Coffee with the Romans

 

10€ for a coffee…

In 1763 Australia hadn’t been discovered and England and France ruled the Americas and the Holy Roman Empire was coming to its end. What could a cup of coffee cost then?

Fast forward to 2017 and it feels like the world is about to change again. Donald Trump has taken office and is handing out executive orders like cupcakes and Theresa May is mildly excited about claiming back her country to the ‘good old days’ (were they that good? I seem to forget all the bad bits in my past). 

So how much would a good cuppa cost in 1763? Surely there were 3 Italian chaps sitting in cafe Grecco over a doppio and discussing world events and politics. Today it will set you back €10 – rather steep for a robusta strong Italian coffee in what is an unassuming front and interior decor that has seen little change in the last century. The only hint of the prices are the expensive neighbours: Cartiers, Hermes and Bulgari next door. What’s 10€ if you just spent a fortune on fashion and a bit of bling? 


The coffee won’t rock your world, the soy has strong vanilla flavours but the place throws you back in time to the ‘good old days’. And yet, you wish someone called out the emperors clothes and sent them to a land far away to gain new experiences and make seriously good coffee. 

 

Finding un café, not so Parisian style

 

My feet are killing me and I’ve had Parisian visual overkill… Eiffel tower, La Seine, Louvre, Notre Dame, L’Orangerie

The Eiffel Tower against tree lined street

The Eiffel Tower… ahh… it’s hard not to act like a tourist in Paris.

– everything’s starting to melt into one and my head is spinning from very pretty but repetitive architecture. My fingers are tired from the 1000s of pictures I’ve taken and after having failed at finding a Kebab at either of Notre Dame’s corners and having succumbed to a tourist trap Bistro out of sheer hunger and desperation all I want is coffee. Good coffee.

We headed to Le Marais where according to Beanhunter terres de cafe is THE place for coffee. But they don’t do soy and the place is more of a super tiny roastery wholesale shop (very cute) than a comfortable café to sit down and relax for a bit. Not the moment of escape we had hoped for unfortunately.

We must have had disappointment written all over our faces, because the girl is very nice to us and recommends a place close by. Loustic does soy and is only 3 blocks away apparently. What are 3 blocks after 10 miles of walking? So, hopeful that we are not the butt of a French joke we make our way and aren’t disappointed.

Inside loustic

Inside loustic

A La Marzocca smiles at us when we walk through the door. The atmosphere is warm and very cosy, 70s wallpaper next to exposed brick walls. The front room consists of a long bar opposite a comfy long bench with small movable tables to share.

A French Flat White...

A French Flat White…

The back rooms are more intimate. The friendly barista recommends a ‘café crème’ which is  supposed to be the French equivalent of a flat white. Why not…. The little green coffee beans don’t disappoint. The coffee is incredibly mild and creamy with a lovely taste of coconut and chocolate.

Not bad, although slightly too weak for Luke’s liking. I am happy and can’t help but overhear yuppie/artie conversations by my neighbours next to me (I wasn’t trying to –  you do share close quarters here…) he’s working hard on impressing his friend with upcoming art shows and a move to London. I smile. Well, that’s Paris after all. We feel like we’ve finally arrived.

IN SUMMARY
It is cute, it is quirky and it is trying to be something different than the usual Parisian cafés. Loustic does coffee well for France and has a selection of lunch options as well. It has a whiff of modern Paris, so make sure to wear nothing but black and grey to blend in. 

loustic, 40 Rue Capon, 3eme, Paris, Métro stations near by: Étienne Marcel or Arts et Métier

on the quest for london gold

long black from a top view

London's most golden long black

I can hear you loud and clear. What is this? All these promises about the best London cafés, but nothing in writing for months. Yes, I am guilty as charged. I have no idea how it suddenly got to November, and this post has been hanging over me like the sky over northern Germany (and Scotland as I have also found out recently).

So when it comes to gold in London, who wins the medal?

I must admit, it took me a while to write this.

I’ve been going over and over how to best set out this blog post. Having done the coffeelympics a little while back now I have learned a lot about London’s coffee culture. Interestingly there’s less variety than you’d think in terms of beans and machines used when comparing the top of the top.

The most popular combinations going around seem to be Square Mile’s Red Brick, Monmouth paired up with either Synesso or La Marzocco machines. And then there are the Australian/Kiwi mini syndicates taking over the city: The Coffeesmith Collective, nude espresso and Taylor St Baristas, to mention just some of the most thriving ones.

