Considering my long-standing aversions to cold weather, grey buildings and thick accents that aren’t Irish or parseltongue, my first visit to Budapest was off to a pretty grim beginning. Throw in an ominous lack of Googlable specialty coffee spots, and one disappointing bowl of goulash might have unleased a nervous breakdown of Nicolas Cage proportions.
Thankfully, in the few short weeks I was visiting from Australia, not only did Budapest bust out an unseasonably warm autumn, but revealed an exceptional coffee scene. Granted, the number of specialty cafes in this city of 1.8 million is still relatively small, but the scene is growing from a base of really solid, beautiful spaces. I've put together a list of some of the best, which I highly recommend perusing next time you’re exploring the Eastern Bloc.
Tamp and Pull
The consensus around town seems to be that Tamp and Pull was responsible for kick-starting Hungary’s specialty coffee scene. Which is no small accolade, given that selling fancy cups of coffee in a former socialist republic was probably considered a rather bold business strategy a couple of years ago. That is until an epic revolution of hipness took a tender stranglehold on the city a few years back, giving way to all the fancy beverages and unbridled facial hair of present-day Budapest.
Tamp and Pull is owned by Attila Molnar, who you may recall placed 6th in the 2009 World Barista Championships in Atlanta. They have two locations spread across the city, each with its own resourceful fit-out. One space feels a bit like an IKEA showroom, making thrifty use of simple furniture and faux-marble garnished with an absurd number of barista trophies. There’s a healthy distribution of brew gadgets, a La Marzocco Linea espresso machine and Mahlkönig K30 grinders, all serving a selection of coffees by UK roasters Has Bean. If you only get an opportunity to visit one store, make it the least convenient of the two on Váci Way.
Tamp and Pull 1
Czuczor utca 3
7:00–20:00 Weekdays, Closed Weekends
Tamp and Pull 2
85 Váci Way, Budapest, Hungary
7:00–19:00 Weekdays, Closed Weekends (+36 20 549 5514)
My Little Melbourne
As both an Australian and coffee enthusiast abroad, nothing cures me of homesickness quiet like an espresso bar filled with miniature koala bears. It’s for this reason that Australian readers in particularly might be attracted to My Little Melbourne.
Patriotic bias aside, this café is a great little homage to Melbourne coffee culture. Though I wouldn’t expect Melbourne roast profiles as the name might imply. Rather, head here if you find yourself hungry (pun intended) for something milk-based. A hankering that might hit you more often than you expect in the fresh dairy wastelands of Budapest, where only the odd café like this has its milk delivered daily from a single Hungarian farm.
My Little Melbourne has two locations in Budapest, one of which houses Hungary’s only Synesso espresso machine (probably). The other is equally as kitted-out with a La Marzocco Strada, and Mahlkönig and Anfim grinders. The espresso on offer is sourced primarily from Workshop Coffee in the UK, as well as an ever-changing selection of guest blends and single origins from the likes of Alchemy and Nomad.
My Little Melbourne
Madách Imre út 3. ( Madách tér )
8:30–19:00 Weekdays, 10:00–19:00 Weekends (+36 70 394 7002)
This is Melbourne Too
Záhony utca 7
7:00–19:00 Weekdays, Closed Weekends (+36 30 656 5090)
Espresso Embassy brewed the first coffee I had in Budapest (excluding the MacGyver filter I prepared using only a piece of cheesecloth and my girlfriend's hair tie). It was also the first recommendation of every other coffee bar I visited from then on.
The man responsible for all this peer respect is Tibor Varady, who placed 6th in the World Brewers Cup and 3rd in the World AeroPress Champs in 2013. Tibor works primarily with local Hungarian roasters Casino Mocca, who you’ll notice supply at least a little coffee to almost every specialty coffee bar in Budapest. Here, you can sample a rotating selection of their single origins (never blends) alongside one or more guest coffees from international roasters like Square Mile and Coffee Collective.
