In Czech Republic, breweries and beer gardens are a dime a dozen. Understandably so, since here beer is cheaper than water. But Prague also happens to be one of the best places in the world for a different kind of drink. Coffee. The average Czech actually drinks 400 cups of caffeine a year and it has created a cool new coffee culture. From small-scale roasters to new wave cafés, it’s an exciting time for coffee lovers to be in Prague right now.
Then… Coffee & Communism
In Czechoslovakia and in the years during communism cafés became part of the higher classes. The average Czech could no longer socialize or gather with friends for a cup at a café. Grandiose coffee houses with high ceilings and lavish artwork became places for affluent writers, statesmen and the bourgeois class to read the day’s news, or debate social and political ideas together. You can still spot some of these “old wave” cafés in Prague, like the famous Slavia (one of a handful of cafés that survived the communist period) or Café Louvre, which even Albert Einstein roamed at one time or another. Coffee was also nationalized which means its quality was badly stripped and good tasting coffee became a thing of the past.
But there is a new movement of coffee culture taking place. Today you’re bound to find Czechs in a “kavárna” that is ultra modern, serving up specialty styles and flavours poured by real baristas who know their beans and who are reinvigorating the spirit of coffee drinking and café culture in a post-communist era.
Today, the Prague coffee scene is independent and local, where artisans take seriously the process of producing coffee from bean right to cup. Small-scale Czech roasters, expert baristas and neighbourhood cafés are creating a so-called “new wave” of craft coffee in the Czech capital.
EMA Espresso Bar
It hasn’t been open for a long time, but EMA has already made a name for itself. Its decor is minimalist and modern and the atmosphere is likened to a communal beer hall in Germany where everyone sits together in one big room, at long wooden tables and chairs. They get their beans from micro-roasters in Munich and the baristas insist on helping you choose the right style if you have trouble deciding between say, filtered or flat white. I liked being able to pull up a stool to the bar and watching them make my Kenyan-bean cappuccino. They are mindful of fresh coffee so they only grind one espresso bean at a time. The café is near the not-so-pretty surroundings of the main train station and even though it lacks wifi there is always a queue. I wish I spent more of my mornings here.
Where: Na Florenci 3, Staré Město, Praha 1 (also by the big shopping mall Palladium at Náměstí Republiky Sq)
We were lucky to be living right around the corner from Kavárna Pražírna because it became our favourite café. I absolutely am a sucker for rustic spots with wooden floors and exposed brick walls in an old basement cellar. Their speciality is filter (like aeropress or drip) and espresso-based coffee but what I especially appreciated about Kavárna Pražírna is that they are a small-scale roaster as well. They roast their own beans in the backroom so you know your cup is always fresh. Cost of a cappuccino: 52Kč
Tip: The front room has better wifi.
Where: Lublaňská 50, Vinohrady, Praha 2
Mamacoffee is the first fair trade coffee roaster in Czech Republic and probably the oldest in Central Europe with a focus on buying from local farmers around the world at fair prices. It opened around 2008 and might be credited (along with Doubleshot) for kick starting the coffee revolution. Since then they opened six cafés. They’re also a zero-kilometre roaster importing green beans and roasting them themselves just outside of Prague which means their coffee stays the freshest.
Where: Londýnská 49, Vinohrady, Praha 2
Original Coffee is the newly opened specialty café from Mamacoffee in the Old Town and second roastery from the same owners. When I met Zuzana I was instantly impressed by her passion for coffee – she’s considered the best Czech barista having won the Czech cup tasters championship twice. Original Coffee focuses on higher quality beans and this café only offers 4-5 different kinds at a time. It’s the quietest of the cafés that we visited making it ideal for relaxing or work online (but something tells me this might change).
Where: Betlémská 12, Staré Město, Praha 1
La Bohème Café
La Bohème may just be the ultimate coffee-going experience. The ground floor houses the café and the top floor is their own roastery where they hold cupping sessions. Like other new wave cafés they are so coffee-smart! We had an afternoon session with the barista who taught us about the process of roasting, how to taste coffee, and the different types of beans and flavours – like fruit and coffee combinations (strange I know, but you’d be surprised how good it tastes). We didn’t get to meet the owner when we were there because he was visiting coffee producers in Africa – they pride themselves on meeting the local farmers they purchase their coffee from.
Tip: Ask for a mango espresso
Where: Sázavská 32, Vinohrady, Praha 2
Můj šálek kávy
If there is one cafe to visit when in Prague, this is it. Můj šálek kávy is a mecca for coffee drinkers being the first specialty coffee place to open in Prague and also the flagship café of Doubleshot, probably the most prominent Czech roaster. Their specialty is drip coffee using beans from Nicaragua, Brazil and Kenya beans but I loved the affogato (and the fact that the owners studied at a Canadian roastery in Vancouver). It’s located in the upcoming neighbourhood of Karlín, a little outside the centre, but well worth the trip. Your purchase can also help give back. Cost of an espresso: 40Kč
Where: Křižíkova 105, Karlín, Praha 8
A fun take on the contemporary café, AnonymouS Coffee is a play on V for Vendetta, comic book superheroes and the infamous Anonymous hacker group. It has two storeys of quirky furniture made of repurposed wood and a swing. The baristas also have a way of helping you appreciate a good cup of coffee – they make you skip the spoonfuls of sugar (and don’t bother asking for sugar on the side either because they don’t have any). Instead, full fat milk (look for the carton with a cow on the front) naturally sweetens when you heat it to 55 degrees. So “we cancelled the sugar” I’m told.
AnonymouS is probably the most unconventional café I’ve ever been to. The guys behind the counter don’t take themselves too seriously and if you ask to snap a pic they insist on their disguise. This café was so much fun!
Where: Jugoslávská 15, Vinohrady, Praha 2
This cute little café is cozy, quiet and very local. We found it tucked away in the back streets behind our flat. You can sit with a good book from their shelf or people watch from the street. It’s one of the few cafés bringing back the tradition of serving a glass of water with your espresso – something I’m used to from my days working in a café myself and drinking coffee in Italy.
It’s not unusual for cafés to serve beer, which you can also get here. Cost of a cappuccino: 40Kč.
Where: Šafaříkova 15, Vinohrady, Praha 2
Styl & Interier
If you’re not looking for it, Styl & Interier can be easily missed. It’s sandwiched between apartments on Vodičkova street. It opened only a year or two ago as a furniture shop but they found customers were visiting more for their coffee than designs. The owners now have plans to re-open as a café with a kitchen. There is a beautifully charming garden where you can sit in the summertime and even sip on chilled red Moravian wine.
Where: Vodičkova 35, Staré Město, Praha 1
Other cafés to try when you visit Prague:
Coffee House/Coffee Source
Farm Letna (recommended to me by my Czech friend Jiří)
Cafés in Prague also serve beer which is something we’re not used to in North America. So if you’re going with a non-coffee drinker, don’t worry – in Czech Republic you can get beer anywhere. Even in cafés.
I had to down a lot of caffeine for this post, so if you enjoyed it, please leave a comment below.