There’s a time and a place for quick-stop coffee shops like Tim Hortons or even fast food chains a la McDonald’s. They’re consistent and they’re everywhere, so you know wherever you are in the country, you can find yourself a Café Mocha or a McCafé.But for those moments when you’re craving more than a cookie-cutter franchise and want to plunk down in a comfy seat within a welcoming ambiance and read the paper or just watch the world go by, independently-owned coffee shops are where it’s at.Supporting a small, local business feels good and coffee-shop culture in Southern Ontario seems to be at an all-time high.Here are five eclectic coffee shops in Southern Ontario that everyone should try at least once.Eclectic coffee shops in Southern Ontario: Mahtay in St. Catherines
University towns are saturated with coffee shops, which can be both a blessing and a curse. In St. Catherines, Mahtay Cafe and Lounge is the perfect mix of studious students, relaxed retirees and frenetic freelancers.The walls are decorated with various artworks created by local talent and the menu of both food (breakfast, sandwiches, muffins, desserts) and drinks (coffees, juices, beer and other boozy options) is as diverse as its crowd. Plant-based eaters will enjoy the vegan-friendly choices and anyone waiting to catch a bus into Toronto (or who missed it and is waiting for the next one) will appreciate the coffee shop’s close proximity to the station.Mahtay Cafe also host weekly events, like live music, poetry readings and games.Eclectic coffee shops in Southern Ontario: The Vic Cafe, Picton
The Vic Cafe is more cafe than espresso bar, still it’s a must-visit when in Prince Edward County. Nestled next to an old movie theatre, The Vic is a favourite among locals and visitors alike for its creative menu and airy design. There are pencil crayons on each table and place mats made of paper for colouring; neon lights decorate the ceiling while colourful, graphic wallpaper covers the walls. It’s Insta-worthy for sure.While the space is a hot spot during high season, in true diner fashion there are seats at the bar, which are more easy to come by and are perfect for perching on with a plate of eggs, a latte and a good book in hand.Eclectic coffee shops in Southern Ontario: Fika, Toronto
It hardly seems fair to pick just one coffee shop to represent Toronto on this list — each neighbourhood in the city could have one of it’s own — but we couldn’t leave the Six off of our list either.Fika, located in Kensington Market, holds its own in the competitive and ever-changing urban coffee scene. The staff are delightful and there’s a local feel to the place, despite it being smack dab in the middle of one of the most vibrant ’hoods in town. The coffee itself is spot on and there is a rotating selection of sweet treats to choose from.Inside, the decor is bright and there’s an entire wall covered in paperback books. Seating, however, is limited on cold or rainy days, so you might have to take your order to go. In the summer months, Fika opens its backyard to guests, which is outfitted with benches as well as a coveted hammock spot, in addition to its patio space out front.Eclectic coffee shops in Southern Ontario: Café Oranje, Hamilton
Come for the coffee, but stay for the homemade soup at Cafe Oranje, a little hidden gem on Hamilton’s King Street East. This quaint, full-service coffee and espresso bar uses locally-roasted, fair-trade organic coffee beans for all of its caffeinated drinks. The cafe is big on supporting its community, and paintings and prints by local artists are often for sale.Once you’ve had your fill of coffee (or tea, there are decaf options), stay for lunch. Cafe Oranje has a solid menu of breakfast and lunch options, including hot-pressed sandwiches and, yes, homemade soups. There are also vegan and gluten-free options of its sweet treats as well as take-away salads.Eclectic coffee shops in Southern Ontario: Settlement, Waterloo
With two locations in Waterloo, one in Kitchener and another in Ayr (south of Kitchener), Settlement has become somewhat of an institution in this part of the province. Settlement takes its drinks seriously and is the place to visit if you’re looking for someone to take the utmost care when they prepare you order.Each location has its own personality, but the quality is deeply seated in each location. The spaces are all comfortable and well designed, and guests are encouraged to sit down and stay awhile.In addition to its four cafe locations, Settlement roasts its own beans. Coffee fans can buy whole beans or freshly-ground coffee in store.