A few steps inside Neo Coffee Bar and the bustling street scene of downtown Toronto melts away. Perhaps it's because you are within an architectural balancing act. With dueling walls of exposed concrete and wood paneling, the space teeters perfectly—and intentionally—between the industrial and the natural. Or, maybe it's the aroma of ground coffee and freshly baked pastries filling the air, delicately blending with waves of chill music. Neo Coffee Bar is a case of the right ingredients—a recipe to unwind, and a reason for an inevitable return.
Masashi Nakagome and Bruce Ly have spent over a year bringing their unique vision of a coffee shop to life. With doors open for only six months, it's not surprising to learn that Neo Coffee Bar is the culmination of more than two decades of combined cafe experience. If Neo means new, know that this Fredrick Street establishment—still in it's infancy— rests on a solid foundation.
Upon talking with Bruce and Masashi, it seems there were three major requirements for their space: a stage for coffee to be prepared and presented, a bakery visible to patrons, and open seating near the bar, which encourages customers to engage with one another. In actuality, these features of the shop elicit an effortless transparency. Visitors intentionally bear witness to Neo's particular brand of mise en place. Whether it's behind the bar, or in the bakery, every countertop is spotless—every ingredient and tool has its rightful home.
What separates Neo Coffee Bar from the rest is their focus on pastry. Seasoned baker Masashi, formerly of Manic and Nadege, has graced Toronto with a unique set of desserts to pair with coffee. Neo specializes in Japanese Roll Cake: a French pastry that was adapted by Japanese bakers to have less butter and less sugar. The resulting fluffiness makes "one slice taste like you'd like another," as Masashi so accurately shared.
Lined up perfectly in the pastry case—and constructed like works of art—Neo's Japanese roll cakes boast flavors like Matcha White Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Truffle, Shingen and London Fog. There is something for every palate to enjoy and explore—making it even harder for customers not to indulge in that irresistible second piece.
Neo is a multi-roaster. Their coffee program is particularly interesting in that they maintain a steady supply of beans from Toronto's de Mello Palheta, while also bringing in a guest roaster each month. Parlor Coffee from Brooklyn, Elm Coffee Roasters of Seattle, 49th Parallel from Vancouver and Onibus Coffee of Japan have all made their way into Neo Coffee Bar's hoppers. Each visiting roaster only sends along coffees that best showcase their talent. In this way, Neo achieves a nice balance between honoring the local while embracing the diversity that roasters from other cities can bring to the table.
Using the right ingredients has been paramount for both Masashi and Bruce. In the bakery, as behind the coffee bar, most everything—from the eggs, to the flours and milk—is wholesome and organic. Spending time at Neo and chatting with the owners about the shop they built, their history and their daily processes, it becomes clear that they themselves are ingredients that need not be overlooked. Bruce and Masashi's friendly, welcoming personalities along with their dedication to their craft are a huge part of what makes Neo Coffee Bar so lovely.