Just last month, Riga, the capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic states, was officially unveiled as the European Capital of Culture for 2014 (along with Umeå, Sweden). What that means exactly for the residents depends on who you ask, most seem unsure about the specifics, but they are excited nonetheless to have a spotlight on their city following all the cultural events planned throughout the year. After returning from a week long trip, I learned first hand that the designation is much deserved. From the city’s budding specialty coffee scene to the amazing architecture down every street, Riga is well worth a visit.
Riga has a history that dates back longer than my North American mind can wrap itself around, and the architecture alone reflects it. Just walking through the streets you’re treated to a diversity of buildings that I’ve yet to see in one place elsewhere in Europe. Riga has changed hands many times over the centuries, and it has absorbed heavy influences from Germany, the Soviet Union and at one point in the early 1700′s it was the largest city in the Swedish empire.
In the nearly 25 years since gaining its freedom from the USSR, Riga has grown into a city as cosmopolitan and unique as any other in central Europe. The incredibly preserved Art Nouvaeu district (the largest collection in the world) and the old wooden homes from the 19th century are now being joined by contemporary designs like the newly finished National Library and the Citadele and DnB Nord bank buildings. Along with this architectural and cultural modernization, specialty coffee has begun to take hold as well.
MIIT Coffee & Bikes
Lāčplēša iela 10, Rīga
Tel: +371 26775490
Miit Coffee & Bikes in the heart of the Central District is only a couple blocks from the large Esplenade park. The bright and spacious shop was just around the corner from my hotel and received daily visits during my stay in Riga. There’s a lot of love for bikes and the fixed gear culture, with historic images of track racing on the walls and a framed photo of Eddie Merckx behind the bar. Miit opened 3 years ago and uses coffee roasted by Andrito Coffee Roasting, founded in 2010 by the former Latvian Barista Champion Andris Petkēvičs.
The café serves a menu full of vegetarian and vegan food, including a delicious spread of pancakes for weekend brunch. The long bar made from stacks of wooden slats plays host to a La Cimbali espresso machine or you can order any coffee available as an Aeropress, V60, French Press or Chemex. During one of my visits, a barista mentioned that it’s not common for customers to order the manual brew methods on their own because they usually don’t know what they are, but after recommendations, some regulars will eventually try them and really enjoy it. Even if they don’t serve manual brew coffee very often, she said they’re proud to offer it.
When Miit isn’t making coffee or pancakes, they stay busy with other projects like Miit Works, which sells track bike frames and parts. Cycling seemed to be a reoccurring theme throughout my visit, with fixed gear bikes having a presence in some way at every shop I visited. If that wasn’t enough, when the sun goes down, the coffee bar turns into an evening bar with DJs and crowds that rival those found during the day. There’s also WiFi available for those who need to map out their next move and friendly staff who can help you find your way.
Tomsona iela 2, Rīga
Tel: +371 27002226
The newest coffee shop to visit in Riga is Žanna, which opened just three months ago and already feels like a neighborhood institution. This cozy shop sits on the corner of a quiet residential street off the much busier Valdemars iela. Žanna’s corner location lets light in from both sides, allowing you to enjoy the fresh baked goods alongside your coffee in a warm space that contrasts with the cold Soviet-era exterior.
Žanna is using coffee roasted in neighboring Estonia by Gourmet Coffee, and just like Miit, they offer brewing on a variety of methods. The centerpiece of the room is a bright red La Marzocco FB/80 that draws your attention from whichever corner you may be sitting in. I had a well made espresso before relaxing with a Chemex of Ethiopian Arichan and a sample of a Colombian brewed with a V60—both very well made by a barista who admitted to have only been making coffee for 3 months.
As with Miit, Žanna is open later and has a bar stocked with everything needed to transition from caffeine to a nightcap. This café fills up with locals in a place that’s much more removed from the central part of town, but it’s still easy to visit by a short walk along one of Riga’s main roads. If you want to leave the guide book behind and explore something other than the tourist districts, take a walk to Žanna.
