There’s a big difference between what we think of as a “coffee shop” in the United States and the traditional French café, which is more of a multi-purpose refreshment center. The French café has sidewalk tables and a dim interior, serves meals at certain hours and beer, wine, and absolutely terrible coffee the rest of the time, and, though iconic, is generally not a place to set up camp with a laptop. When I first lived in Lyon, back in 2009-2010, the city had only a handful of coffee and tea shops, where beans and leaves are the main focus and the amenities are conducive to both conversation and work. Today, though, it’s a thriving scene.
My apartment is eleven square meters of very dark, moldy space, with a cold tile floor upon which I have broken all but one of my drinking glasses. To preserve my sanity I like to work elsewhere, so I’m thrilled with the recent proliferation of beautiful wifi-hosting, serious-coffee-serving, borderline-hipster coffee shops across Lyon. I try to visit as many as I can, but it’s hard to keep up. Here are some of the best coffeeshops in Lyon:
Le Tigre Coffeeshop
Le Tigre is a gorgeous space with huge arched windows and plenty of seating. It was opened about a year ago by two friends, Andrea and Delphine, who are serious about coffee and gluten-free food: the coffee is top-notch, and almost everything is gluten-free (something about which I’m indifferent, except for the fact that it still tastes amazing and they’ve always got something new to try). The wifi is consistent and these ladies have great taste in music, to boot.
La Bicycletterie‘s been around for a bit over two years now, a combination coffee shop/bicycle repair shop run by a sweet couple, Charlotte and Anthony. The set-up is almost as cute as they are, with deconstructed bicycle parts hanging on the walls and a hodgepodge of variously-sized tables. In the wintertime, they serve up soups and toasted sandwiches that are the perfect cure for short-day melancholy, and they’ve always got something sweet on offer. I’m not a huge fan of the coffee, and the wifi can be a little iffy some days, but they are always happy to reboot the router in this cozy, centrally-located spot. Plus, they project the Tour de France on the wall, which is pretty great.
Currently one of the only such coffee houses in the Guillotière neighborhood (though I’m sure that will soon change), Le Labo has a unique theme (science laboratory) and conveys the care that went into decorating this place. It has tasty treats (some home-made and some ordered-in), plenty of seating, excellent coffee, sandwiches at lunchtime, and baked goods (like cookies and pies) all the time. The last time I was there, I may or may not have spent too much time stroking the moss on the wall and trying to figure out if it was real (either way, it was soothing). Important note: The chairs are almost laughably uncomfortable.
La Boîte à Café– Café Mokxa
This small café (with a big terrace), a leader of Lyon’s coffee renaissance, has been open since 2011. Café Mokxa roasts its own coffee, which is used in many of the other coffee shops in town and is the first coffee I ever had in France that didn’t make me flinch. The wifi is no-good at Mokxa’s coffeeshop, but it’s an airy place to read or write, and the food is interesting and tasty (cakes, pies, cookies, sandwiches). This is also the only place that can satisfy my occasional debilitating mocha craving, something I previously wrote about, in French so clumsy that it’s introduced by the editor as “charming,” in Lyon CityCrunch.
Raconte-moi la Terre
Raconte-moi la Terre is one of the old guard, having been around for years. I love it for several reasons: it’s open on Monday afternoons (this is actually rare for coffeeshops in France), it’s got a super-fun menu that includes lightly boozy coffees and smoothies, and it’s attached to an excellent travel bookshop with maps, travel guides, and travel-themed fiction and non-fiction. Note: their wifi network requires no password, security-paranoid be warned.
Slake is one of the newer kids on the block, but just try to find a seat at lunchtime or on weekends (you can’t). The coffee here: amazing. The food here: amazing. The baristas are happy to describe the origins and subtleties of the featured coffees, but you’ll probably be too engrossed in drinking them to ask. The food is fresh and made in-house– grab a seat an hour before lunchtime and enjoy the mouth-watering smells wafting from the open kitchen. Especially good are the tartes salées (savory pies), including such ingredients as bacon and sweet potato, broccoli and cheese… sigh.