With a little under 370,000 people, Zurich is fairly small considering that it’s Switzerland’s largest city and a major financial hub. The city sits at the top of Lake Zurich, and from the center of town on a clear day, you can see the snow covered mountain tips in the background. It has the feel of a small town, but the amenities of a large one.
On a recent trip to Switzerland, I had 24 hours to explore Zurich, and as usual, spent much of the time on the search for coffee. Much like other central and eastern European cities, Zurich’s specialty coffee scene is small but growing. Indeed, just a day after my visit was the Swiss AeroPress Championships, a sure sign that a vibrant independent coffee culture is alive and well here.
Up until last year, one of the only places in town for specialty coffee was Bear Brothers and Cow. It closed down its brick and mortar but nowadays runs an online shop where you can buy coffee from both Swiss and European roasters, and they also do the occasional pop-up. I, of course, wasn’t lucky enough to be there for one of those, but through a little research and the help of some friendly Swiss coffee lovers on Twitter, I found a couple of spots to check out: Benzin & Koffein and Barista Espresso Bar. One is cafe/motorcycle lifestyle boutique and the other an espresso window—both are novel, and worth visiting.
Benzin & Koffein
There’s a certain charm to Benzin & Koffein’s name. “Coffee is benzin, too!” the barista explained, alluding to the German language translation of the word gasoline. Outside on the deck, you’re given Swiss Army blankets to keep you warm because when the sun comes out who doesn’t want to be drinking their coffee outside? I wrapped the blanket around me and ordered a Woodneck.
The people behind Benzin & Koffein are the same people roasting at Gipfelstürmer Kaffee, and you can stock up on their beans in the shop in the back part of the cafe. As they’re committed to growing the love for specialty coffee in Zurich, there’s also an assortment of coffee accoutrement so that you can brew, and brew well, at home. This is also the area where you’ll start finding the motorcycle accessories, or at least, lifestyle accessories that have a hint of gasoline drenched badassness—Stanley thermoses for coffee on the go, Field Notes notebooks (because you never know what kind of Jack Kerouac epiphany you will have out exploring long and lonely roads), and copies of Iron & Air, a magazine all about the motorcycle lifestyle.
No need to bring your motorcycle in for repairs here (although they will probably feature your bike if you park it outside the cafe), but definitely an excellent place to fuel up on specialty coffee and plan your next adventure. Or just cozy up in that Swiss Army blanket. I’m still dreaming of it.
Barista Espresso Bar
The morning I left Zurich, I snagged a coffee from the Barista Espresso Bar, not too far from Benzin & Koffein. This hole-in-the-wall space offers beans roasted just outside Zurich. The space actually features a small shop area that you can enter, but it’s way more fun to just mosey up to the window and place your order. If the barista isn’t around, then just push the “Ich will kaffee” button.
I travel with reusable espresso cups (don’t you?) and the barista didn’t even bat an eye when I asked him to serve my coffee in them. Extra points for putting up with the tourist with hippy leanings.
Heading to Zurich yourself? In January 2015, the city also welcomed Neue Milchbar, but hey, I only had 24 hours, so it’s on the list for next time.