Among the many wonderful advantages of coffee is its ability to serve as an educational tool. Today, we are going to use it to guide us through Russia’s geography as we map the journey of one of its coffee treasures—the legendary Raf, recently covered on Sprudge.
The Raf was created in Moscow, at a Coffee Bean cafe where its classic recipe of one shot of espresso, cream, plain sugar, and vanilla sugar became popular. Over time, this indulgent drink proved to be the perfect groundwork for experimentation. It’s travelled across the nation, and with its voyage, taken on new flavors and twists. But let’s start our tour with a recipe close to the original, but far from home—no fewer than 9,000 kilometers eastwards. A classic Raf can be found at Kafema, a coffee shop chain reaching as far as Vladivostok.
Kafema, Vladivostok: Classic Raf
“We tend to focus on drip coffees, but when winter strikes you will always want something more savory and cozy. It’s when Raf coffee steps on the stage, wrapping you up with its vanilla aftertaste.”
— Katalina Shkola, Regional Director
From Vladivostok, we start traveling west and find ourselves in mighty Siberia. More specifically, in its capital—the city of Novosibirsk.
Akademia Coffee, Novosibirsk: Basil Raf
“We try to keep our fingers on the pulse of the industry, so we just couldn’t ignore Raf. The Basil Raf is our autumn special. Before working on the recipe, we looked at some of the most popular autumn flavors, among which was basil. Through trial and error, we finally arrived at a balanced drink, which soon became a hit: it’s the third most popular offering we have, outscored only by Citrus Raf and Fried Latte. With such a success the Basil Raf conquered its place on the main menu.
When the syrup is prepared, it smells like you are in the middle of a basil meadow, or as if somebody is cooking a caprese under your nose. Though once, after a brief sip, a young lady told us it tasted like liver. And that it was delicious.
The recipe is simple: fresh basil leaves are blended together with cooled sugar syrup and then strained. The rest of the recipe repeats the classic scheme.”
— Tatyana Pavlova, Head Barista
Leaving the Asian part of Russia, our transit stop between Europe and Asia brings us to the Ural Federal District which lies in both continents. A true gem of the Ural Mountains and the capital of the district Ekaterinburg, this area ranks among the top ten Russian cities with the most coffee shops per capita.
Papa Carlo, Ekaterinburg: Citrus, Almond, and Honey Rafs
“Raf coffee is so popular that we included it in the simplified version of a World Barista Championship certification our baristas must pass every three months. We sacrificed the signature drink, but the creative part is still there: all syrups are hand-crafted. Now we have citrus (with orange peel), almond, and honey Rafs.”
— Dmitriy Maurin, Head Barista for espresso drinks
Now let’s move somewhere warmer. For example, to Astrakhan—the oldest economic and cultural center of the Lower Volga.
Roast’n’Roll, Astrakhan: Santa’s Raf
“Raf-coffee is a popular drink and it would be a mistake to ignore it. At Roast’n’Roll, it’s the third most ordered drink after cappuccino and latte. There are four Rafs currently on the menu: Lavender Raf, Vanilla Raf, a spicy Raf, and Santa’s Raf—our Christmas special. This holiday stunner wraps you up with an aroma of a Christmas pastry and taste of cookies with milk. The recipe for this Christmas in a cup is a shot of espresso, goji berries, cream, and vanilla sugar steamed all together in a pitcher.”
—Yulia Smirnova, founder
Can we do without Russia’s second capital? Obviously not.
Mechtateli, Saint Petersburg: Raf for Bad Girls.
“We stepped aside from the original recipe we don’t really favor, as it places coffee in the background. And we want the coffee part to shine through in every drink.
What we have is Raf for Bad Girls—a cocktail on the basis of a double espresso shot, cream, grappa, and masala. In the process of creation we didn’t even think of Raf, but when our goal drink was on the table we realized it had an ideal Raf texture. This is how our only Raf was born.
The guests love it! And it’s a real hit on Instagram, which is swarming with #rafforbadgirls hashtags. Besides, the folklore has been enriched with some jokes. The girls order it with an unhidden pleasure, sometimes even in the morning, regardless of the alcohol presence. Drink-guest match made in heaven.”
—Liudmila Ivanova, Co-owner
Darya Afanasyeva is a coffee professional based in Moscow, where she blogs at Zerno.me. Read more Darya Afanasyeva on Sprudge. All photos provided by Darya Afanasyeva.