Blaumaņa ielā 34-1a, Rīga
Tel: +371 29349507
A place like Innocent Café normally wouldn’t make it on my list of places to visit, but it was recommended by Ingemars who is now the head barista at Žanna Cafe. While he admitted that he managed Innocent for several years and that they were an Illy cafe, he said it was an important place because it inspired the current trend of specialty coffee shops and the baristas who work at them.
Innocent is the Latvian distributor of Illy coffee, and during my visit I lost count of how many Illy logos there were to remind me. The café was branded like none I’d ever seen before. There were shelves lined with Illy cups, Illy logos on the walls, paintings on the walls of the Illy logos on the walls and sofas upholstered in Illy red leather. It was a bit of an Illy overload.
On the front counter was a white La Marzocco GB5 adorned with subculture stickers that contrasted irreverently with the sheen of Illy’s corporate mark left on every available surface. The café was quite large, with the middle room being devoted to the sale of home machines and coffee products. The back section was dimly lit and reserved more for the laptop crowd, while the front was bustling with customers who all seemed to know each other quite well. From greeting each others kids to saddling up beside neighbors when open tables were readily available.
The coffee was as I expected, but a much better option than most of the places I passed on my way here. I had a well pulled and balanced shot of espresso followed by my first Illy cappuccino with milk that wasn’t bone dry. It felt as if Innocent had formed some kind of hybrid between what I’ve always expected from an Illy café and a modern specialty coffee shop. With a bike on the wall and booze on the shelves, it seemed to fill the requirements of the other specialty coffee shops in town and was filled with happy, coffee loving customers.
While Riga’s specialty coffee scene may still be small, it has ample potential for a city the size of Riga. One thing I noticed every shop in Riga had in common was the vibrancy of a culture on the move. While navigating to each destination, I’d pass local boutiques alongside Bulgari showrooms and centuries old wooden homes beside storefronts displaying the work of Eames and Kartell. Not to mention the free wifi everywhere, even in Taxis and liquor stores.
There are so many rich layers of history in Latvia and so much potential in its modern day growth, it’s inevitable that the current generation will add even more unique layers to this city in the years to come. Places like Miit, Žanna and Innocent have created the kind of atmosphere in Riga where this future can take shape.
Andrew Barnett is a veteran of specialty coffee who has been around longer than many of the younger roasters you might be familiar with. In 2000, Andrew founded Ecco Caffe which roasted coffee for the San Francisco Bay area for years before it was sold to Intelligentsia in 2009. New Yorkers may also be familiar with Ecco from its use at Joe Coffee, until Joe began roasting for themselves earlier this summer.
This week, Andrew opened the door of his newest foray in the world of coffee—Linea Caffe. The new espresso bar is an intimate, open air café on the corner of 18th and San Carlos in the Mission District. The focus on espresso based drinks and its standing room only intimacy, creates a European feel that’s contrasts with the spacious San Francisco spots that can feel more like co-working spaces than coffee bars. For those who don’t have work to do, Linea provides a warm neighborly environment that’s better for standing around talking with friends than meeting deadlines.
Apart from Andrew and his coffee, the space is also shared with Anthony Myint, of Mission Chinese fame, who’s making fluffy Brussel-style waffles and salads meant to satisfy. Andrew is determined to ensure the focus on coffee and fare be well balanced, instead of leaving the food as an afterthought. So Linea Caffe partnered with Anthony to launch food concepts that will be just as much of a draw as the coffee.
The espresso at Linea is meant to be sweet, balanced and approachable, leaving the more experimental flavor bombs to some of San Francisco’s other specialty coffee bars. After sampling the espresso with and without milk, it was right on target. It was a straightforward, enjoyable coffee that should please both coffee purists as well as the rest of the neighborhood. Next I’ll be sure to try the waffles.
3417 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
8am – 3pm Daily
(I’m also a big fan of the Heath Ceramic demitasses)
Micaela de Freitas, a student in design and development in South Africa, recently spent 6 weeks traveling around Scandinavia and Turkey. As a coffee lover, she took the opportunity to stop by some of the region’s best coffee bars. With support from The Coffee Mag in South Africa, she captured the whole adventure in a fun video that bounces from cup to cup with the beat of Sufjan Stevens.