The space is defined by a 200-year-old vaulted brick ceiling, which sweeps around the café in a series of interconnecting archways, adding an awesome sense of antiquity to an otherwise modern space. Beneath the ceiling you’ll find a La Marzocco Linea espresso machine paired with Mazzer Robur grinders, as well as a collection of brew gear surrounding an EK43 grinder and Uber Boiler water tower.
Not only is Espresso Embassy an awesome café by international standards, its collaboration with local roasters make it a complete image of Hungarian coffee culture.
Arany János utca 15
7:30–19:00 Weekdays, 9:00–17:00 Weekends (+36 30 864 9530)
Fekete is Hungarian for black, which, if you speak Hungarian, is a very unsubtle hint for the style of coffee they’d prefer you order here. That’s not to say these gentlemen serve black coffee exclusively however. In fact, their “Grande Latte” and reference to filter coffee on their menu as simply “specialty drink” might allude to a more milk-prone audience. Either way, Budapest’s emerging coffee culture is well represented by the hordes of Hungarians cramming themselves into Fekete’s front door.
The bulk of the coffee here comes courtesy of Alchemy in the UK, with the occasional European roaster finding their way into the mix, as well as Budapest’s ever-present local roaster, Casino Mocca, supplying a filter coffee or two. On the bench you’ll notice the inevitable La Marzocco Linea and a purring new Vulcano grinder.
As a textbook hole-in-the-wall café, Fekete does a majority of its trade on the fly, though they do have a small bar and outdoor table where you can comfortably linger in warmer weather.
Múzeum krt 5
7:00–19:30 Weekdays, 9:00–18:00 Sat, 10:00–18:00 Sun (+36 1 787 7503)
Even by Hungary’s youthful standards, Nomuri is a very fresh addition to Budapest’s coffee landscape, having only opened a couple of weeks before I came crashing through the door (I literally smashed my face on the door as I walked in).
After the concussion faded, I was happy to see a porcelain white GB5 sitting beside a modest, but surprisingly busy V60 bar. Demand likely due to Nomuri’s unique policy of serving pour-over as a default replacement for long blacks (Americanos). Which, when you think about it, is a pretty proactive way to generate a more sophisticated coffee culture. Like Espresso Embassy around the corner, these guys fill the hoppers with Casino Mocca and offer up a new guest coffee every week or so.
Nomuri seems to be a great example of where Budapest’s fledging coffee scene is heading in the next few years; Simple, coffee-focused concepts with an emphasis on filter, transparency of origins and a fixed relationship with both local and more established European roasters.
7:30–19:00 Everyday (+36 30 982 1643)
Most cafes are devoted to something like awesome cheesecake or trendy bicycles. Madal is devoted to a marathon-running spiritualist from Bangladesh. Explaining exactly who and why this Gandhi-esque gentleman is plastered across the walls of this espresso bar is a task I’ll respectfully and mysteriously leave to its baristas. Either way, it’s an unorthodox theme that, along with warm lighting and a wood-laden fit-out, contributes to a reverent atmosphere so tranquil it almost counteracts the effects of caffeine.
But it’s not all meditation and Enya soundtracks at Madal. Considering the shiny La Marzocco GB5, Vulcano and Mazzer Robur grinders on the bench, it’s safe to say they’re also devoted to delicious coffee. Madal is sourcing the majority of its espresso options from Square Mile in the UK, while filter offerings include an unpredictable but impressive lineup of international roasters like Stumptown and Intelligentsia, prepared by either AeroPress or Clever Dripper.
Hollán Ernő u 3
7:00–19:00 Weekdays, 8:30–19:00 Weekends (+361 796 6287)
Also worth checking out…
The Casino Mocca Roastery
Though it’s not strictly a café, Casino Mocca does open the doors to their roastery for a moment every Monday between 7 PM and 9 PM. In light of the pivotal role these gentlemen play in Hungary’s evolving coffee climate, it’s well worth the inconvenient location and time.
Building G at 3, Hunyadi Janos út
Henry Brink is an Australian travelling abroad who has written for Broadsheet and others. This is his first piece for Sprudge.com