So although each of these cafés contribute to a better coffee culture there are also still a few gems to be found that are not afraid to experiment and boldly showcase their own roasts, such as newly opened Exmouth Coffee Company near Whitechapel in East London. And then nothing will save your café unless you employ friendly and skillful baristas.

But enough of it already, here are the winners of the 2012 coffeelympics, determined by quality of long black (btw that’s not an Americano and if the café didn’t know that it was automatically disqualified), atmosphere and friendliness of staff, separated into London areas:

North London

  1. Ginger & White, Belsize Park
  2. Ginger & White, Hampstead

Central London

  1. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, near Farringdon
  2. Milkbar, Soho

East London

  1. Exmouth Coffee Company, near Whitechapel
  2. The Liberty of Norton Folgate, near Shoreditch and Liverpool Street

South London

  1. Curators Coffee Studio, near Monument
  2. Federation Coffee, Brixton marke

And the overall gold for the best café in London goes to:

  1. Department of Coffee and Social Affairs

More details on the winners to follow soon.

I would also like to thank the following cafés who unbeknownst to themselves participated in the coffeelympics:
the wetfish cafe, the kitchentable, prufrock, taylor st baristas liverpool st, the association of coffee, foxcroft and ginger, rock trade east cafe, nude espresso shoreditch, allpress, brick lane cafe, flat white, bicafé, look mum no hands, st ali, notes, coffee & music, monmouth borough market, flat cap stall borough market, speakeasy

West London anyone?

What happened to the west? To be honest I didn’t have a good enough reason to venture out there, but if I do, I will update this section to include west London. In the meantime, please feel free to leave some comments recommending your favourite cafés in west London and I will try to come up with an excuse to visit them soon.

I think I’ll have a tea now.

where to find the best coffee in the world.

Melbourne, Australia. You can stop reading now.

Now I know this title is extremely biased. But then anyone who has been to Melbourne will understand.

There are few, if any, cities as obsessed about coffee as Melbourne. It is quite normal to walk an extra 5 blocks, because your friend or colleague is not happy with the cafe around the corner. There is cafe ditching on a daily basis, because there’s simply no excuse for bad coffee in Melbourne.

Albert Park Lake, Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne at its best: sunny Albert Park Lake

On occasions I have gone as far as ditching entire restaurants for serving Coffex. If they skimp on the coffee, then their food ingredients can’t be of great quality either, right?

Well, having been back in Europe for over two years now has taught me that there’s more to life than just complaining about bad coffee. But hey, have I complained!

Fights with German cafe owners about what a latte is (and I still insist that it is NOT a latte macchiato), lots of returned coffee, lots of unfinished coffee, lots of burned coffee, the list goes on. But it has had its positives, I’ve learned a lot about black coffee in Portugal, I’ve done my best to convince anyone who’s been brave enough to go out for a coffee with me that there are better options out there then burnt milk with coffee flavour and three spoons of sugar.

Monk Bodhi Dharma

Inside of Monk Bodhi Dharma

Since my love for coffee started in Melbourne, I was very excited about being back in April and, not surprisingly, quite a few things had changed in the coffee scene. St Ali has been sold to a foreign investor and lots of new cafés have popped up everywhere.

Now, although I was unable to visit all of the new places, since we spent most of the time on the Mornington Peninsula, I caught up with Paul a friend of mine, who is a Melbourne Barista and who gave me his tips, as to the best cafés in Melbourne 2012.

So here it goes, very personal and biased, make sure to check them out for yourself, but this is Paul’s Top 9, in no order of preference:

  1. monk bodhi dharma
  2. the final step
  3. patricia
  4. auction rooms
  5. proud mary
  6. axil
  7. omar and the marvelous coffee bird
  8. hobba
  9. dead man espresso

After going through that list I decided to start with Monk Bodhi Dharma and this place certainly did not disappoint.

Tucked away on Carlisle Street next to the police station, this small but friendly place oozes with charm and you feel welcome right away. Very nice staff and happy to chat about their coffee.

Soy latte in hand

Monk Bodhi Dharma soy latte

At the time of drinking I was enjoying the house blend of the month, which technically was no blend at all, but a single origin from Papua New Guinea and tasted amazing.

The Synesso produced that fine rounded chocolaty drop I was looking for and the Muffins were great, too. Would I live in Melbourne again, I’d be a regular for sure!

