After years in the doldrums, the coffee scene in Zürich has in recent years exploded in multiple directions. The range of venues to drink coffee is diverse and punches above its weight for this relatively small city. It makes for a surprising mix of spots, whether you’re after the choicest cup, best atmosphere, or somewhere to make your Instagram feed pop.
The traditional coffee in Zürich is called a café crème. It’s a medium-sized drink, Italian-style espresso with around 50% hot water. It’s served with a basket of gipfli (small croissants) available on the table, alongside a small chocolate and a tumbler of tap water.
But tradition is only half of the story in Zürich. Like elsewhere around the world, there’s been a new wave of shops in recent years. Here the emphasis is on quality ingredients, knowledgeable staff, and well-designed interiors. Think wooden boards for plates, handmade cups, and industrial style. Because of the hot summers, and despite long winters, Zürchers love to sit outside. So most cafes will offer al fresco drinking, often with a sheepskin rug for comfort, and a box of blankets to choose from for warmth.
The selection of shops below takes quality coffee as a starting point, but I’ve chosen some spots as much for their ambience or distinctiveness in the scene. Speaking with many of the owners, they highlighted a small but passionate nascent coffee scene and optimism for what it held for the future.
Zürich’s Langstrasse is the heart of the city’s nightlife, a melting pot where some of the most exciting restaurants and bars are. Making a bid for the award for most photogenic coffee shop is ACID. With its pink walls, homemade furniture, rotating art, and neon, people looking to capture a perfect coffee moment here are spoiled for choice. Deeply supportive of the local artistic community, co-owner Yann Gurtner wants ACID to be a “constant changing piece of art.” On a warm day you can take in the ever-changing, colorful scene on the street outside and Helvetiaplatz across the road.
Coffee comes from micro-roastery Miró, located just around the corner. They make a special roast of their Melbourne-inspired beans for ACID, from Honduras Santa Rosa Copan Arabica beans. From this you can get an indulgently syrupy mixture of tropical fruits and milk chocolate. These are crafted on a La Marzocco Linea PB, and served on a wooden plate with a homemade jasmine tea palate cleanser.
Quite rightly, this shop is proud of its World Brewers Cup champion barista Emi Fukahori. The trophy on the shelves of the Seefeld branch is proudly displayed. But even more striking are the Goat Story Gina machines used for filter coffees and teas. These are delicately tended to with a wooden paddle by the baristas—the most knowledgeable in the city.
Fukahori founded MAME with her partner, two-time World Barista Championship Finalist Mathieu Theis, after they met (appropriately) at a barista championship in 2015. The pair “dreamed of having a cafe where we can celebrate such coffees.” And so they founded MAME together in 2016, opening a branch on Josefstrasse (near both ACID and Miro). MAME means beans in Japanese, a nod to Fukahori’s heritage.
The Seefeld branch followed in 2018, here you can sit at the communal table or browse the selection of high-end bikes; yes, this shop doubles as a cycle store. The cups are handmade works of art, by French ceramicists Jars, and are available to buy too.
As you’d expect from the barista pedigree behind the shop, taste is all-important. Three roast choices are available to customers, helpfully plotted on a flavor wheel on the wall. This is a great spot to try coffee from local roasters Vertical Coffee, founded by a team of Swiss climbers.
For a real adventure, try a flight of coffee, espresso or filter trio. Oh, and you must try their “crazy blend” if you want to have an interesting morning…
Bros Beans & Beats
The coffee in BBB is as smooth as the music. While the tunes have a distinctly hip-hop flavor, the espressos are a fine balance between fruitiness, acidity, and bitterness. And, dropping in like a guest MC, there’s a rotating line-up of seasonal roasts available too.
With backgrounds in the luxury hotel industry, co-founders Andreas Di Sario and Sezer Oezenir place emphasis on great service. There’s no doubt the waiters here are more attentive than elsewhere in the city, when your presence can feel like an inconvenience. “The coffee scene in Zürich is quite young, as it takes a while til hypes and new trends arrive here in Switzerland,” Di Sario says. These two are bringing some of that hype themselves—their shop logo is a silhouette of their likenesses complete with beards and baseball caps.
There’s a lot of space in this shop, yet it retains a homely feel. The warmth is enhanced by the Acme tableware, and what could be more welcoming than the sight of a Victoria Arduino Black Eagle dominating the bar? The team works with local roaster Henauer to keep things on point.
