This was my first time in Croatia and right away I was gladly impressed by its capital Zagreb. The city is cosy, elegant but modest, busy but still relaxed… pretty much as its inhabitants. While walking around the downtown I noticed that Zagreb is still an Illy territory. I also spotted Lavazza, Arabesca (Croatian company) and Bou Cafe (from Spain) coffee served in many places and these are all coffees that I am not impressed with. However, after reading about the coffee scene in the Croatian capital I found places that serve single origin coffees roasted by themselves or by some small artisan roaster. The friendly local baristas also advised me to visit new places that I was not aware of or to avoid the ones that are not serving good coffee anymore.
My tour started with a local legend: Cogito (Varsavska ulica 11)
I was curious about roaster and retailer Cogito because many reviews mention this as the best coffee in town. I first visited one of their coffee shops, a light place with minimalistic design and tables and chairs that resemble those of my elementary school. I ordered a flat white (for my first cup in the morning I prefer it to have milk) and an espresso both prepared with a blend of coffee from Rwanda and Costa Rica. With the first sip I felt some acidity but the finish was bitter. The smiley barista then told me that this blend was meant for drinks with milk, but for espresso I rather try the other coffee offered that day. I agreed but decided to try it at another Cogito coffee spot.
Next stop for a second chance: Cafe U Dvorištu (Ulica Jurja Žerjavica 7/2)
I felt I was going through a passage into somebody’s home when I found this nice terrace that belongs to Cafe U Dvorištu, decorated in the industrial hipstery style that is so much in fashion. Next to the cafe is the roastery of Cogito. The concept was developed by two Matijas. Matija Hrkac realized that there were not enough coffee roasteries in Zagreb and opened one in Jurja Žerjavica Street, right next to Cafe u Dvorištu that was opened by Matija Bekovic. Since they both shared a love of coffee they decided to team up. The result is a comfortable place to enjoy the sun, the view of the roastery and a great cup of coffee. This time I ordered the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe natural: balanced, full body with soft aftertaste. I enjoyed the floral aroma, the fruity acidity and light sweetness.
Where it all started: Eli’s cafe (Ilica 63)
Legend says that barista champion Nik Orosi was the first one to bring specialty coffee to Zagreb. He opened Eli’s caffe bar in 2005 and started roasting his own coffee in 2009. The bar, located in the most prominent street of Zagreb, is decorated in a simple, fashionable way with dark colours and only a few lamps. This is creates an intimate space which is not what I expect from a coffee place nowadays as we are used to open, light, minimalistic, Scandinavian decoration (or lack of it). I got my first espresso from the barista but I was not impressed. Nik was around and immediately brought me a second one extracted shorter than the first, thus better. Made from Peruvian, natural, organic coffee it had full body, light acidity like from grapes. A third espresso was even better, made from Ethiopian Yirgacheffe lavado: medium body, clean flavour, acidity as in mandarins. The best part of this visit was the service: making me a second shot so that I can enjoy it without me asking for it made me a fan. I was so happy to chat with Nik about coffee, origins, roasting and the changing coffee consumption of Croatians.
Quahwa: the new kid in town (Ul. Nikole Tesle 9/1)
I know I have to visit a place when more than one barista in town recommend it, so I head to Quahwa, the new roaster in town. This is another coffee place located in the interior patio of a building, something that seems to be very common in Zagreb. The space is big, nicely decorated with coffee bags and espresso machines as a base for tables while the roasters are opposite to the bar. From the coffees offered here I chose a natural from Brazil, Monte Cristo. It was a nice shot with a good body, balanced and pleasant acidity as from berries and hints of chocolate. The next day I came back to try some different brewing with the same coffee. This is the only place in town to enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee. They prepared it in a traditional way heating the cezve (vessel) in hot sand; because the sand offers a more consistent heat. What a pleasure to see this ceremony! They do add sugar during the preparation so the taste of my coffee is hard to describe but this time I felt more and more chocolate flavour and dried fruits.
Quahwa offers a wide range of brewing techniques and beverages. If I would have stayed longer in Zagreb I would for sure tried more drinks here. They even prepare on the spot their own condensed milk!
Outside the downtown: Teneo (Treshnjevachki Trg 2)
I included Teneo in my tour after I saw it mentioned in the European Coffee Tour webpage even though it is outside the downtown, a bit too far to walk. The chat with Christian Cviljak was worth the trip by tram. Trams work wonderfully in Zagreb, they’re cheap and efficient and so ok, I did enjoy the ride there too. Christian roasts his own coffee and runs this cute self-standing coffee bar with a few tables inside and a terrace. I loved the Joe Frex glasses! My espresso was made with a blend of coffee from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ethiopia and a small percentage of coffee from India. However, for my taste the coffee is a bit overroasted which, I have heard during this trip, is still more in the taste of Croatians.
Walking along a small street in the downtown: Najgora Kava u Gradu (P Sestara Bakovic 3)
While walking through a quiet, yet still lively, alleyway in the centre of Zagreb I saw this tiny coffee place. The drawing of Frida Kahlo (a 20th century Mexican artist) in the window caught my attention, together with the sign below saying “worst coffee in town”. Unfortunately, I also find this Ethiopia Sidamo overroasted. The fragrance was interesting with some citrus hints but the low acidity and some peanut flavour was overruled by a smoky, bitter taste.
The best espresso at: Express bar (Petrinjska 4)
Safe the best for last is said. True. Express bar is a few steps from the main square in Zagreb thus it was the closest to my hotel. I went there as my final stop when I felt the deepest need of a good espresso. The place has a serious Scandinavian influence: light wood, simple deco, a coffee flavour wheel in chalk in the wall. I had an espresso with Caturra White Honey beans from Costa Rica roasted by Square Mile (UK). I love it! It was balanced, full bodied, nice acidity as from cherries, a chocolate hint too and a good fruity aftertaste. I enjoy every sip!
Next day, my last in Croatia, I came back for more. Lucky me I run into the owner Ivan Leko, who told me that at Express bar they rotate their coffees frequently. They have used beans from Cogito, the Barn from Berlin and now from UK. They use good beans and they do know how to extract espressos.
During my visit to Croatia and my coffee tour around Zagreb I run into super friendly people willing to share their time and coffee experience with me. I learned that Croatians enjoy Turkish coffee at home. When going out they rather enjoy other coffee beverage which is why it is not so easy to find Turkish coffee served in the city. For decades the coffee supply was dominated by dark, bitter, industrial coffee but that is changing fast with more artisan roasters and dedicated baristas.