Puzzle Café: Lyon’s Missing Piece

“Soy hot chocolate?”

I’ve only been to Puzzle Café a handful of times, but owner Thomas Audebert has already learned my order well enough to joke with me.

Not missing a beat, I reply “Of course.”

And sure enough, a delicious double espresso turns up at my table, just like it had the several days previous.

If you go to enough specialty coffee shops, they start looking similar. The same equipment, the same brands, the same design trends. (Yesterday’s Edison bulbs are today’s subway tile are tomorrows ….? )
But Puzzle demonstrates what I once heard former US Barista Champion Charles Babinski say: the best barista is the one who knows how you like your coffee. And in the case of Lyon’s Puzzle Café, it didn’t take them long to know how I like my coffee.

Although hidden in Paris’s considerable shadow, Lyon is often pointed to as France’s true culinary capital. But traditional French cuisine cares little for specialty coffee. If anything, the keeper’s of France’s gastronomical heritage remain diametrically opposed to coffee being anything other than a bitter digestive with no acidity. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the specialty coffee scene in Lyon feels underdeveloped. Or perhaps, more positively, in its infancy. It’s this sparse context that makes Puzzle all the more remarkable.

Hidden on a quiet side street in the middle of Lyon’s 1st Arrondissement, Puzzle is the neighborhood coffee shop every neighborhood should be so lucky to have. The locals-only sort of haunt that should make every tourist who stumbles into it feel privileged to be included. The narrow, shot gun space is humbly adorned. A concrete bar features a La Marzocco Linea, a few pour-over devices, and a humble selection of pastries. (One realizes this could describe any number of coffee shops. ) The coffee selection is a constantly rotating selection of roasters. Over the course of my visits Bristol’s Clifton Coffee Roasters gives way to Berlin’s Bonanza, followed by Lyon’s own Mokxa. It’s the constantly rotating account that’s the bane of every wholesale manager’s existence (I speak from personal experience), but the delight of the avid coffee nerd (again, I speak from personal experience).

In short, Puzzle is the café we look for in every town. It’s the community-centered café that makes you feel like a local. It offers the customer service that can’t be scaled. It’s your home away from home. Your third space. And, oh yeah, the coffee’s pretty good too.

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