Tehran has always been high on my list of places to visit. As the most populous city in Iran it’s the cultural heart of the country, combining Persian roots with modern architecture and the influence of a globalized youth who attend Tehran University. This beautiful cosmopolitan city is situated below the Alborz mountains and Mount Damavand, the highest peak in Iran. With its many complex layers of social, religious and political issues Iran is a complex destination to visit—but that does little to quell the spirit of a curious traveler.
One of the many influences the youth have had on Tehran is a rise in new coffee shops opening around the city in recent years. These coffee shops are often the only places where Iranians can socialize or use free wifi in a country without bars. However, their popularity has been countered by government raids, regulations and even shutdowns from the “morality police.” Last summer, 87 coffee shops were raided and closed in a single weekend for “not following Islamic values.”
The attempt to shutter coffee shops has been a reoccurring theme in Iranian history, with similar closures taking place following the Iranian Revolution in 1979 to combat “western influence.” Another recent string of closures happened in 2007, but the coffee shops return despite the continuous efforts against them.
One casualty of the recent crackdown was Café Prague, a popular coffee shop that opened in 2009, which had been a second home for students, activists and intellectuals in Tehran until January of this year. When the owners of the café refused to install surveillance cameras required by the morality police for “civic monitoring,” they were forced to close permanently.
An Iranian photographer, Amirhossein Darafsheh, took these beautiful photographs of the last day at Café Prague, which captures a glimpse of the vibrant café culture being repressed in Iran.
I loved this cafe not only because they had the best coffee and cakes in Tehran and not only for their free wifi. I loved the place because of their humanitarian views and their cultural atmosphere – which is a very rare substance in my country; Iran.
And they are shutting down the place. Why? because based on a new ruling, every cafe should have CCTVs installed in place, recored everything and give free access to the police and security forces to the recorded data. I loved cafe prague but I’m happy that they didn’t accepted this 1984ish order from a totalitarian government and closed the place.
Goodbye Cafe Prague and hope to see you someday in a free society. -Amirhossein Darafsheh
It’s hard to argue that coffee shops symbolize “western immorality” when coffee has been a part of Persian and Middle Eastern culture since long before the development of the western world. The closings are more likely symbolic victims of the political struggles between governments. But coffee shops are known to have influenced revolutions throughout history, and trying to prevent that from happening is a high priority among leaders of a theocracy.
It can be easy to forget how often freedom is taken for granted, like the simple act of enjoying a cup of coffee (or affording one) with friends in a café. Coffee is a privilege, not a right—yet it’s something most of us couldn’t imagine going a day without it. Coffee is an infinitely complex beverage, not just in the cup, but also in the social and humanitarian issues that surround it. One day I hope to enjoy coffee in Tehran, when its people are free to enjoy it as well.
View all of Amirhossein’s incredible and heartbreaking photos.
posted by bwj
on 11.25.2013, under Misc.
Yesterday, I shared an article from the New York Times travel blog on Facebook that mentioned the plans of Paris-based international hotel chain Le Méridien to hire and train 100 new Master Baristas. These new baristas are meant to be at the center of the hotel lobby’s concierge services, encouraging social interaction and offering recommendations for things to do around town.
During the company’s research for the new strategy, they found that an incredible 78% of 7000 people surveyed would rather give up alcohol, social media or sex with their partners for a year than forfeit their coffee—now that’s true love. I got in touch with a Le Méridien representative for more details on the new program and its potential.
The new program is being led by the expertise of Fritz Storm, the 2002 World Barista Champion and trainer of several high placing World Barista competitors—including Fabrizio Ramirez who finished 2nd and Miki Suzuki who finished 4th in the 2012 WBC. The new program will complement 100 locations where the lobbies have been transformed into hubs that provide a more coffee shop-like atmosphere.
The disappointing part of all this is that Le Méridien has partnered with Illy to provide the program’s coffee. If the focus was truly on elevating the coffee experience as well as creating a more personal interaction about the city where each hotel is located, it would have been great if they worked with local or regional roasters. Instead they’ll be providing a bland coffee that many other hotels (and grocery stores) already offer.
It seems like the company has put a lot of money and energy into this program—and Fritz has a track record of training talented baristas—but in the end, the company seems to have chosen a safe route that will most likely go unnoticed by many.
[photos via Le Méridien]
posted by bwj
on 09.26.2013, under Misc.
Novel is just that—a novel travel kettle that folds up for easy packing. The kettle design, by Slovakian designer Stanislav Sabo is currently patented, but I’m not sure how functional it is at this point. Very little information is available about the technical aspects of how it would work, if it would actually work at all. But what if it did? It would make the ultimate travel coffee kit complete. I want one.
