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Aug 21, 2012 08:30 PM

Expanding Montreal’s Third Wave Coffee Scene

As some people might realize, Montreal’s Third Wave coffee scene has been expanding rather rapidly, in the past couple of years. (The Gazoo’s casual dining reporter Sarah Musgrave wrote about just that:


[If you wonder what I mean by “Third Wave”, here’s the original piece:


Thing is, though, most of these cafés are concentrated in a few neighbourhoods in the Plateau borough (including Mile End). It’s easy to understand why Plateau attracts potential café owners. And I don’t think we’ve reached anywhere near a saturation point in the number of cafés in those neighbourhoods. Yet I think there’s quite a bit of room for expansion, in Montreal’s Third Wave coffee scene.

I’ve lived in Petite-Patrie from 1997 to 2007 and moved back in March. It’s a neat neighbourhood and we seem to be at the beginning of a housing bubble. Prices are still much lower than what they’d be in the Plateau, but there’s a clear tendency for prices to increase quite a bit, at least in condos and apartment building. The Jean-Talon market is bringing a crowd which includes a number of chowhounds and foodies. And while there’s an established scene of Italian cafés along with some other independent cafés, there’s no Third Wave café in sight. Sad and somewhat surprising.

Of course, as a friend was pointing out, many other neighbourhoods lack Third Wave cafés: Villeray, NDG, Rosemont… The Village has Pourquoi Pas and Lapin pressé is almost at Papineau, but anything East of there is pretty much an open space for the Third Wave coffee scene. Same thing West of the mountain (and of Café Saint-Henri).

Basically Third Wave coffee spots are concentrated in a very small zone. Here’s a map (counting places which you may or may not consider truly Third Wave):
Apart from the Laval ArtJava, all other cafés in that list are between Laurier and Notre-Dame and between Papineau and the 15.

Again, I’m not blaming café owners. I understand why they focus on proximity to likely patrons. Besides, it’s not like there’s no interesting coffeeshop outside of the Third Wave.

It’s just that there may be something special about places with Third Wave cafés, the same way that brewpubs have been part of significant changes in several food scenes.

So, if anyone hears anything about Third Wave cafés outside of the perimeter seen on that aforelinked map, I’d be quite interested in learning more about it.


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  1. (IMO), To have a 3rd wave coffee, AKA hipster coffee, you need to have hipsters ... they have not yet really migrated to surrounding neighbourhoods.

    The newer hipster 'hood will be HoMa, Griffintown/St-Henry.

    To answer the question, I don't know !! :-)
    The only coffee I buy (1 per week) is at Café Italia; and I sometimes buy "Iron Pig" coffee beans from Neve.


    10 Replies
    1. re: Maximilien

      Ha! The Third Wave to Hipster connection! That could lead to an interesting discussion. Maybe we should ask Zeynep Arsel, who does academic research on Hipsters.

      Thing is, while I understand the connection, it might lead to misguided decisions.
      My premise: Hopefully, the Third Wave isn’t merely a fashion trend.

      [By the by, I’d argue that there are plenty of Hipsters in PetPat. They may not be as “mainstream” as Griffintown ones, but they’re likely patrons of Third Wave cafés as other Hipsters. In fact, I just heard about Fixe, a Third Wave café on Saint-Hubert. I’ll try to take note of its Hipster Quotient when I go.]

      While there are plenty of self-labeled Hipsters at several Third Wave cafés, Hipsters aren’t the only ones making up the scene. If they were, Hipsters’ distaste for the well-known might become a problem for the scene. How can café owners take part in the Third Wave if their only customers “were into them before they became famous”? I’m not poking fun, here. I’m thinking about the transient dimension of “fads” and the implications for a broad movement.

      Not that catering to Hipsters is a bad strategy for a business to use. Currently, it’s quite likely that Hipsters are the ones who spend the most money on such products as quality coffee and PBR. Per capita, at least. Targeting Hipsters requires quite a bit of flexibility, though. You need to be ready to change things quickly if there are indications that your “brand” is becoming stale (or is becoming too recognized as a “brand”). Several café owners are able to pull it off, but it requires a fine tuned analysis of social trends.

      And there are ways to have some diversity in Third Wave cafés. Just this past weekend, I was discussing Third Wave cafés in Paris and Geneva with a Montreal café owner. Not only are these Swiss and French cafés called “coffeeshops” and full of English-speakers, but most of them look just like North American cafés. Like this local café owner, I don’t see a necessary connection between the Third Wave coffee movement and the looks of cafés which take part in it. Not only is there plenty of room for Third Wave cafés in just about any city, but there’s a lot of room for Third Wave cafés which look different. I trust café owners to make it work, even if it requires some effort on their part.

      So I’m not worried about café owners, individually or as a group. They’ll adapt or switch to something else.

