“Geneva needs more coffee shops!” I pronounced.
“What do you mean? You can buy coffee everywhere!” my colleague retaliated.
Having arrived to Geneva from a 2-year stint in Seoul, South Korea, where there seems to be an exquisitely designed coffeeshop every 50 meters or so, it was not hard to notice that Geneva was, relatively, lacking. Of course there are sundry of mostly expendable “tea-rooms”, as well as cafés that appear to be the distant cousins of the Parisian variety, with people enjoying an espresso, a smoke, a newspaper, or any combination thereof.
But of course, neither of these things are what I meant, thus leading me to my earlier sure-footed proclamation.
“I mean more like…”
“Starbucks!” piped in an American friend.
Not Starbucks, but certainly the type of ambience that Starbucks is known for. Perhaps “third-wave” coffeeshop is what I meant. I encountered these type of coffeeshops long before the term itself, thus I could picture it before I could define it: a more artisanal take on coffee, usually paired with a well-designed interior, and more often than not independently-owned. And, as far as I could tell, far more visible outside of Switzerland than within it.
To those of us familiar with the rest of the world’s coffeeshops, Birdie occupies familiar territory. Its offerings of cheesecake, carrot cake, banana bread, flat whites, quinoa salad, and veggie wraps could easily have it mistaken for any coffeeshop in Los Angeles, Cape Town, or Sydney. Their outdoor chalkboard even beckons you to come in and enjoy some “brekkie”. The mellowed-out funk, soul and hip hop piped in through their speakers makes this idea even more believable.
Perhaps the only vestiges of Geneva are the bottles of Calvinus for sale and the occasional audible trace of French. Exposed piping, plywood, and the concrete walls provide the perfect backdrop for men in beanies and tattoo sleeves, in case you harbored any doubts as to the kind of place it is. The lack of Wi-Fi and its laptop-free policy (at least weekdays 12h – 14h and on weekends) rounds out its alternative vibe, although when combined with the small space (I counted 15 indoor seats, max), it does sometimes give the feeling that you should be careful not to overstay your welcome.
However, the first Genevois coffeeshop that really made me sigh in relief and say, “Now this is a coffeeshop!” was Boréal Coffee Shop, which has expanded beyond its flagship store on Rue de Stand into a bit of a local empire.
I do have to confess one thing: I enjoyed their Mocachino and carrot cake so much upon my first visit that I have yet to try anything else! A 4 dl Mochachino is an exorbitant 6.90 CHF (but so worth it), and for the uncaffeinated they offer a variety of Kusmi teas and other hot beverages. Perhaps best of all, Boréal’s Rue de Stand location is open til a decadent 21:00 (even on Sundays!), and its roominess lends it a liveliness that is the perfect antidote to the typical Geneva Sunday, perfect for people watching or engaging in distracted creative pursuits on one of their handful of large communal tables, so often peppered with Apple laptops.
On the other side of town, Coffee Lab might not exactly fit the bill of a third-wave coffeeshop, but it is nevertheless a welcome addition to an underserved area of Geneva. Occupying a busy corner on Rue de la Servette since less than a year ago, Coffee Lab with its charming red-and-white decor was a breath of fresh air for the neighborhood, which was starving for something new. They offer homemade soups, salads, and enticing takes on bagels such as the Aix-en-Provence bagel with chèvre, honey, and fig confiture, in addition to the requisite pastries, coffees, and teas. Prices as well as opening hours are about what you’d expect — 4 CHF for a coffee, closed by 18h00 and on Sunday — but you also get a tiny bar of chocolate with your coffee, thus making the Swiss experience complete. And with its free Wi-Fi and ample seating and visual distractions (thanks to its wrap-around windows), Coffee Lab is as perfectly suited for entrepreneurs and writers as it is for social butterflies looking to catch up with friends.