Toronto might have the world’s smallest cafe

Inside The Coffee Lab, a one-man coffee shop inside a display window on Spadina


The Coffee Lab (141 Spadina, at Richmond, instagram.com/the.coffee.lab) is about as much of a hole-in-the-wall as a cafe can get.

Owner and barista Joshua Campos has set up shop inside what was once a dingy office display window outside a low-rise office building on Spadina.

His shop is 18 square feet, just enough room for a machine, grinder, fridge, sink, hot water dispenser and Campos himself. 

The Guinness Book of World Records currently recognizes a 22-square-foot coffee shop in London, England, as the smallest, Campos tells me between shot pulls.

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Natalia Manzocco

His previous Coffee Lab location, inside Willow Books on Bloor, was positively palatial by comparison (52 square feet). Campos’s original plan was to have two locations running concurrently — until his landlord gave him two days to move out in March.

“It worked out for the best,” he says. “It’s a better location — it’s closer to downtown. Plus, people used to be right out front of the shop, and they couldn’t find the place.”

That’s not really a problem these days. On Spadina, one passerby after the next does a double-take spotting Campos, in his cap and black jacket, pouring lattes from within his glass enclosure. Some take pictures others dutifully get in line.

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Natalia Manzocco

It’s a smart gimmick — but Campos’s coffee cred is rock-solid. Before opening the original Coffee Lab, he studied at the American Barista and Coffee School in Portland, Oregon and trained at Rufino Espresso and Sense Appeal

Order your espresso to stay, and he’ll hand you a marble slate with a cup (handmade in Paris) and a gold-plated spoon. (Evidently, they’re the best for espresso tastings.)

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Natalia Manzocco

That espresso, depending on the week, could be anywhere from Bows and Arrows in Victoria to Devoción in Brooklyn to Glitch in Japan.

The latter roastery gets credit for Coffee Lab’s signature drink, The Drop, which Campos says gets about as much Instagram traction as the shop itself. In a frosted glass beaker, Campos tops cold whole milk with a short shot of espresso since he picked up the technique from Glitch, he only uses their beans to make the drink.

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Natalia Manzocco

Campos also sources coffees recognized by the Cup Of Excellence competition. “As far as I know, we’re the only ones bringing Cup of Excellence into Canada,” he says.

“My goal is to have the first Michelin-star coffee shop, where every detail is important, whether it’s the spoon, your cup, the coffee – everything.” You could say he’s got room to grow.

QUESTION TIME!

Is this legal?

Sure it is! I’ve got my permit right here.

Do you get claustrophobic? Is it uncomfortable in there?

No, I’m okay. I’m used to it.

Does it get hot/cold?

I do have a little mini heater. I turned it off, cause it did get warmer in here. I’m a little scared for the wintertime, since I hope to be here all year.

Is the rent cheaper here than at your last location?

It is.

What if you have to scratch yourself?

With the display window … that wouldn’t look too good. Nowhere to hide, really.

nataliam@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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