Grab a fresh cup and enjoy.
A new video miniseries was just launched by The Pancake Epidemic, the Los Angeles-based division of a marketing something or another, that chronicles an epic coffee road trip across the western United States. The eight part series begins in San Francisco (one of my favorite coffee cities) where the host Brandon Davenport drinks everything from Denny’s to Blue Bottle to Ritual Coffee.
A lot of ground (and coffee) is covered in just 8 minutes. Davenport consumed 19 cups of coffee in the first video alone, ending with a fresh brewed cup of McCafé. There are brief pop-ins and take-aways as well as sit down interviews, including one with Eileen Hassi from Ritual Coffee Roasters. It will be interesting to see what other spots are visited in the coming episodes as Caffeination works its way north to Portland.
It also feels a bit like a guerrilla campaign for Stumptown bottled coffee.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Amsterdam, a place I hadn’t been to in years and whose small but vibrant specialty coffee scene has grown significantly in recent years. While the number of quality shops are growing, it’s still possible to visit most, if not all, of them during a short visit and still have time for some of the city’s other cultural and recreational treasures.
The evening I arrived I headed directly to a gathering of local baristas for a Friday Bean Battle, which is basically a TNT (Thursday Night Latte Art Throwdown) that takes place on the first Friday of every month. The event was being held at Espresso Fabriek, one of the staples of the specialty coffee foundation in Amsterdam. There is no money or points involved in the battle, just a cool little trophy that’s displayed at the shop of the winning barista until the next competition. It was a fun introduction to some of the people I’d be visiting around the city over the coming days.
Gosschalklaan 7, Amsterdam
+31 (0) 204862106
As one of the first small specialty coffee roasters in Amsterdam, Espresso Fabriek has helped build a foundation for what is now a growing market for lovely coffee bars and cafés across town. They currently have two locations, the first can be found at Westergasfabriek, a former gasworks factory that is now a renovated hot spot for creative and cultural entrepreneurs near Westerpark. The second location is a bit further east of the city in a residential area, which I didn’t visit on this trip (IJburglaan 1489).
Espresso Fabriek can be found behind the main buildings inside a smaller one that once housed gas meters for the nearby factory. It is now an airy two floor loft, with a coffee bar on the ground level and a Giesen roaster with extra seating up above. There’s a 3-group Kees van der Westen lever machine as well as slow bar with V60s and AeroPress filter coffee available. Be sure to try a slice of the Apple cake.
Eerste Constantijn Huygensstraat 35, Amsterdam (coffee, wine & cuisine)
+31 (0) 206160770
Hartenstraat 12, Amsterdam (original location)
+31 (0) 206260966
Screaming Beans is another company that has been a staple of the Amsterdam community who serves coffee roasted by Bocca. In the last year they’ve refreshed their original location with a recent remodel and opened a second location that doubles as a well stocked wine bar and restaurant—complete with tasting menu. The wine bar takes the format of a typical coffee shop and throws it out the window. It offers an experience of fine dining and elegance that won’t have customers questioning the cost of a Chemex. Stationed in front of the glowing wine cellar are dueling Kees van der Westen lever machines, an Über boiler and a myriad of different brew methods to choose from.
The original location, which just re-opened last month in a popular shopping district, has a more traditional café menu, with weekend brunch and pastries along with a fully equipped coffee bar up front, which is also outfitted with a Kees van der Westen lever machine. The space is long and narrow with a bright white wall that reflects light into a nook that’s adorned floor to ceiling with lovely reclaimed wood. What impressed me most about both of the Screaming Beans locations is their dedication to table side coffee brewing, which really elevated the experience to new levels.
