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Coffee and Tea Culture in Slovakia: the Kaviaren versus the Čajovna

Before 1989, partaking of a good beverage was significantly more limited than it is today in Slovakia.

But particularly where coffee was concerned. Almost everyone drank the same brand, heralding from Poprad – an underwhelming and grainy affair by most accounts (and that is only to mention the best of them). No one thought to question its origin beyond that. It was there, and that was what counted. Better beans were available on a prestigious foreign market that you could buy with bonds – if you happened to have foreign currency to pay for them, which you could only really obtain if you had relatives living “in the west”.

A quality array of teas was more widespread. After all, tea could be made with the herbs and fruits that grew in the woods and hills looming large across Czechoslovakia (foraging is still a popular alternative to relying on what is offered in the supermarkets today). This is much more likely to explain why discerning tea culture continued to develop whilst coffee culture took a tumble (ironic, with Vienna so near and yet so far) than, for example, the age-old influence of the Turkish on the region.

Come the 1990s and tea in Slovakia was often a fine-tuned and sophisticated thing, enjoyed in a range of čajovny (teahouses) which were as often as not the hangouts of the Bohemian sect. Coffee – at least the half-decent varieties of coffee enjoyed in kaviarne, or cafes, continued to be at best what Slovaks know as presso, low-grade espresso made in a simple presso machine.

But Slovaks, since then, and in spite of the fact they are ultimately a home-loving people, began spending time away in other parts of Europe, North America and Australia. When they did, they often ended up working in catering. They got exotic ideas and brought them back to Slovakia.

Slovaks jump to adopt and embrace foreign trends if those trends seem like winners. Pizza and pasta caught on quickly. Craft beer is the latest craze. Good coffee came somewhere between the pasta and the craft beer. It seems to have been a learning curve, slow, but steadier and steadier and only really developing into a “scene” worth talking about in the last five or six years. And a scene it is. The likes of Bratislava’s Štúr (2010) and Bistro St Germain, plus perhaps Košice’s Caffe Trieste spearheaded it: good coffee in atmospheric surroundings, in these cases with cheap, healthy lunches on offer too.

A ton more places have followed suit. This new brand of cafes have several traits. They seem, like the čajovny have been for a while now, to be real “worlds” – autonomous provinces free from the regulations, realities and disappointments of external goings-on, or at least refuges from them. They are also uncrowded worlds, which renders them all the more inviting. They are generally owned/operated by young people who have a passion for stamping their own unique take on how things should be. In Bratislava and Košice, many inhabit Old Town buildings looking out on streets where aimless wandering is often a visitor’s main concern – and at a slow pace, because of the cobbles:) – it would not take too beguiling a pavement cafe table to waylay anyone here. And there is not just one or two – there are many. They veritably assail you from within 18th-century buildings (buildings which, it must be admitted, suit standing in as cafes very well). They invariably capitalise on one major Achilles heel of the average Slovak – an inability to think about going through the day without a hearty lunch – and do well from it. All told, it is no surprise why Slovakia, in 2013, were the world’s sixth-biggest per capita coffee drinkers.

If anything, in Slovakia it’s the quality čajovna that now seems underground (underground meaning the scene generally but sometimes, yes, literally underground) compared to the kaviareň / cafe. That said, more places serve up top-notch tea than they do top-notch espresso, so it seems to me. With the coffee, it’s a work in progress. But already a very good work.

Košice: Fairytale Breakfast

I’m not (for once) using artistic licence. Raňajkáreň Rozprávka means just that: a fairytale breakfast joint. This cute little brunch stop on the back streets of Košice even invented the word “raňajkáreň” – as a cukráreň serves cakes, is the idea, so a raňajkáreň specialises in breakfasts. Good breakfasts. This place, in fact, gives itself over utterly to breakfast (although it stays open until 8pm). If this is the birth of a new craze in Slovakia, so be it – although I rather think that Raňajkáreň Rozprávka is likely to hold the monopoly on the concept. Because the plethora of original breakfast options they offer (and the atmosphere in which they offer them) begs the question “why, if you want a breakfast fix in Košice, would you go anywhere else?”

We arrived on a hot Friday afternoon when Raňajkáreň Rozprávka was in the process of making itself that little bit more enticing to passersby: laying turf on the alleyway outside the main entrance so that you’re effectively walking across a small field as you walk passed the door. And who doesn’t want to stop off for coffee or cake in a small field in the middle of a city?

Raňajkáreň Rozprávka is half-way down the quirky little alleyway of Hrnčiarska, which has been in recent years converted into a series of traditional handicrafts shops (a potter’s, a jeweller’s etc). It’s already a step back in time. Enter the environs of this “raňajkáreň” and you’ll think yourself properly in another world of fantasy breakfasts – where combinations of almost anything go: particularly the freshly-squeezed juices (nicely rounded off with a dose of cinnamon). Add then the breakfasts themselves (fresh vegetable or fruit salads, cheese plates and of course the muffins and cakes) and finally the decor (surreal fairy-tale city inside, and a serene little street cafe garden outside, not to mention the corridor of books on the way to the toilets) and you have, quite simply, Košice’s most out-of-this-world breakfast joint. The coffee is a cut above anything you would get on the bigger restaurants on the main square too.

Given they’ve gone out of the way to make this a breakfast place it’s perhaps surprising they stay open as long as they do (because all the customers come in the morning/early afternoon for brunch). But Raňajkáreň Rozprávka makes this little street more special; special enough that you might just end up preferring it as a place to hang to the main square – yes, even though you won’t be next to the musical fountain.

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Košice

Places to Go: Climbing Košice cathedral

Places to Go: Unsung charms and legends: insights into Košice city centre

Places to Go/Events & Festivals: Slovakia’s Famed Film Festival Arrives in Košice to Stay

Places to Stay: The city’s first ‘eco-hotel’

Places to Eat & Drink: THE bistro to be seen at in Košice

Getting Around: Košice’s flight connections

Getting Around: Quirky Košice city tours

Musings: The Definition of ‘Discussed’

 

MAP LINK: (The address is Hrnčiarska 17)

OPENING: 7:30am-6pm Monday to Friday, 9:30am-4pm on weekends

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Lazy late morning at a weekend for brunch

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Raňajkáreň Rozprávka it’s 500m southwest to Košice Cathedral

LAST UPDATED: April 2017