You’ve spent all morning taking in the sights - Mount Royal, Old Montreal, St-Joseph’s Oratory. Or, like us, that’s what you planned to do but chose to sleep in and just woke up. You’re on vacation, after all. In any event, what's next? Move on to the next place on your list? Sleep some more? Decisions, decisions. Sounds like you need a coffee!
Montrealers are big on coffee, and when it’s time to ‘aller prendre un cafe’, the city has a lot of options to choose from. There’s the Canadian classics Tim Hortons, or Second Cup & Cie if you’re not fussy. Inexpensive? Sure. Special? Not so much. Those looking for a more unique coffee experience are in luck, as independent coffee houses in Montreal are everywhere. Here are 20 independent Montreal cafes every visitor should know about. They’re all over the city - a variety of boroughs and neighbourhoods. Some are in the well-worn tourist areas, easy to get to, and others are a little further. There’s something for everyone here, from the hipster to the senior, the patisserie that specializes more in pastry than coffee, to third wave cafes with knowledgeable baristas, the list accommodates all types of customers and tastes. Each entry is here because it goes beyond the generic and is somehow special. Maybe they offer a more personal touch in customer service or its venue is one of a kind. Whichever place you choose to check out (and we say choose all of them) whether it’s for the pastries, the location, atmosphere or coffee itself, you won’t be disappointed.
Say ‘Canada’ and one food item that comes to mind is maple syrup. No wonder then, that Montreal has a place that is a maple lover’s paradise. Part store and part cafe, Délices Érable et Cie on the narrow, cobble-stoned rue St. Paul in old Montreal is not on many tourists’ radars, but it should be because it’s a hidden treasure in plain site. In winter you’ll be greeted with a sample of maple flavoured hot tea as you enter and inside you’ll find everything from maple marinades, and butter, to cookies and chocolates. The best part about this place isn’t even advertised. Simply ask a staff member and they will give you a mini presentation on the various grades of maple syrup, the best time of year to buy them and provide samples to taste. Don’t forget to try the maple ice cream before you go.
Another place that flies under the radar simply because of its location- in the East end of Montreal - is Atomic, a little kitsch but cool spot with a retro vibe. A bright and colourful space that closes at midnight all week long, they occasionally have live music and DJ nights. Perfect for travelers who want sit and have a coffee minus the foot traffic or a late night out. As an added bonus, since you’ll be in the East end, you can practice your french with none of that pesky English getting in the way. When you go back home and swap travel stories with friends who’ve also visited Montreal, drop the name of this place, and it's almost a guarantee that no one else in your circle has been there. You win!
Going for a coffee with young kids isn’t always easy, but Touski has got you covered. A coop started by two single mothers who wanted to create a space that took families with children into consideration, converted what used to be a home into a 3 room cafe and eatery. Its location, a few feet across from Frontenac subway station makes it easily accessible, and is a great option for visitors who prefer homey over fancy. Eclectic vintage furniture, worn-out wood floors, and some of the original doors still in place adds to the experience. They welcome creative types of all kinds to visit and regularly host events featuring artists, poets, comedians and other types of performers, as part of their mission is to create a sense of community and make a positive impact.
This places is as far off the beaten path and as small as you can get, which is exactly why we’re telling you to check it out. Both the locale and its surroundings are best described as quaint - the city of Lachine does have its charm as does this cafe. It’s not flashy, but sometimes simple is best. The picture of all the borough names shaped like the island of Montreal is a nice touch. The seating is limited, so we would avoid visiting on the weekend or arrive early and enjoy the silence. An added bonus is it’s directly across from Lake St. Louis. Nature lovers can enjoy a latte then hop across the street for a little stroll along the lakeshore. Sunsets in late summer are breathtaking.
While you're busy sightseeing in downtown Montreal, take a mini detour to Monkland village and make a pitstop here. Italian owned, the style and substance of this cafe is inspired by the espresso bars found in Italy in an attempt to offer customers an authentic experience. All the dark wood and red brick seem to be inviting you to sit back, relax, and stay a little while. If you’re looking for a taste of Italia, you’ll find it here: sfogliatelle, bomboloni, cannoli and other Italian pastries you might not know, but will be better off after having tried them. And of course, there’s gelato. We would mention how good the espresso is (they win raves for it), but that would just be stating the obvious.