Beukenplein 14-H, Amsterdam
+31 (0) 207519956
Coffee Bru is located south east of the city and is a bit out of the way for most travelers. However, if you have the time it’s a journey that will take you to parts of Amsterdam you would otherwise probably never visit. This café has only been open for about a year and a half, but it has the feeling of a neighborhood institution. It’s less modern than the other shops around town and much more bohemian. There’s a corner full of toys for the kids, a living plant wall in the back room and a menu offering vegan friendly fare.
The coffee bar is built on a brightly tiled island that feels like you’re in someone’s kitchen. The baristas serve coffee roasted by Bocca on V60s and espresso was pulled on a La Marzocco. I had my best cup of filter coffee here, but the least welcoming service.
KOKO Coffee & Design
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 145, Amsterdam
+ 31 (0) 206264208
KOKO Coffee & Design was a favorite of mine on this trip. The shop has only been open for 6 months, but it already seems to have a stream of regulars taking advantage of the inspiring surroundings and great coffee. The atmosphere, the location, the concept and the coffee where all fantastic and the service by the lovely owners Karlijn and Caroline was warm and welcoming. KOKO is located right in the heart of Amsterdam, with a front door that sits just across the canal from the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum. Its presence is unsuspecting and greatly appreciated in this part of town.
The space is part coffee bar that uses beans roasted by Caffenation in Antwerp, Belgium and part design boutique that sells clothing and other accessories from exclusive designers that can’t be found elsewhere in The Netherlands. There is a variety of vintage furniture for lounging and well-lit tables for working or sitting with groups. All of which share the space harmoniously with racks of designer clothing and rotating art exhibits on the walls. I could have spent all day sitting here reading through old magazine and sipping a cappuccino, which was the best I had on my trip.
Tweede Helmersstraat 96, Amsterdam
+ 31 (0) 611641654
Headfirst Coffee is the newest coffee shop in Amsterdam and will soon be the newest specialty roaster as well. When I visited, they had only been open for a month and were using coffee roasted on a friend’s machine while waiting for their new Giesen roaster to arrive. The owners of Headfirst, share the space with another business called Harvest & Co that sells vintage furniture, home accessories and other lifestyle goods that transform the space into one you’d find on the pages of Kinfolk as well as Barista Magazine.
The space here is warm and inviting and the bar is simple and understated with little to distract from the shiny new La Marzocco Strada, which takes center stage. The filter coffee was brewed with an AeroPress while I was there and the single origin espresso was singing with brightness and balance. The owners will soon be roasting themselves in the back half of the shop which will introduce more customers to the process behind their cup and adding even more to the quickly growing coffee scene in Amsterdam.
There’s so much activity in Amsterdam and the coffee shops have all taken their own unique approaches to the service they provide and the atmosphere they’ve created. If new shops continue to open up at the same rate as they have in the past year, Amsterdam will soon find itself as one of the leading specialty coffee hubs in Europe.
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CNN Travel recently published a story about a unique (and surely controversial) coffee bar in Japan that is either too new or too elusive to have made Oliver Stand’s Tokyo list. Irukaya Coffee Shop (Google translated to Dolphin?) is a windowless, 4 seat, reservation only shop run by Hiroshi Kiyota.
The shop maintains a strict set of rules on its Japanese Excite blog that include:
- Please refrain from lingering on one order—order again within 1 hour.
- No groups larger than 2 people
- No pictures
- No Smoking
- No mobile phones
- No take-away
- No children
- Reservation only during open hours
- Rule breakers are asked to leave
The article details the writer, Nicholas Coldicott‘s visits to Irukaya, including Kitoya’s humble demeanor, the competition-worthy signature beverages on the menu and the extensive list of rare whiskeys that can only be ordered alongside coffee.
Finally, he poured the brew into two cups, alternating so each shared the top, middle and tail of the coffee. He tasted one cup, then served me the other. “Yubisaki,” he said. “Drink it as you would a whisky. It should take around 20 minutes … On paper, the rules look forbidding, but the longer you spend in Irukaya, the more they make sense. It’s not a place you go for a caffeine fix. It’s a sanctuary that happens to serve java. Most of the rules are in place to keep things tranquil. – CNN Travel
While this is sure to ruffle some feathers as being pretentious and off-putting, it sounds like an incredible experience. Where Penny University meets the Soup Nazi, wrapped in Japanese tranquility—sign me up.