Hopefully this page will keep you caffeinated in Melbourne for a while… If you feel there are other special places in Melbourne that I’ve left out, then feel free to add them in the comments section!

Location: Monk Bodhi Dharma, Carlisle Street, Melbourne, Australia

Visited: April 2012

IN SUMMARY:
Melbourne did not disappoint. Good coffee everywhere and Monk Bodhi Dharma has the right balance between a relaxed friendly atmosphere and simply excellent coffee.

 

an engel in helsinki

I am prejudiced when it comes to tourist guide recommendations.

Firstly, they are usually based on some historic or architectural reason rather than the quality of coffee or food, and secondly they cause tourist overflows and stressed out staff. Unfortunately tourist places are in most cases by nature designed to serve: well…, crappy quality.

Most local customers are less likely to put up with bad coffee, food and service at exorbitant prices just to see some old tiles and a chandelier.

Hence, I was rather sceptical when an Italian friend gave us café suggestions out of his lonely planet. But since my Finnish is non existent I thought it’s still worth a try since my usual Google research had proven rather unhelpful in Finland, due to language barriers and incredibly long words that even Google translate seemed to struggle with. I also wanted to try something else other than the Finnish version of Starbucks: Robert’s Coffee – granted it’s much better than Starbucks, if you are ever stuck for a coffee in Finland. Not surprising considering that Finland supposedly leads the per head coffee consumption in the world: 10kg in a year…

The first lonely planet suggestion the Lasipalatsi – mannerheimintie 22-24 confirmed all of my fears.

First rude staff experience in Finland, no hot breakfast and only frequented by tourists… my expectations were accordingly low when we decided to leave this place to find the next one: Café Engel.

Coffee at Cafe Engel

A decent cappucino at Cafe Engel

Despite the touristy spot (next to the senate, in the centre of Helsinki) the place oozed with warmth and relaxed coffee atmosphere right away. And they served a really nice big hot brekkie including coffee and fresh orange juice for 12€!

My cappucino (with soy) was served at the right temperature, with smooth crema foam. The taste was gentle but interesting and very smooth with very low acidity. The service was impeccable and long white candles added a nice cosy touch.

Senate in Helsinki, Finland

Senate in Helsinki - getting ready to become Design Capital 2012

Looking out of the tall windows we could watch Helsinki getting ready for their countdown as the world design capital 2012.

Location: Café Engel, Senaatintoori, Helsinki, Finland

Visited: Dec 2011

IN SUMMARY:

Café Engel is a welcome stop in Helsinki, nice atmosphere, good coffee and great breakfast in a very central location.

 

austrian-portuguese anyone?

There’s something really special about finding that right place.
I suppose it is a bit like finding a good book to read.

In most cases, you have to work through a lot of rubbish to get there. A lot of excited moments of discovery, only to be followed by severe disappointment.

When we got to Lisboa, we were very excited about the coffee. It was black, it was strong, it was everywhere.

Combined with beautiful pastries, Portugal most definitely has developed its own distinct coffee culture. Unlike the Germans, who often insist on 100% Arabica beans, the Portuguese like a fair dash of Robusta in their coffee mix, based on their strong ties to Brasil, I read somewhere. Coming from Australian coffee culture, I believe it can really add depth to a coffee.

Putting the entire Arabica snobness to one side, coffee is all about taste. And tastes always differs. I happen to enjoy a really good blend – coffee or wine.

inside the kaffeehaus

Kaffeehaus Cafe, Rua Anchieta, Lisbon

As much as we liked the classic Portuguese culture with traditionally dressed waiters, pastellarias combined with great weather and happy people, you can imagine, that it’s not really the place to openly confess your lactose intolerance. Everyone drinks espresso anyway. But after a few days of tasting bicas and duplos through all sorts of pastellarias, I must say a serious craving for a good soy latte was starting to creep in.

When we told our friends in Lisboa that we really like coffee, they right away had a few suggestions. One of which was the Kaffeehaus in Bairro Alto. Ironically, a café run by Austrians. The first week we struggled to find it. After we finally did, it turned out that the owners were on holiday and would only open a few days before we were due to leave. Fun fact about Portugal: in summer everyone’s at the Algarve, which makes Lisboa a really relaxed place to visit.

So, full of anticipation we arrived for a late breakfast on the day it reopened. A beautiful sunny morning, and you could tell that the locals had really missed the place. It was buzzing, the ever changing lunch menu looked very appetizing.