The name says it - Pikolo (or piccolo) means small in Italian and that definitely describes this popular hipster haven on the edge of the McGill ghetto. But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in style, atmosphere and taste. The unique windows at the entrance and once inside, the main floor which is basically a narrow and deep passageway, clearly indicate that the building comes with some history. This, along with the giant lights which hang from the extremely high ceiling is what gives it its charm and creates a feeling of being somewhere that’s not run of the mill. Local roasters Phil & Sebastian and Saint-Henri provide the coffee, while cookies, scones and artisanal loaves etc. are from Hof Kelsten and Godley and Creme (yes - like the 80s band). Side-note for instagrammers, the best shots are taken from the mezzanine.
In the heart of the trendy plateau Mont-Royal area is where you can find some of the best urban art in Montreal. A walk on Rachel street toward Mont-Royal street will bring you to a giant trippy looking cat mural covering the entire right side of a corner building, impossible to ignore. Welcome to Cafe Neve, a veritable hipster hangout and home of fresh baked oversized gooey chocolate chip cookies. According to their website, the owners had “the intention of creating a comfortable atmosphere where people could engage with both their laptops and one another.” It’s a perfect description because during the school year, your apt to find a crowd of serious looking twenty-somethings each in front of a screen seriously working away on term papers. Seriously. If you’re a twenty-something you’ll fit right in. If not, grab one of the aforementioned giant chocolate chip cookies and go.
This is an Italian-style coffee bar in the mile-end neighbourhood of Outremont, often frequented by regulars who sit on the terrace while they sip their ice-coffee in the summer sun. The dark wood, shiny and intricately patterned tin ceiling, and marble countertop give the place an old-fashioned and European feel. Unlike others on this list, Cafe Olimpico doesn’t do lunch, though they do have delicious traditional Italian snacks such as biscotti and cannoli. Being in the middle of a residential area, it’s a meeting point for locals and it’s the sense of community that is the main attraction for some. For others, it’s all about the coffee, made with Italian espresso which has a bold flavour with a bit of bitterness. Another draw is its hours - opened from 7 till midnight 7 days a week. But best of all are the prices - I dare you to find a quality latte anywhere else in Montreal for 2.50$
For the past several years, the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district of Montreal has been going through a gentrification of sorts, and depending on your stance, places like Hoche Café are either part of the problem or part of the solution. This café, a little outside of the more touristy areas of the city more to the East and more French, is a little less known. All the better to avoid overcrowding and a disruptive atmosphere. They offer typical fare including croque-monsieur, baguettes, and fresh baked goods like muffins and cookies placed right under your nose at the counter to tempt you. But the purposely unfinished brick wall, soft lighting, and decor of bookcases and wood tables offering a cozy feel make it worth your while to go off the beaten path.
Myriade often pops up on these types of lists for a reason, as they’re reputed to have some of the best coffee in town (the mocha alone is enough to sell you). But it’s coffee with a conscience. Though they work with roasters from throughout North America and Europe, the bulk of their beans come from 49th Parallel Roasters, a Vancouver enterprise known for their focus on quality and to that end, work with local producers in coffee-growing countries and pay a premium above Fair-Trade prices. Myriade teamed up with Société-Orignal, a Canadian artisanal food supplier who delivered fresh milk (until their recent cease of operations). The original location on Mackay across from Concordia University in the downtown area, is popular with students and professionals alike. The interior and the terrace are small and often busy, so may not be made to linger, but it’s a perfect choice for travelers with a full day of sightseeing ahead who want a quick quality coffee to go.
If you can’t make it to France for a coffee break, this might be your next best bet. Opened since 1952, Duc de Loraine is the oldest french pastry place in montreal. The mood is classy - picture servers in white shirts and bow-ties on hand to help you make your choice. The pastries and viennoiserie are classic - butter croissant, opera cakes, macarons and chantilly eclairs to name but a few. There are also French cheeses available and 4 types of quiche, including quiche Lorraine of course. With a beautiful terrace to sit and enjoy the warm weather while you have breakfast or lunch, and St-Joseph’s Oratory in the background, squint hard enough and for a second and you might just think you’re in Paris.
Nestled between a homemade ice cream shop and a nosh bar serving Jewish fare is this small and quiet cafe with killer coffee and divine desserts. The decor at Rustique certainly lives up to its name - simple, organic and warm. Though they recently started making savoury pies, they “specialize in handcrafted desserts made simply, by hand, using real butter, flour, sugar and the finest local and seasonal produce”. One key word here is presentation - everything looks beyond appealing both in store and online. If you wanted an example of food p*rn, this is it. It was their chocolate pies that initially put them on the Montreal dessert map, but with treats like espresso cheesecake bars, raspberry white chocolate macaroons, and mason jar cakes, any sweet tooth would be in heaven.
