At the beginning of the day, most people take their dose of energy from a cup of coffee. While some prefer to prepare it at home, others choose to get their favorite coffee from a special place. And Bucharest comes with great news for those who prefer specialty coffee, as this segment has grown rapidly in recent years. Dozens of coffee shops selling specialty coffee open their doors every morning, ready to pamper their customers with flavored high quality beverages.
It’s morning and the clock shows few minutes past 9 when we arrive at one of the most popular cafes in Bucharest serving specialty coffee. We discovered it right in the city center, not far from the busy boulevard, but somehow hidden from the morning rush. To get here we had to enter a black metal gate and then go through a corridor that took us to the building that also houses this coffee shop. In fact, most of the cafes in Bucharest serving specialty coffee are located on side streets.
We climb a few stairs and enter the coffee shop. The atmosphere changes fast and the tempting smell of freshly ground coffee greets us right from the start. We take a look at the menu behind the bar and order a cappuccino and a flat white. Here the order and payment are made at the bar and then someone brings the coffee to your table. But it’s not the same everywhere: in some places they come to your table to take the order and in others you have to order, pay and take your coffee at the bar (this is especially true in smaller coffee shops).
This coffee shop is spacious, arranged in a rather industrial style, with tables and chairs made of wood and metal and large light bulbs coming down from the ceiling. This type of design is common in specialty coffee shops in Bucharest, many owners choosing to mix wood with metal and use simple colors, especially brown, white and black, sometimes in combination with green or other colors. In some coffee shops, we also find decorations such as colorful paintings, more complex lighting installations or specific decorations, like specialty books or coffee machines.
This morning almost all tables are occupied: some make plans for the day ahead, while others have installed their laptops on the table, a sign that their workday has already started. The Wi-Fi is good in such cafes, but some of them don’t allow the use of laptops on certain days or after certain hours, in an attempt to encourage socialization without screens.
The specialty coffee segment has developed rapidly in Bucharest in the last 2-3 years. There are currently about 125-130 venues serving high quality coffee, says Luka Zivkovic, a specialty coffee lover and co-founder of the Bucharest Coffee Waves. Around 70 of these locations are coffee shops, and the rest are restaurants or other types of venues that buy and serve coffee from a specialized roastery.
“By comparison, in Paris you might have today around 50 places like this. The two European cities that are known for having a lot of specialty coffee shops are London and Berlin, both with 200 or more cafes. It’s hard to make a rank, but I would definitely put Bucharest in top 5,” Luka says.
Most of the coffee shops in Bucharest are concentrated in the Unirii Square - Universității Square – Romană Square area, but also around Victoriei Square – King Michael I Park (Herăstrău). Around two or three specialty coffee shops are open in the south, 4-5 in the west and there is none in the east.
We decide to head to Romană Square. Not far from Amzei Square we find another specialty coffee shop that is popular both among Bucharesters and foreign tourists. Almost all the tables inside are occupied, and the customers are slightly different from the ones we found in the first cafe. There are also young parents with children here, as well as a few foreigners and even a dog. The Scandinavian design chosen for this place makes the atmosphere a little warmer.
The menu, similar to the ones found in other such coffee places, focuses mainly on specialty coffee, and the most popular are cappuccino and flat white (both contain milk). In general, the prices range from RON 7 lei to RON 15, with the most expensive being the V60, a coffee without milk that is hand made and therefore requires more time and attention, David Maguet, co-owner of the coffee shop, explains. This coffee’s taste is also different, a bit strange and surprising at first, but highly appreciated by coffee lovers.
We quickly notice that sugar is missing: we don’t get any when the order arrives and there is no sugar on the table. But this doesn’t come as a surprise, as specialists recommend enjoying a specialty coffee without sugar.
“You can get sugar if you ask. We encourage customers to drink coffee without sugar, but we don’t forbid it,” David Maguet says. “Drinking high quality coffee with sugar is like putting ice cubes in the best wine.”
The special milk used in the preparation of such coffee is enough to sweeten the taste. And for those who are lactose intolerant or want to try something else, the menu also includes several types of alternative milk, such as soy or almond milk.
Of the approximately 70 specialty coffee shops in Bucharest, only about 20 are more spacious, the rest are small cafes with only 6 to 8 seats inside and a few outside. We also find such a cafe close to Romană Square, so we go in and decide to drink our coffee at one of the two tables inside. The design is simple but welcoming, the main material used in here being wood. The quality of the coffee is equally high, and while we discover and enjoy the taste of a milk-free coffee, most customers prefer to take their coffee to go or drink it outside, sitting on the cushions placed on the stairs at the entrance.
We then head to King Michael I Park (Herăstrău), and near the Aviatorilor subway station we find another specialty coffee shop recommended by coffee lovers. As we approach, we notice that, although it is almost November, the outdoor terrace is still crowded. There are a few blankets for those who feel cold but the hot coffee helps most customers stay warm. In the corner, on one of the blankets, a cat sleeps peacefully.
Although it’s still a rather unknown aspect of Bucharest, the Romanian capital is one of the best-developed European capitals when it comes to specialty coffee. The city is slowly becoming a top destination for tourists who love high quality coffee.
The list of the most popular specialty coffee shops in Bucharest includes Origo, Guido, Coftale, M60, Beans & Dots, Meron, Bob Coffee Lab, Steam and Orygyns.
Coffee shops are more than places that serve coffee, as people come here to socialize, work or for business meetings. In addition, the cafes in Bucharest host numerous events throughout the year, such as the Bucharest Coffee Week. A list of such events, as well as a map of the specialty coffee shops in Bucharest and other information can be found on Bucharestcoffeewaves.com.
The menus of the bigger coffee shops also have food, including dishes for those who have adopted a vegetarian diet.
Those who want to make quality coffee at home can buy bags of coffee beans from these cafes. The price is around RON 50.
This text is part of a project under the program of promoting the touristic heritage "Destination: Bucharest", carried out by the Bucharest City Hall through the Public Monuments and Touristic Heritage Administration (AMPT).
(photos by Romania-Insider.com for AMPT)