conversation piece to pair with your cappuccino.
Black Squirrel Books wears its literary identity on its sleeve: various decorative typewriters casually mingle amongst its regulars, many of whom are students from nearby Carleton University. Indigenous art takes a showplace along a sidewall. It’s a meeting place that foregrounds different perspectives—a coffeehouse ingrained with the value of the exchange of ideas.