Until recently, takeaway coffee was just not “a thing” in Zürich. Perhaps due to the genteel nature of life, or the Italian influence, people tended to sit for their coffees, and take their time. But alongside a handful of hole-in-the wall hatches around town, ViCafe has emerged as a success story.
The ViCafe journey started on the vineyard-lined riverbank village of Eglisau near the Swiss border with Germany. The company originally revived the vintage “Vivi Kola” cola brand, which is itself another success story. From this venture, a microroaster emerged, and soon grew to take over the old Eglisau railway station. Now expanded to nearby Zürich, there are six takeaway locations around town.
At the prominent Bellevue spot in the heart of the city, the queue is a permanent fixture. There’s no shame in ordering an iced latte from here: take it with you on a stroll down the lake, with a view of the alps towering above, and you’ll feel like a king.
Representing Zürich cafe heritage is Piazza. With tables spreading into idyllic Idaplatz, this is one of those places to while away the hours. There’s nothing unique about the coffees here, but they are about as “Zürich” as you can get: a café crème is served with a small dark chocolate on the side.
It’s the perfect accompaniment to watch the locals playing petanque, kids zooming around on their scooters, or just gaze up at the trees—which boast spectacular cherry blossoms in the spring. It’s one of those places where time stands still and all is right with the world. Located in a residential area, it’s hidden from tourists and is something of a neighborhood hangout.
The interior is a mishmash of retro design, with examples of the mid-century furniture found in the city’s myriad vintage shops. The black-and-white bar is something of a signature, as are the multicolored tables and chairs that catch the morning sun. In the adjoining shop you can buy olive oils and balsamic vinegars, migrate onto an ice cream from Gelateria Bi Berna, or something alcoholic from neighbor Le Calvados. This is the kind of cafe where great days begin.
When Monocle magazine decided to make Zürich its permanent base, the company wanted to make a statement. Monocle is the magazine of choice for the jet-setting bachelor, with a Swiss lifestyle of ski weekends, outrageously expensive watches, and modest style. Naturally, the cafe fits perfectly with this demographic.
For the design-conscious visitor to Zürich this is something of a pilgrimage. Their space is everything you’d expect: sophisticated and stylish. It’s a perfect spot to sit and read (or buy from) their array of magazines, and if you’re so inclined, browse their range of clothes and dream that you could afford them.
Monocle’s editor Tyler Brule is often present, as behind a mysterious sliding door are the offices of the magazine, and the spot where they record their podcasts.
This is another shop where the tunes are as important as the coffee. Sihl Records is a local haunt for Zürich’s thriving tech-house scene, which includes mega clubs Supermarket and Hive, as well as shop’s neighbor Freida’s Büxe (arguably one of the world’s finest nightclubs). Zürich also hosts Europe’s largest techno festival, the annual “Street Parade,” so there’s a constant stream of world-class DJs passing through town. You’d wager most of them drop by here for an espresso. They’ll also be able to shop the store’s discerning selection of house and techno vinyl, previewing it on the store’s pair of Technics turntables. In-store sessions of visiting DJ’s are recorded and streamed on YouTube.
Tucked down an unassuming side-street, this shop demonstrates the wide range of coffee experiences to be found in Zürich.
Some of the pioneers of the Zürich coffee scene, Miro’s founders dared to roast speciality coffee five years ago, when (almost) no one else was. Customers first found their seasonal roasts through their coffee truck, which toured the city.
Miro sources through a variety of importers, offering around 15 different seasonal coffees annually, with four or five on at any given time.
The team here is serious about coffee, so you’ll find drinks like cortados, cold brew available on tap, and coffee-inspired cocktails. In-house barista Ivan Pepe Marin developed the cocktails himself, and they make a trip to the city’s lively Kreis 4 area worthwhile alone.
The space itself is industrial and minimal; the machinery and drinks speak for themselves. As well as functioning as a cafe, you can watch roasters in action and participate in workshops—this really is a serious coffee lover’s destination.
Co-founder Daniel Sanchez is buoyant about Zürich’s ability to compete among the big boys in the coffee world, “We tend to be humble in Zürich and look up what bigger cities like Berlin, Copenhagen, and London are doing. But I don’t think we have to hide.”
Luc Benyon is a freelance journalist based in Zürich. This is Luc Benyon's first feature for Sprudge.
Top photo by Giuseppe Bognanni.