Best Cafes in Montreal - BUT you should learn french first
Coffee/Cafe culture is a big deal pretty much everywhere but rarely is this more true than in Montreal, which falls behind only to the likes of Venice - Italy or Paris - France. Montreal also comes second in the world only to Paris with respect to the number of francophone (french as a first language) individuals living within the city. What these two facts mean to the outside observer is that they can expect to find some amazing coffee houses while experiencing a culture completely unique to North America.
An unofficial line divides the francophone population from the anglophone along St. Denis Street, or La Rue Saint-Denis, with the french speaking contingent lying to the east, although in recent time this is not an exact science as the diversity of the city continues to expand. Nonetheless we suggest it best to arm yourself with either an english to french phrase book, e-translator or actually come arm in arm with someone of the local persuasion (more fun!) before heading to these cafes if you want to avoid the "stink eye" from your barista when attempting to order your "grande, extra hot, soy milk, decaf, sugar free, mocha espresso with no whip" in full on english.
Best Cafes in Montreal - Translation Maybe Needed
1587 St-Denis, Montreal, Qc
Brulerie St-Denis has been kicking coffee bean butt in Montreal since 1985. As the name states, this cafe sits you on the supposed francophone/anglophone border (St. Denis Street) with a lean towards the former. The 3 storied (and well historied) "walk up" buildings of this neighborhood lend to the traditional yet casual relaxed atmosphere of Brulerie St-Denis with cozy terrace seating that makes people watching an art form. The "Les Cafes Speciaux" (Specialty Coffees) menu reads more like a dessert list with our favorites including the Mocca Espresso Mont Blanc, which is mocca espresso topped with vanilla ice cream and whip, and the Cafe Dante which is the same espresso poured over an orange slice, topped with whipped cream, cinnamon, grated orange peel and chocolate. Their coffee options include a selection of the world's best with a tour that takes you from Kona, Hawaii to the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Their pastry, light snack and sandwich selection is superb but if you dont have room for more than espresso and one bite, skip the lunch/dinner and head straight into "Les Desserts" as titles such as Tarte aux "Mocca-Pacanes" servie avec creme fouettee (Mocca Pecan Pie served with whipped cream) and the Gateau Fromage Double Chocolate Marbe (you dont need a translation there to know you want it) will lull you into sweet submission.
Toi Moi et Cafe
244 Avenue Laurier Ouest, Montreal
Although Toi Moi Cafe appears more like a quaint restaurant than a coffee shop with a large breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, they are absolutely renowned for their coffee. Filters are flung aside at this micro-roaster (they roast their own coffee) with a growing list of over 25 single origin specialty coffees from around the world. Conscious consumers are especially catered to as Toi Moi Cafe carries 15 Fair Trade and Organic blends. In true Montreal fashion you can find edgier hot beverage combinations such as The Laurier, which is a unique twist on tea that combines the black variety with Grand Marnier, Fragelico and whipped cream as topping. Small for a restaurant but big for a cafe, Toi Moi et Cafe gets packed with the local population around noon or dinner time, so expect a bit of a wait and plenty of francophone conversation in stereo from all angles. Be prepared to translate to the best of your abilities and you may make some new found "amis" (friends) while amidst the bustling activity within this trendy cafe.
Caffè Art Java Mont-Royal
837 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est, Montréal, QC
Caffe Art Java has a hip looking exterior with a hip sign/logo and hip interior decor. In case you haven't caught on yet, "Hip" is the word for Caffe Art Java and if you have a broken hip (i.e. elderly) you'll feel out of place at this modern coffee shop. True to the name, their espressos based beverages are served with foam "painted" perfection on top. You truly feel guilty when you stir or take the first sip. First timers are spotted a mile away with cameras in hand snapping pics of their order. Even if you have mastered the local "dialect" but are still weary about standing out as an out-of-towner you'll want to be sure to fake an intense text message face while using your phone for an inpromtu latte-art photo shoot.
St-Viateur Bagel & Café Mont-Royal
1127 Mont. Royal East, Montreal
Located in the predominantly francophone Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood of Montreal, St-Viateur Bagel & Cafe is better known for its bagels than its coffee and thus we insist upon trying what is considered to be the best bagel in all of Quebec. But what's a bagel without a coffee on the side? The specialty coffees at St-Viateur deserve their place on this "best of" list and account for a large portion of the reason that locals, tourists and even celebrities flock to its original location at 263 St. Viateur West, prompting expansion into other areas including the one addressed above.