The coffee scene is booming in Montreal, and new, independent coffee shops are sprouting across the city. New owners are part of the so-called “third-wave” of coffee makers, a movement that started over a decade ago in the Pacific Northwest. According to coffee aficionados, the first wave of coffee making was basic filter coffee, the second was the popularization of espresso machines, which lead to the success of big coffee chains like Starbucks. The third wave is characterized by a “return to the roots”: owners demand fair-trade (or even direct-trade), sustainably harvested, organic and single-origin coffee beans and customers get increasingly specific about how they want their cup of joe to taste like. Espressos are expertly pulled (giving way to the rise of “star baristas” that participate in yearly championships), and smoother tasting coffees are made using sophisticated tools like siphons, while drip coffee makes a comeback, thanks to the Chemex coffeemaker and cold drip machines.
While many of the new generation of independent coffee shops open in trendy neighborhoods like Plateau Mont-Royal and Mile End, the movement is reaching citywide popularity and excellent coffee can now be found easily. Here’s a list of five outstanding coffee shops, each with its own character, all with a great atmosphere – and free Wi-Fi, of course.
This coffee shop opened by Jean-François Leduc, a coffee aficionado who remembers falling in love with the brewed nectar as a kid is located in a booming neighborhood of Montreal and close to the Atwater Market, one of the city’s best public markets. The diverse crowd that walks Saint-Henri’s streets is partly what makes the Café so interesting, along with the owner’s true devotion to the coffee bean. Leduc insists on using sustainably harvested, organic, single-origin coffee beans, which he roasts himself several times a week in the back of the coffee shop.
Owned by Anthony Benda, a finalist in the Canadian National Barista Championship, and Scott Rao, author of The Professional Barista’s Handbook, Café Myriade is a small, busy, and lively coffee joint that expertly serves a wide variety of caffeinated beverages—from the classic espresso to the subtle siphon coffee. The staff is friendly and very knowledgeable, but not lofty. No lectures are given, but conversations between baristas and customers are encouraged to ensure satisfaction.
A gem of a coffee place located out of the way in the industrial area of the Mile End, Café Falco is worth hunting for. The décor skillfully blends loft features such as extra-high ceilings and concrete floors with eclectic decorative pieces and warming materials such as wood and leather to produce a bright and artful space where one wants to linger for hours. Siphon coffees are skillfully brewed and perfectly balanced, and the place serves more than the usual coffee shop fare: it's simple, healthy, and deeply satisfying Japanese cuisine served for lunch makes it worth the trip alone.
Caffè in Gamba invite coffee lovers to live la dolce vita (the sweet life), and the place’s plush atmosphere certainly encourages losing track of time. Decked with velvet couches, frilly frames, and black walls, Caffè in Gamba has a decidedly Italian vibe to it, which is nicely complemented by its selection of snacks and sweets that include panini, biscotti, and panettone. Faithful to the Italian coffee tradition, the place specializes in classic espresso making, which comes in the usual delicious variations, from the short, black drink topped with a perfect crema to the creamiest latte.
This tiny coffee shop is a welcome addition to the downtown coffee scene, and its cute storefront embellished with dark green wrought iron is a welcome visual relief from an otherwise rather boring-looking block of commercial buildings. Pikolo was opened by a young coffee lover who learned to care about how coffee is harvested and traded by working in coffee plantations herself. Her passion is infectious and at her coffee shop, every espresso cup is pulled by baristas who care (and are knowledgeable) about the origins of the beans they use, all imported by direct trade.