      I’m more concerned about the Third Wave as a movement and as a drive for social innovation. Sure, it sounds like a lofty goal. But Procope and the Merchant’s Coffee House are useful precedents to keep in mind. For the movement to make a broad impact, it’d have to move beyond the Hipster circle.

      1. re: Enkerli

        why would somebody open a high end coffee shop in a low income neighbourhood?

        1. re: catroast

          why not, gentrification does that ...

          Same way, why Joe Beef opened where they are now.

          1. re: Maximilien

            Joe Beef is a destination restaurant. Most people do not travel for their daily coffee.

            1. re: catroast

              and yet they opened in a low income neighbourhood. When they opened, they were not yet a destination restaurant.

              People will travel to Myriade, Gamba or Neve for their coffee; maybe not everyday, but on week-ends.

              1. re: Maximilien

                myriade is a bad example because they are inundated with students. And Gamba and Neve are undoubtedly supported by local residents - i mean, for 2 years you couldn't even park anywhere near Gamba.

                Also successful high end restaurants are hardly ever completely supported by local residents unless in a very ritzy neighbourhood. Besides, Joe Beef had buzz factor from day 1.

                coffee and fine dining are two different beasts.

                1. re: catroast

                  There's virtually no successful high end restaurants in, for example, Westmount (partly due to zoning rules). Margins are very thin in the restaurant business and rents can make the difference between success and failure. Joe Beef is in a low rent area and I'm sure this helped them during the initial do-or-die phase of their development.

              2. re: catroast

                I would travel (and do here in toronto where the coffee scene is way ahead of Montreal) for a good cup of coffee.

                1. re: peregrina

                  “here in toronto where the coffee scene is way ahead of Montreal”
                  [Citation needed]

                  1. re: Enkerli

                    I moved to Toronto 8 months ago. I have been to almost all of the most notable 3rd wave cafes in town and none of them are even remotely as good as the likes of Cafe Myriad, Dispatch, Neve, Sardine, Boris, Pikolo etc

                    In Toronto there is locavore obsession and unfortunately the notable cafes purchase from sub-par, inconsistent local roasters. There is also not the obsession with process that many of the montreal shops practice.

                    This is all very surprising since in my brain, Montreal is usually behind Toronto in trends and 3rd wave coffee is still relatively new in Montreal. I think that Myriad is the gold standard and I have been too spoiled to enjoy coffee in Toronto.

      2. In order to make a place profitable don't you need to cater to some douchebags as well as hipsters?

        6 Replies
        1. re: eat2much

          can you define in one sentence third wave?

          1. re: williej

            1st wave: drip coffee (diner style coffee)
            2nd wave: starbucks/2nd cup/van-houte (industrial-ish)
            3rd wave: myriad, Gamba...

            1. re: Maximilien

              by that. criteria cafe92 in ndg is 3rd. wave

              1. re: williej

                I would put Café Shaika (5526 Sherbrooke Street West in NDG a little west of Decarie) in the same category as Café 92°.

            2. re: williej

              Coffee shop that place a premium on the quality of the coffee served.

              That's what I go by. The rest is window dressing.

              1. re: williej

                coffee shops that pay attention to the quality of the product all the way from how it is grown, to how it is dried, and roasted and finally how it is brewed/pulled/pressed. They usually work with roasters that source green beans directly from producers of premium beans. Many establish direct connections to those producers.

            3. You're missing Hoche cafe on your map.

              4299 Rue Ontario Est Montreal, QC H1V 1K4
              (514) 419-7997

              Most definitely "east of papineau", east of pie ix indeed and my backup bean source when I don't make it to one of the downtown spots.

              1. We may be getting somewhere, albeit through different angles.

                On Hipsters, fellow Concordia ethnographer Zeynep Arsel has provided me with this interesting link:
                I hope she can come by here to discuss the connection between the Third Wave scene and what she describes as the Hipster narrative.

                To clarify my original point, I see the Third Wave as a movement, as per Trish Skeie’s original article:

                In this sense, it’s much less about “premium” (unlike Second Wave institutions like Charbucks and Second Cup) than it is about experimentation and care. Eventually, I hope it can be about local innovation. Sure, Third Wave coffee is usually more expensive than a Timmy Double-Double. But it’s still quite affordable on a student budget. Besides, Montreal isn’t in the Maritimes: we don’t have that many Tim Hortons locations.

                Third Wave cafés are also not like fine dining. Which is why I relate it more to chowhounds than to foodies.

                As for average neighbourhood income, it doesn’t sound like a great predictor of Third Wave café presence. Didn’t find an updated list of average income by borough but this 2000 one shows Plateau as below Montreal’s average for household income and higher than Montreal’s average for low-income households: (PDF
                )Some 2005 figures are available for most boroughs, but they’re not in a very handy format. Here’s the Plateau one:
                Browsing those pages, I notice that several boroughs had higher average household income than Plateau: Anjou, Cartierville, Île-Bizard, Outremont, Pierrefonds, RDP/PAT, Verdun, and Ville-Marie. While Myriade is in Ville-Marie, none of the other boroughs have a Third Wave café.
                I’m sure a colleague could model the Third Wave café scene and find the best predictor for their location. Maybe proportion of students could work, especially if combined with something else. But I’m guessing it has more to do with perceived “trendiness”, which is probably difficult to assess precisely but easy to unearth.

