Meet Diana Ambrus, whose Sleepy Bear Coffee Shop is taking Swiss coffee to a whole new level.

Meet Diana Ambrus, the woman founder behind Sleepy Bear Coffee. She’s taking Swiss coffee culture by storm — and she’s just getting started.

For Diana Ambrus, few towns serve the seasons and moods like Montreux, Switzerland. Similar to a walk-in closet, Montreux has the sequins and gowns for the soirees, and the shorts and sandals for the beaches.

In July, tourists descend for the Montreux Jazz Festival. The event attracts big names (and even bigger wallets), as festivities wrap around Lake Geneva. Just one photo captures the lake, castle, casino, Ferris wheel, palm trees, and snow-capped mountains in one shot—granting Montreux’s well-deserved nickname of “The Swiss Riviera.”

But as the temperature cools and the glitz dissolves, Montreux returns to its small-town charm. Cozy Christmas markets emerge and people gather to warm their hands with cups of vin chaud. 

It’s on such a day that a humble coffee shop comes into view. 

Welcome to Sleepy Bear Coffee Shop in Montreux, Switzerland

Sleepy Bear Coffee Shop in Montreux, Switzerland
Sleepy Bear Coffee Shop in Montreux, Switzerland. Photo courtesy of Julia Djeke.

This coffee shop is half empty. A few stools line the window and a stuffed animal greets you as you enter. Here, you get the sense that something’s awakening—like a warehouse with flickering lights waiting for its first shipment; or a slow, yawning bear arising from hibernation. 

Behind the register, a barista scribbles in her notepad. She takes your order (kindly and without fuss), then proceeds to make your drink. You watch as her hands move and she maintains calm intensity. It’s like she’s working something out in her head, like she’s not only making coffee for you, but delivering an experience.

What strangers don’t know (and patrons know all too well) is that the barista making your drinks is Diana Ambrus, owner of Sleepy Bear Coffee Shop. Her opaque brown eyes and soft smile greet customers each morning—and she is, irrefutably, the face of the brand. 

“Anyone who knows Sleepy Bear knows me,” jokes Ambrus. “I really love to work with people and share my passion for coffee. The people feel this,” she adds.

Where Starbucks and Nespresso Get Their Inspo

Coffee from Sleepy Bear Coffee Shop in Montreux, Switzerland
Coffee from Sleepy Bear.
Photo courtesy of Julia Djeke.

Ambrus pours her coffee creations into glass cups topped with bear foam art. She puts those cups into wooden boxes with silver spoons, now ready to delight and caffeinate her customers.

“If you appreciate the best espresso drinks, this is the place,” writes one patron. “This was probably the best cappuccino we had for a very long time!”

Ambrus’s cappuccino captures the right balance of espresso, milk, and foam. The first sip is not only velvety, but almost savory in nature. It’s an invitation to slow down, to let the flavors luxuriate on the palate long enough to understand what’s happening. Indeed, her cups are objets d’art—something to both appreciate and admire. 

“The big director of Starbucks visited Sleepy Bear five times,” beams Ambrus. “We did some cuppings with them. Nestle, Nespresso…[Their headquarters] are here and they are our customers. They appreciate our quality. They tell us Sleepy Bear is the best.”

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Brewing Female Inclusion 

Diana Ambrus at her Sleepy Bear Coffee Shop in Montreux, Switzerland
Diana Ambrus at her Sleepy Bear Coffee Shop in Montreux, Switzerland. Photo courtesy of Julia Djeke.

It’s no surprise that customers are drawn to Sleepy Bear not just for its coffee, but for Diana herself. Her warm presence is what you’d crave on a gray, groggy morning. But if you think Diana’s modesty matches her ambition, you’d be wrong: Ambrus is out to make her mark. 

“Even now you will find more men than women [in the industry]. But now it’s starting to be more mixed. Take a look at the [brewing] championships. You will find more women.”

Ambrus competed in the Swiss National Brewers Cup in 2023. While she didn’t advance past the first round, her whole beans did. She used a bean blend, co-created with her coach, using beans from a Colombia Microlot (the equivalent of a wine terroir). That recipe earned her the “Best Coffee” title.