When I travel, I always carry my AeroPress, hand grinder, pocket scale, KeepCup and fresh coffee. The missing link is always the hot water. Sometimes you can find it in large boilers set aside for tea, or you can hunt down a nearby café and awkwardly explain that you only need hot water to brew your own coffee. Some hotels have kettles, but they are often pretty scary on the inside—to the point that you wouldn’t want to drink anything that came out of it. But even those hotel room kettles are beginning to be replaced by K-Cup machines.
The Novel is made from a 100% silicone liner that’s wrapped in heatproof plastic panels, which all fold flat. The pieces, including the lid are held together by magnets which also activate fuses in the electric base. From the illustrations of the prototype, I’m not entirely sure how energy is transferred to boil the water, but this can’t be an impossible task—we landed on the moon damn it!
I’ve had conversations with manufactures about this type of product, but they’re convinced the market isn’t big enough—I think they’re misjudging the potential. If something like this could be powered in the car or by solar adapter, then backpackers, campers and road trippers of all stripes would be totally into something like this—no more bulky butane kettles taking up valuable space in your pack.
Any product engineers out there want to help Stanislav make this functional and Kickstart it? Or let’s start from scratch and make something awesome. Give me freedom or give me death! Is that really too much to ask?
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.
View Best Coffee in Amsterdam in a larger map
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
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
View Copenhagen Coffee in a larger map
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
The fashionable, eco-conscious lifestyle company Nau, is no stranger to collaborations. Their latest project is a deluxe titanium coffee set designed with Snow Peak that’s sure to improve any campsite or picnic. The set includes a French press, double-walled mug, milk frother, a bag of Stumptown coffee, and a clever cutting board that encases a Japanese-made knife. It’s the brunch kit in a bag that you never knew you needed.
I’ve been a huge fan of Nau since their early days as a company—before they were almost a casualty of the economic crash in 2008. In fact, all of my outerwear comes from their collection. So if the integrity and quality of their collaborations are as solid as their own products, this is most likely an equally good investment.
With summer upon us, you will hopefully get to spend some quality time outdoors. Here in Sweden, there are 5 weeks of mandatory holiday were most of the country runs off to a cabin, boat or archipelago—but coffee is still a daily necessity.
My preferred coffee companion while traveling may be an AeroPress, but in some cases a French press may be more practical—and it’s still an appreciated brew method. My only complaint is that it comes with a milk frother instead of a hand grinder—a much more practical and necessary tool for great coffee.
Nau x Snow Peak Café Luxe Kit ($125)
To finally pick a coffee cherry off the tree and taste the inherent sweetness that should be found in your cup (cliché as it may sound) gives an entirely new understanding and appreciation for the farmers, roasters and baristas who are able to maintain the true characteristics of this wonderful seed throughout it’s long and complex journey. Great coffee should not be unpleasantly bitter, it should not need sugar, and it should not be insulting to pay as much as you would for the cheapest glass of wine on a menu.
I learned so much during this week, but nothing more important than just how little I know. Though I experienced many things on this trip, it was only a few farms, in a couple regions, of one country out of many, that produce coffee in different ways, in different parts of the world. After finally visiting origin, I now feel like I know less than I ever have—which is more of a reason to keep learning.
After five days of immersive education at coffee farms, labs and mills, the remaining two days of my trip were reserved for experiencing some of the non-coffee related highlights in Colombia. To wrap-up a long week of travel and learning, I was excited to relax on the beach with new friends, enjoy a few bottles of Aguardiente & dance the night away in moonlit clubs. I spent the weekend visiting cultural landmarks and enjoying a few restaurants in Bogotás lively food scene—complete with belly dancers, burgers & beer.
At the beginning of the year, I made it a goal of mine to visit origin in 2012, but I had no idea it would be through such an incredible opportunity as this one. I can’t thank the Colombia Coffee Hub and the FNC enough for this experience.
Marcela, Camillo and Michael were incredible hosts, answered all my questions (no matter how controversial the answers may have been) and were genuinely fantastic people to be around. Also the media team—Lina, Jorge and Sebastién who did their best to avoid awkwardness while filming my every move for a week. This journey would not have been the same without all the lovely people who were a part of it.
In the coming year, there will be more origin journey’s featured on the Hub, including another (like mine) to be given to a lucky Hubber. So if you haven’t joined yet—it may be one the best decisions you’ve ever made.
Learn more about my trip on Colombian Coffee Hub & watch more videos here.
Journey to Origin: Day 1
Journey to Origin: Day 2
Journey to Origin: Day 3
Journey to Origin: Day 4
Journey to Origin: Day 5
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