Flowing from the shadow of Vitosha Mountain, Bulgaria’s 9,000-year-old capital mixes buckling sidewalks with constant revitalization. In Sofia, you will find slowly crumbling buildings perched alongside modern craft beer shops and a newly designed rapid transit metro running in tandem with rusting trams. Out of these competing eras has emerged the specialty coffee scene.
The Sofia coffee community has many small basement roasters and online-only retailers, but few specialty cafes. Though some coffee roasters source high-quality beans and have equipment to deliver a wonderful cup, the process from roast to extraction often lacks the essence of a specialty shop. The cafes that do overcome this challenge find they face a demand problem. For now, these shops tend to focus on education, teaching the art of craft coffee, and that black can taste better than white.
Here are a few places where you can find a complex cup in Sofia.
Dabov Specialty Coffee
Brainchild of five-time Cup of Excellence judge Jordan Dabov, Dabov Specialty Coffee has been working to bring the world’s best coffee to Bulgaria since 2008. They sell roasted beans to over 100 shops in Sofia and recently began to make their mark on the city’s cafe scene. While a planned mixed cafe space including a roasting facility and cupping area waits on permits and construction, their small space west of the National Palace of Culture has opened its doors to customers and coffee enthusiasts.
The pop-up style shop aims to build awareness and customers for the next wave of specialty coffee to hit Sofia. Pulling shots with a Sanremo Opera, Kees van der Westen Mirage, and Mahlkönig EK 43, Dabov doesn’t skimp when it comes to having the best coffee gear. Most importantly, they want every shot they pull to be your best ever. With quality beans—including the 2016 Guatemala Cup of Excellence winner—and single origins from all over the world, Dabov has one of the widest selections of coffee in Sofia. In addition to classic espresso drinks, the pop-up offers liquor-based coffee cocktails, drip coffee, and a welcoming atmosphere.
This shop seeks nothing less than to raise the bar for the Sofia craft coffee scene. If you want to see what Sofia’s bright specialty coffee future looks like then swinging by Dabov is a must.
Chucky’s Coffee & Culture
Chucky’s Coffee & Culture prides itself on being the first craft coffee shop in Sofia. Owner Ivan Chavdarov worked in coffee in Athens for eight years before returning to Bulgaria and opening “Chucky’s Coffee House” near Vitosha Boulevard in 2014. The shop started as an experiment, something Chavdarov never saw succeeding. He remembers thinking he’d be forced to close it in three to six months. To his pleasant surprise it took off. Using educational workshops to introduce a new breed of customers to craft coffee, the shop quickly became a success.
Chucky’s offers a Bulgarian-style espresso blend and a few single origins on bar. They also offer a variety of brew methods from AeroPress and V60 to Turkish coffee. The small downtown location fills up around lunchtime and weekend mornings with people swinging by for a quick takeaway coffee or a longer chat with a friend. There is a second shop, called “Chucky’s Coffee Store,” outside the city center.
Chucky’s represents the old guard in the scene, a snapshot of where specialty coffee in Sofia began.
Fabrika Daga, “Rainbow Factory” in English, also broke onto the craft scene in 2014. The name joins two concepts: “Daga,” meaning rainbow, a nod to the 1979–1992 beloved comix magazine of the same name, and “Fabrika” emphasizing their “we-make-it-ourselves-mindset.” Located close to the National Gallery of Art, the central location makes it easy to grab an espresso, latte, or brewed coffee while walking about the city or heading to work. The shop draws a large crowd at lunch and for brunch on the weekends. They serve up a number of Bulgarian classics all made in-house. Don’t let good food fool you; they are serious about coffee, too. A team of dedicated baristas pulls shots on a La Marzocco Linea Classic.
With first-time specialty coffee drinkers regularly walking in upon hearing rumors of fantastic coffee, Fabrika Daga has become a destination for people all over Bulgaria. After tasting the blend or one of the three single origins on bar, all provided by Dabov, these customers rarely leave disappointed.
Its constant process of evolution has made Fabrika Daga a must stop on a Sofia coffee tour.
Matthew Simmons is a freelance journalist. This is Matthew Simmons' first feature for Sprudge.
Photos by E.S. North for Sprudge Media Network.