Read the full article on CNN Travel
+81 (0) 90 3042 4145
open 2 p.m.-midnight, closed Wednesday
Photos: Julen Esteban-Pretel for CNN
Three months ago, I shared an article from Eater which broke the news of Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski’s plans for the future—a shop of their own in LA that prepares delicious coffee and uses minimal disposables. Kyle, the 2008 US Barista Champion, and Charles, this year’s 2nd place USBC finalist, both left Intelligentsia Coffee this summer and have finally opened doors to their own coffee bar this week.
This new space is somewhat temporary while they look for a permanent home, but it gives them a way to try out ideas with customers while further shaping their concept for the perfect shop. G&B have partnered with Jessica Koslow who runs SQIRL, a confiture kitchen that specializes in deliciously named organic jams made from local produce. The unique partnership is sure to offer some of the best coffee, tea and toast in LA.
The starting line-up of roasters would excite any coffee lover, offering a variety from 49th Parallel, Heart, Intelligentsia and Ritual. For those wanting something cold in the SoCal sun, G&B have also bottled cold brewed coffee and teas to complete their menu.
Over the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kyle and Charles to develop their brand and it’s exciting to finally see parts of it alive in the world. I look forward to its evolution as all the details are refined and it expands in the future.
Kyle and Charles both have a great vision and talent for service and exceptional coffee experiences, so if you have the opportunity to stop by for a coffee and some toast—I highly suggest it. Follow G&B on twitter for daily offerings and updates.
720 N. Virgil Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
All photos courtesy of Amparo Rios of R.E. Photography. Check out more of her amazing photos of great coffee shops around the world on Flickr.
While visiting Copenhagen, there are several places to have great coffee and try a delightful sampling of Scandinavia’s finest roasters. By walking (or biking) a straight line northwest from the city center, there are opportunities to taste coffee roasted by Solberg & Hansen, Koppi and the Coffee Collective—quite a Nordic trifecta.
Democratic Coffee Bar is one of those stops and has become one of my favorite places to visit while in Copenhagen. Opening last October in the city’s newly renovated Hovedbibliotek, Democratic takes the award for greatest café in a public library and are currently the only shop in Denmark using coffee from Sweden-based Koppi.
The space is separate enough from the library that it feels like its own space, but until their own door is installed, you currently enter through the library’s main door. The front wall opposite the bar, is made of floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the space with natural light and provide ample bar space for guests to watch the world pass outside.
The wood bar is elegant and sparse providing a natural bridge between the heavy black shelving at one end and the warm glow of the kitchen’s luminescent orange tile at the other. Each morning, Oliver, the shop’s owner, bakes fresh croissant’s and cookies on site that perfectly compliment the coffee (if they haven’t sold out).
If you’re not interested in sitting at a bar, you can take your coffee into the library’s lounge and sit among a diverse array of library guests enjoying free magazines and internet at designer tables flanked by Eames chairs. For the love of Scandinavia.
Democratic Coffee Bar
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In April I had the pleasure of touring some of Baltimore’s finest coffee establishments, including the city’s newest addition, LaMill—a transplant from LA. This sparkling new shop opened last November by the water’s edge at the Four Seasons in Harbor East.
As I approached, there were plenty of suits passing by as well as an Audi R8 parked out front—environmental features you rarely find in the neighborhoods of most independent coffee shops, but a good sign of the specialty coffee market’s growth.
The open space greets you with a standard bar layout, a pour over stand up front, alongside a custom painted La Marzocco Strada and several Mazzer Robur grinders. I ordered an espresso and a syphon of Guatemala at the bar to share with my companions and was handed a number for my table.
The coffee was delivered to my table by the barista along with a heavy cloth napkin, which added a simple but incredibly valuable detail to the experience. The espresso itself had an earthy Italian profile and was roasted a bit dark for my preference, but the Guatemala from the syphon was sweet, clean and quite enjoyable.