If you’re looking for a cafe with charm and a little flair, you could do a lot worse than café Tommy. Located in scenic Old Montreal, the area with the most European touch, from the outside, this café scarcely seems like a cafe at all. The serious looking exterior of ‘The British Empire Building’ however belies the warmth of its bright and victorian style interior. Their food list has mainly pastries or light snacks such as yogurt with quinoa and fruits, while their drink menu offers everything from matcha lattes to mimosas. Sit on the main floor and people-watch through the giant, arched windows which open onto the narrow streets of old Montreal while you sip your coffee of choice, or go up to the mezzanine for a more aerial view. Business must be booming because they’ve recently opened a second location on 151, rue St-Paul West with a third on St-Laurent street in the works.
Opened in 2014 by local pastry chef Patrice Demers, winner of the 2018 Lauriers de la gastronomie québécoise (a new culinary prize), this sophisticated venue in the increasingly popular Little Burgundy neighbourhood has desserts that sound and taste rich, yet are very affordable, a combination that is hard to find. While many of their offerings are seasonal (such as the black sesame financier with mango curd, the three-layered apple tart topped with a light hazelnut and Tonka bean mousse or Paris-Brest), you are likely to find Kouign Amann, canelés, rolled brioches, and cookies year-round. There is even an open kitchen where you can sneak a peek at Patrice himself with his bakers and makers, hard at work on those sugary confections. While Patrice Patissier is also a wine bar 3 days a week, has a lunch menu and an intimate room where they offer cooking classes, the decadent-tasting desserts are the main attraction here.
Perhaps the most buzzed about venues on this list. In the middle of scenic old Montreal, this cafe occupies part of the first floor of what was once a bank in a historic building built in 1928. Adopting a business model that’s of the moment, Crew Collective and Cafe is a multi-usable space where you can go to simply sit and sip, host an event, or mix business with pleasure in one of their bookable meeting rooms. A good option for travellers visiting Montreal for work on an extended stay is joining ‘the collective’ (insert Star Trek joke here), a members-only workspace. With online ordering and delivery straight to your seat, and a live updating menu with a seemingly endless list of items, visiting should definitely be a priority.
Located in the Mile-Ex, an industrial area quickly developing into a trendy neighbourhood, Le Falco is a former warehouse space converted into a bright and spacious cafe with a unique decor that makes you want to stick around and hang out for a while. In addition to the baked goods typically found in coffee places, they also have Japanese fare like onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and miso soup. If you’re looking for more originality, it’s one of the only places in the city serving up siphon coffee, a brewing process which uses a siphon coffee maker where boiling water moves up through a first chamber to a second and filters the coffee back through. A process that’s dramatic to watch with a flavour-full result.
Many smaller, independent cafes are part of something called the third wave of coffee and Melk falls into this category. Third wave coffee is a conscious effort on the part of the coffee roasters and their buyers to think of coffee as a product of sophistication and more than just a brown liquid poured into a cup and given to customers. It involves cafe owners knowing the story behind their coffee, from bean to cup. The owners of Melk, a young couple, decided to educate themselves by going to ‘coffee school’ in London and as a result, can now offer you quality customer service along with one of their maple lattes.
Bigger, flashier, and more well-known places which are similar often cause Les Co’Pains to be overlooked, but they deserve to have their turn in the spotlight. With 3 locations and each offering something a little different, it’s hard to choose just one. But whichever your choice, you’re sure to find artisanal bread and pastries which are made fresh daily. Their croissants, their claim to fame, is made the old way and contain real butter instead of the cheaper and faster industrial method, made with oil. The one on Mont-Royal (though small) specializes in traditional Brittany treats such as apricot cakes, kouign amann, and far Breton.
For travellers serious about their coffee, this micro-roaster in the Ahuntsic borough is waiting just for you. Sure, you could have breakfast or lunch here, made with fresh produce, but really, it’s all about the bean and the quality taste. Owner Vincent D’Aoust is constantly experimenting with new blends, creating specialty drinks with beans from 4 major Arabica coffee regions; Central and South America, Indonesia, and East Africa. Or try the house blend, aptly named le brûloir. A medium-sized space with a quirky, retro interior and a communal table at the centre, it’s easy to feel at home. Don’t forget to buy some freshly ground coffee to take home as a souvenir.
If you’re looking for a coffee that’s quintessential Montreal on your visit, then you can’t get more local than Saint-Henri. Micro-roasters, they have their own roastery which ‘includes a mini-lab equipped with some of the best and most exclusive coffee training technology’. In addition to the online shop and their two locales, Saint-Henri’s coffee beans can also be found in other cafés throughout the city. The shop where it all started, on Notre-Dame street, is in the Saint-Henri neighbourhood and inspired the creation of the brand. If you ever wanted to drink a coffee while sitting in church, now you can (well, sort of).