The interior is bright, a mix of modern and classic, with enough space to go round and some plastered walls with contemporary Austrian art posters. Most of the staff are Portuguese, but the second day we met one of the owners, who cheerfully noted, that his scrambled eggs on toast must be really good, if I was taking photos of it…

scrambled eggs for breakfast

looks simple, but tastes great!

The café had been running for seven years. Having worked in gastronomy for many years, he had come with his partner and opened this café to live and surf in Lisboa. Sounded like a great plan to me, that he obviously didn’t seem to regret in the slightest…

We pretty much tested half the menu over two visits (we HAD to come back the next day): amazing crumbly sour tarty cakes, always with a creative twist to traditional meals such as scrambled eggs and sausages with mash, made to perfection.

After having tasted the delicious items on the menu, the biggest question of course was: what about the coffee?

Sticking with Portuguese tradition, soy was not an option, so I ordered a café duplo (elongated double espresso, in Australia we call it a long black), which hands down was probably the best cup of black coffee I have ever tasted. Well balanced, smooth, not too bitter and with the perfect amount of crema, it left you wanting for more.

cafe duplo

This cafe duplo is a must try.

Luke’s first order was a café com leite. This turned out to be a big mistake. Coffee and milk do not mix well in Portugal. We rectified it immediately by ordering a second duplo and so we both enjoyed an amazing cup of coffee.

IN SUMMARY
If you are fortunate enough, the book you take along on your trip will be just as good as the food and the café duplo at the Kaffeehaus. If you travel to, or if you live in Lisboa, this place is a MUST visit.

two points for pois café

Could I be happier? Sitting on a 25 degree day in pois, café in Alfama. The picturesque pinnacle of the enchanting city of Lisbon, Portugal. My mind is turning to questions of cost of living, average rental payments and could we really live here? But of course it is just a holiday dream.

Pois Café, Rua de São João da Praça, Lisboa, Portugal

It’s been an eon since I last strolled into a cafe and felt so at home. The couches surround a large buckled chest and rows of books on shelves to the left and the right. The menu looks appealing – too bad we have just eaten.

So I order a double espresso and Julia requests a soy latte. And they have soy! Are we in coffee paradise? Leider nicht (unfortunately not).

Julia’s latte is obviously a latte machiatto (coffee poured in after the milk) and just doesn’t quite cut it.

chocolate coconut cake

The Portuguese Austrian version of a lamington

But my double espresso is adequate – it does the job  together with a coconut chocolate cake that reminds me of the one and only Aussie speciality, the lamington. I may not be in coffee paradise, but I am in cafe bliss!

IN SUMMARY:

Come for the ambience, the German book and magazine selection and enjoy Alfama!

a great shot of kaffeine

The great lunch selection at kaffeine, 66 Great Titchfield, London

So here we are on our tour of London. Instead of the usual visiting of sights or shopping tours we decided to visit London the way we usually like to visit cities: one café at a time, trying to find the best coffee in town.

It’s my favourite way of travelling, you end up seeing all the sights but in a fun relaxed way, you get to enjoy great coffee and you usually discover many gorgeous back streets that you will not find in any travel guide. Small cafés are simply at the heart of the culture of any city, or show the lack thereof.

On top of our list was ‘Kaffeine‘ at 66 Great Titchfield. An Australian/New Zealand operated store with (of course) a Synesso coffee machine. So here we were, our second café for the day after having visited ‘flat white‘ and a nice shopping stroll through Soho, London we were ready for the next shot of goodness.

And good it was indeed! A nice bright and friendly place with adequate seating and a large selection of sandwiches and other lunch items that we didn’t try but looked delicious and based on the Londoner queues that started to arrive at lunch time I am guessing we should have had lunch there as well – our seats where sought after by the crowds that arrived for lunch.

Coffee perfection at Kaffeine

The coffee was first class with friendly service, nice latte art – I just finished it too quickly. Really great coffee, their nice interior was a reflection of their attention to detail and passion for great café culture.

IN SUMMARY
You won’t be disappointed by Kaffeine. They understand coffee and café culture. A great place to meet a friend to have a chat over a great cup of coffee or for lunch. High attention is given to the quality of beans, service and food selection. A+++

pasmarose – a day in lüneburg and the next door cafe

All but the weather looked promising for our Saturday afternoon coffee tour of Lüneburg. Qype and foursquare had some suggestions, as did google. Wikipedia told us that Lüneberg has more bars per square metre than any town in Europe other than Madrid and that fortunately, it had survived World War II completely intact.