                Which is part of the point I was trying to make. About fifteen to twenty years ago, the Plateau neighbourhood lifted itself from its modest roots to become trendy. The Mile-End has increased in trendiness not long after that. Other neighbourhoods have been compared to Plateau, over the years, but the shift hasn’t really happened. Sounds like the Southwest borough is currently emerging as a trendy neighbourhood and Jean-François Leduc’s microroasting operation is probably better located than my Third Wave map might imply. After all, it’s walking distance from Atwater Market, Joe Beef, etc.

                Not only can it make good business sense to be the first Third Wave café in an emerging neighbourhood, but I think Third Wave cafés can play a part in local innovation. I sincerely hope it’s not about gentrification. But I also hope it can be about community building.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Enkerli

                  the exact sort of 'innovation' that i've seen at cafe myriade would go on in the corporate kitchen of starbucks and second cup. if anything, i would say a place like myriade is more 'plastic' in that they are quicker to change their product or introduce something new. is that innovation? this third wave business is a bit ostentatious for my tastes.

                  1. re: catroast

                    I thought 3rd Wave meant no nasty flavoured syrups and other crap ;)

                2. Walking through the tunnel between Place Ville Marie and the Eaton Centre today, I happened to notice bags of Phil & Sebastian coffee stacked in a tiny space that looked to be on the verge of opening. Really just a take out window with room for a barista and their equipment and nothing else. Brave venture to open in that location, but I'm happy to have a third-wave option closer to my work than Café Différence.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: FoodNovice

                    I think someone told me about it, recently, but I don’t remember anything about the details. I don’t think it’s someone I know directly, but it’s probably someone connected to the Third Wave scene somehow.
                    Speaking of which… It was really nice to have so many Third Wave people at The Knife for the PACE event about “Cutting Edge Coffee Experience”, last week. I get the feeling we’re entering in yet another phase in Montreal’s coffee scene and it’s one which might be even more inclusive and open.

                    As for that tunnel… It’s a strange location, in some ways. There’s been quite a turnover during the past year and that tends not to be an excellent sign. One might figure that foot traffic is pretty good, but it’s clearly not a destination. And the nail salon smell actually may discourage some people from consuming beverages there. In a way, several tunnels are like that, say at Place Bonaventure or at Peel.
                    Still, we’ll see how this coffee outlet works out. You never know, it might start a trend.

                    In terms of location, though, Humble Lion could brag about theirs. Not that it’s a guarantee of anything but it might be a textbook case for proper café location.

                    1. re: Enkerli

                      The tim horton's in that tunnel didn't even last... I hope whoever's opening there has got very low overhead. I might try to patronize them semi regularly if they're any good. Though good point about the nail salon.

                      1. re: Enkerli

                        Those tunnels have heavy foot traffic, but the emphasis is on traffic. People are in work mode, going places in a hurry. They're also very narrow. Have you ever negotiated the PVM-Eaton tunnel at lunch or when everyone is on their break? It's practically shoulder-to-shoulder. So very few people will stop for food or drink, and if they do it's quite awkward as crowds rush by. If its the spot I think it is, there's no seating or much open standing area.

                        Terrible location.

                      2. re: FoodNovice

                        If we're talking about the same place, it's called Tunnel (or Café Tunnel). Apparently, they have good coffee (I wouldn't know; not a coffee drinker), and they're part of the Indie Coffee Pass, so they should be getting quite a few customers from that.

                        When I was there, I saw a decent amount of people stop by and pick up some coffee to go. Even though there's no seating, this didn't seem to upset people who were buying coffee there.

                        They also occasionally sell cannoli and donuts (from Leche, if I read the sign correctly).

                        Worth checking out, IMHO.

                        1. re: alinemramos

                          Agreed. I quite enjoyed it, including for the coffee (Kittel and Phil & Sebastian). While I was there, around the time people leave work, several people came by to chat a bit while having coffee. Though it doesn’t have any seating, that type of interaction is quite typical of cafés in Northern Italy. And I’ve found the coffee much better at Tunnel than in a typical Milanese café.
                          Haven’t had the pastries, but they sound pretty good. He apparently overstocked that day yet he was out when I passed by.
                          They’re true to form as a Third Wave café, trying different things, making sure the shots are well-crafted each time.
                          In several ways, it’s better location (and much bigger) than Distributrice.

                          1. re: Enkerli

                            I agree generally, I've tried Tunnel a couple times now. A bit slow turn around time on a shot (I'm usually in a hurry in the morning to make my first meeting/call) or service but careful execution.