“Even now you will find more men than women [in the industry]. But now it’s starting to be more mixed.”

Diana Ambrus, Owner of Sleepy Bear Coffee

“I worked hard for this competition, but now I am so proud to think I had the best coffee in the Swiss brewing competition. It’s so nice for me finally to know that the judges [recognize] good coffee, a good recipe, and good presentation.” 

Ambrus is recognized in a male industry (she estimates 70% male), but you get the sense that feminism is more who she is than what she preaches. It’s her passion for coffee, more than anything else, that defines her raison d’être.

Romanian Roots to Swiss Soil

“I really loved coffee since [I was] small,” says Romanian-born Ambrus. “When I was a kid, I stole coffee from my mother’s cup all the time. She did a coffee filter at home—a big cup of coffee. I stole some sips of [it]. The flavor for me was like, wow!”

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Diana went to university in Bucharest, where caffeine and studying go hand-in-hand. It was during that time that specialty and “third-wave coffee” hit the mainstream. Coffee was suddenly elevated to the level of wine, where enjoyment included things like knowing bean origins, how the coffee is processed, and who designed the glassware. She asked herself why the coffee tasted so good. Why is this so different, she wondered. 

A deep curiosity led to coffee obsession. Ambrus sought to understand its history, its environmental and economic entanglements (of which there are many), and coffee’s promising future. But somewhere between coffee tasting and testing, Diana met Romanian football player, Daniel Ambrus.

“[Daniel’s] not really a coffee lover,” admits Diana. “He started to drink coffee with me. I shared this passion for coffee with him.” 

The Romanian couple hit a bump when Daniel was offered a job in Switzerland. “He told me you come or you come,” she jokes. So they moved to Switzerland. 

Opening Sleepy Bear to Snooze Reviews

Sleepy Bear Coffee Shop in Montreux, Switzerland
Sleepy Bear coffee cart.
Photo courtesy of Julia Djeke.

In the 2010s, the couple acquired Sleepy Bear from a previous owner. Diana says at first the business didn’t do well. Their coffee was too progressive—too fruity and acidic for the tastes of the community at the time.

“When we bought it, the coffee shop didn’t work,” concedes Diana. “[But] I started to [teach] people how to drink coffee correctly.” 

The “correct way,” according to Ambrus, is one that respects and explores coffee’s taste potential. The correct way is also one that changes with time.

Each year, Ambrus introduces more acidity to the house blend, gradually morphing her customers’ palates. It’s a (sneaky) way to bring them along for her ride, as she learns and experiments with coffee’s potential.

An Expanded (and Ethical) Future

So what’s in store for the spaces in Montreux? Diana Ambrus has plans for them.

First, a dishwasher. Then a room that morphs into a learning lab, where guests study brewing and bean origins. A solarium will welcome its visitors, and the back room awaits its new resident: a Loring coffee roaster known for minimal greenhouse gas emissions.

“[We use] all the processes to respect the coffee quality, to respect the planet,” says Diana. “However we can do better, we will try to do it better.”

Doing better is important to Ambrus, who bristles at coffee’s uglier side. Cartels and the mafia (yes, the mafia) leech millions from hard-working coffee farmers—and too often, they pay the price.

“[The mafia] might pay $5 for a kilo of [green beans] and they will sell on the market at $20 or $25. The farmer will have nothing,” laments Ambrus. “I don’t take coffee from the traders. I work with roasters who bring coffee directly from the farm. Starting next year, we’ll buy directly from farmers.”

Fair wages and quality reign supreme as Ambrus works through every angle of coffee production. Her new passion project, which she’s just started, is eco-friendly coffee roasting. 

“I want to learn everything,” says Ambrus. “I will learn too. I will be that woman who wants to know how to roast good coffee. Even now you will find more men than women. But I will be one of those women,” she smiles.

Diana Ambrus’ smile conceals her fiery focus. As an industry innovator, she’s fast-tracking dreams to reality at a pace that’s anything but sleepy.