We started at Anna’s Cafe and while Anna provided tasty cakes and a homely setting for a dreary afternoon, the coffee fell well short of the mark.  Froth full of bubbles, a coffee bowl not filled to the top and watery coffee.

café pasmarose in Lüneburg

Chandler’s Coffee understood the difference between a cafe latte and a cappuccino and served up espresso made from 100% Arabica seeds. Again however, I was somehow disappointed.  For my taste, the coffee was too bitter and the decor too Starkbucks. As I suspected on arrival, the smallish one-barista-only Elektra machine could not produce the goods.

We then made our way to Pasmarose. A bit out of the way, unless of course you have planned a Saturday afternoon trip to the Salzmuseum which lies directly at the cafe’s rear.  The decor and the layout were inviting. White and black tiles, sturdy tables and coffee and many other coffee accessories to purchase on display from A. Nannini, Beneficio, Santa Rosa and Varesina. Interesting inoffensive music to keep you relaxed.

The menu differentiated between filter coffee, espresso and espresso mit milch (with milk).  Under the ‘espresso mit milch’ section we were given the choice of ordering an espresso macchiato, a pingo, a cappuccino, cappuccino doppio, grosser cappuccino, flat white or latte macchiato.

nice latte art at café pasmarose

Here again we see another example of confusion over the flat white reigning in Europe.  While in Berlin we saw it described as a ‘small Australian coffee’, at Pasmarose it is bylined with the words ‘große tasse sanfter cappuccino.’ Hmmm… In any case, I ordered one and it came with minimal froth as hoped for.

The coffee turned to be gentle and buttery in taste.  Attention was paid to latte art and the service was very good.  The owners appear to be very customer conscious, and were seen lighting candles on tables, offering free slices of strawberry cake whilst being careful not to get in your way.  Happy to have a chat about the coffee also, if you are up for it.

IN SUMMARY

As Julia commented, we would be happy if this café opened up next door to our apartment!

bonanza coffee heroes – one coffee to try before you die

‘There’s this place in Prenzlauer Berg, that has one of these special coffee machines of which just a few exist in Europe.’ explains our friend excited when she hears that we like coffee.

I am straight away interested, since up until that day I had not seen a Synesso coffee machine anywhere in Germany. Only in Australia. So, when I hear this I am hoping this might be the place.

So, on a hot Sunday afternoon just before we are due to leave back for Hamburg we decide to try this place out. Strange name: bonanza coffee heroes, but then it’s also cute. I used to like to watch Bonanza when I was seven. I am intrigued.

When we get to Oderberger Str. 35, Berlin is at its best. Loads of people hanging out in the park, it’s hot and everyone is enjoying a beautiful summer day in June. We get to the place and we can hear a few English speaking tourists sitting outside. The coffee in their hands looks promising and you are welcomed by a large coffee heaven sign saying: ‘Don’t die before trying’.

smooth café latte

But then it’s just after six and we haven’t eaten yet and this place only does cake, so in an attempt to not die before trying, we need to eat something rather substantial, rather soon. Having quite a few options on the same street, we end up having some Indian from across the road (quite nice as well) and then run back to the coffee shop to make sure we make it before it’s closed for the day.

The inside is quite small and has a cool mix of industrial concrete cosyness that you expect from funky café. And voilá – I  feel like hugging the barista when I see the beautiful Synesso machine!

We order our coffees but we are amused to see again that flat whites are a special small size and cost more than a regular latté.

I stick to latté and Luke goes for a cappucino. The first sip is like heaven. It has its own rich chocolate like interesting flavour and texture with a lot of depth to it.

I am in love and since the office I work at has a decent ECM machine named Don Vito (check out his FB fan page) and our entire office is in a coffee fever, I decide to buy a whole kg of coffee beans.

That’s when the trouble starts – there are no 1 kg bag, only 2 kg and the barista starts to fill it up in 250g steps…. when it comes to paying the EC machine is not working and all of this takes half an hour to work out.  But the staff is very nice and the owner tries to convince me to walk a mile to a cash machine, so that he can get his 25€ for a kg of coffee beans before he closes for the night. But I am wearing heels, so I don’t think so. So, unfortunately no extra nice coffee beans for our office.

But then I am sure I will be back and now I have something new to look forward to my next time in Berlin.

IN SUMMARY

Great roast of coffee, well trained baristas and the perfect machine. Lacks a bit of inside seating space and warmth but all in all this place is about great coffee and it shows.