While I was admiring the space, Kris Fulton (manager) came out with a plate of the shop’s other specialty—fresh cut beignets from Michael Mina. Kris admitted to recognizing me and wanted to be sure we didn’t leave without trying them.
The plate was decorated with an assortment of sauces including a meyer lemon curd, Valrhona chocolate and a luscious butterscotch made with Macallan whiskey. They were the perfect compliment to our coffee and may have even outshone it.
Kris was fantastic as he spoke with us about LaMill and the business relationships that brought them to Baltimore to help develop this Four Seasons location. He also talked about their Saturday morning coffee clinics that teach customers about coffee brewing and appreciation in a comfortable atmosphere—pastries included.
The space is connected with two other restaurants (Wit & Wisdom and Pabu) in the sprawling rear lobby of the hotel which blend together nicely while maintaining their individual character. LaMill is clean-lined and modern, while providing a warm atmosphere through it’s unique lighting and dark wood textures.
If you’re visiting Baltimore, you don’t have to be staying in the Four Seasons to stop by this beautiful shop for a treat. There’s outdoor seating in the summer and it’s a great starting point to walk along the harbor and take in one of the city’s nicer views. LaMill is a welcome addition to the Baltimore coffee scene, which currently includes staples Spro and Woodberry Kitchen—and soon to be joined by Artifact Coffee.
LaMill, Four Seasons
200 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
On my 4th day in Colombia, I spent the morning in Bogotá before catching an afternoon flight to the northern coast. Once all of my official business was done for the day, I had time to visit Amor Perfecto, a local specialty roaster who recently opened up a showcase coffee bar and education lab in the city.
Amor Perfecto, owned by Luis Fernando Velez and Jaime Raul Duque, is also the home of Ever Bernal, the current Colombian Barista Champion and was the first coffee company in Colombia to have someone compete in the World Championship. The Amor Perfecto roastery, which is just a few blocks from the café, is also home to Colombia’s first Loring SmartRoast.
The shop only features coffee grown in Colombia, but it offers a rotating selection from regions around the country. The first coffee I had was an AeroPress of the Boyacá, which is a fairly unknown coffee growing region just a few hours northeast of Bogotá. It has a very spicy chocolate taste profile that I don’t normally prefer, but it was really unique compared with the other coffees I’d been drinking all week.
I sat down with Luis and Jaime who told me about all the classes they provide to customers, from basic cupping to learning how to roast their own batch of coffee. Their goal is to provide an environment and experience where someone can come have a nice cup of coffee and relax, or if they choose learn everything they want about the process.
Along with their selection of coffee and a small assortment of baked goods, Amor Perfecto also offers single malt whiskey pairings with their coffee—an incredible dream come true. Sadly, I didn’t have time to stay and experience the pairing, but I look forward to doing so in the future. Unique pairings like this are something I’d really like to see and experience more of in the world of coffee.
The coffee shop and lab are on the ground floor of an old two-story home that’s been renovated to contrast a history of textures, modern lines and delicate woods. The modern furniture is illuminated by the natural light that washes through the front windows, the enclosed courtyard and translucent ceiling above the lab.
Upstairs are several rooms that include a dedicated training lab and classroom for teaching employees and friends in the industry. Everything about Amor Perfecto is considered and focused on growing the knowledge and capabilities of the baristas, roasters and interested customers engaged with the company.
If you happen to live in Bogotá or are visting Colombia for an extended time and need any kind of coffee gear, this shop is probably your best bet. Along with their coffee bar and coffee roasting duties, they are Colombia’s official distributors of AeroPress, Bodum and Nuova Simonelli espresso machines.
Amor Perfecto is a great example of how passion for coffee goes far beyond serving it. Because of their passion, the customers and baristas in Colombia will benefit greatly from the energy and quality brought to the city. Since the World Barista Championships took place in Bogotá last year, there has been a new found interest in discovering what coffee can be to Colombia besides just an export. It was great to meet the people at Amor Perfecto who are helping lead the way.
Cra 5 No. 70ª-60