The circumstances under which I found myself in Cluj-Napoca were definitely a case of doing it for the ‘gram. I’m not alone in spending too much time on Instagram, looking at pretty travel photos and dreaming of my next holiday, usually one that involves good food and coffee. Sometimes, my wanderlusting turns into actual travel plans. That's how I found myself on a budget airline flight from London to Romania, knowing virtually nothing about the city I was about to visit, except that it might just be Europe’s best-kept secret speciality coffee haven. Taking a chance certainly paid off: the Cluj coffee scene blew my mind.
And if you’ve never heard of Cluj-Napoca, don’t worry. I hadn’t either until just a few months ago—you should definitely consider this an outsider's view on this special place. Cluj (as the locals call it, dropping the pre-Roman denomination of Napoca) may be one of the most populous cities in Romania, but with a headcount of just 330,000 inhabitants, it retains a charming small-town feel. It’s considered the cultural heart of Transylvania, a region known worldwide for its beautiful scenery, rich history, and a population that is linguistically and ethnically diverse.
It’s easy to see why Cluj appeals to a young demographic. Students come here from all over Romania to study at the city’s universities. Young European expats and international tourists are attracted by the affordable cost of living, vibrant food scene, and wide offer of art, culture, and music events. And in the coffee realm, Cluj is home to many of country's top baristas and roasters, pushing for coffee quality with a culinary approach and, together with Bucharest, paving the way for a booming young specialty coffee culture here in Romania.
YUME Coffee Roasters
Mihai Sumedre and Răzvan Roșu opened YUME Coffee Roasters in October 2014. The company focuses on roasting, producing a few hundred kilograms of coffee per week across different lines: six to eight light-roasted single origin coffees, a light-medium roasted espresso blend (YUME Espresso#1), a medium roasted 100% Arabica blend, and two single origins (Eclectic Line).
Inside YUME, a glass wall divides the roastery from the cafe area, where customers can taste the seasonal coffees and learn more about specialty and brewing through cuppings and workshops. “Education plays a vital role in changing the Cluj-Napoca and Romanian coffee scene for the better,” Roșu says. “We pursue a dream of perfection that is never to be attained, but always to be striving for, through a continuous craft improvement.”
Narcoffee isn’t just one of the most beautiful coffee shops I’ve seen in Cluj. It's an established coffee chain and roastery with five outlets in Romania (Cluj and Bucharest) and one location in Prague. It all started in Cluj-Napoca, where the first coffee shop was opened in late 2016 by restaurateurs Marcelus Suciu and Dan Isai. They are now planning an international expansion to Czech Republic, France, the United Kingdom, and USA.
Narcoffee’s goal since the start was to import excellent speciality beans from origin and roast them in small batches at the roastery in Cluj-Napoca, home to head roaster Marius Nica, a national and international Latte Art and Cup Tasters competitor. Espresso is popular here, though increasingly more people choose filter coffee, both as V60 and AeroPress.
“We take our mission of educating coffee drinkers very seriously. We taught a lot of our customers that coffee can be more than a bitter black liquid meant to wake you up,” says Paul Farcas, Narcoffee's Business Development Officer. “It's paid off as we have regular customers coming every single day, and many have changed habits from large lattes with a lot of sugar to delicious small cappuccinos with just the natural sweetness of our local fresh milk.”
Roots opened in January 2016 as an all-day eatery and cafe that delivers great experiences—from specialty coffee and tea to cakes and hot dishes, and wines and craft cocktails in the evenings. Like most of the coffee shops in the old town, the space is small yet comfortable. The wooden furniture and long coffee bar are modern and give the impression that a lot of thought and work have gone into the creation of Roots.
Roots is best appreciated as a breakfast and brunch spot: the atmosphere in the morning is lively with lots of customers (many regulars) coming and going all the time. The pancakes with seasonal stonefruit and hazelnuts were excellent. The Portuguese style pasteis de nata I tasted (after I saw them coming out of the kitchen) was quite possibly the best I’ve ever tasted (and yes, before you ask, I have been to Lisbon).
They choose to serve single origins for espresso and filter coffee here, with coffees roasted by one of Romania’s top roasters, Origo Coffee Roasters of Bucharest. “We appreciate Origo’s constant focus on quality and their passion for specialty coffee,” Bogdan Gheorghiu, owner of Roots, explains. “Our guests are open to new flavor experiences and we are happy to spread our passion for coffee with them.”
I loved Roots and its approach to food and drinks. I had a fantastic breakfast of pancakes and a flat white, but I also had the pleasure of tasting one of the best custard tarts of my life.
Espresso Studio was opened at the end of 2017 by Ioan Sumedre Jr. (Sumi) to create a cultural hub where people can enjoy high-quality specialty coffee and tea served in handmade ceramics, while also connecting over art exhibitions as well as literary and musical events regularly hosted at this space. Sumi is so passionate about coffee and crafts, he creates the ceramic cups and plates himself.
Espresso Studio is proud to serve YUME coffee and a wide range of single origins is offered for espresso and filter. The barista asked me about my personal preferences and recommended a flavorful Ethiopian Kochere Burtukaana coffee as espresso with milk.
Tucked away in a small lane off the main Boulevard Eroilor, Espresso Studio is not as fancy as other Cluj coffee shops, but it’s cosy and welcoming. At the time of my visit, during the Transylvania Film Festival, the cafe was a hangout for film lovers to discuss films and arts. “We believe that having a cup of coffee while being immersed in culture amongst friends and/or artists, musicians, actors, and other creative people is a plus, says Milena Surducan, the shop's culture manager. “That’s why Espresso Studio was born.”
Newcomer Eggcetera (opened April 2018) is the second Cluj cafe by Ioana Lazăr and Vlad Udrea. The couple founded Victor. Fresh To Go coffee shop in 2013 and have over five years’ experience in speciality coffee. The shop—as the name suggests—offers coffee and breakfast fare at any time of day.
A team of baristas headed by Udrea himself regularly holds coffee cupping sessions to pick the next single origins for espresso and filter coffee. Lazăr and Udrea are proud to collaborate with top Romanian roasters Origo and Bob Coffee Lab (whose Head Roaster was World Coffee Roasting Champion 2016 Alexandru Niculaie). They also work with foreign roasters such as Gardelli, Fjord, and The Underdog.
Eggcetera looks and feels like a restaurant first more than a cafe; the small space is fully occupied by tables while the coffee counter is at the back. As a self-confessed brunch lover, I thoroughly enjoyed my pretty dish of smashed avo and a Flat White, on par with the best brunches I’ve had in London.
Boasting an enviable location on the main square, Bujole is a restaurant focused on speciality coffee paired with French-inspired cuisine. The interiors are modern, bright, and strikingly beautiful, but the best spot in the house is a table on the terrace overlooking the square, Piața Unirii. Bujole is the second brand by Marcelus Suciu, which follows on the success of Olivo Coffee Roasters. You’ll find Olivo a few minutes away on Bulevardul Eroilor. It is one of four speciality coffee roasters in Cluj-Napoca, supplying Bujole with coffee beans as well as specialised barista training.
Bujole works exclusively with single-origin coffees brought from all over the world to offer customers the experience of different flavors. In the evenings, the La Marzocco Linea PB machine goes under the counter (using a special mechanism, like a lift, which quickly lowers the machine underneath) and manual coffee brewing methods become the main attraction.
Let's Coffee is the small business of Vasile Lupsac and Oana Moldovan who opened the coffee shop in August 2015. The coffee is sourced from the best Romanian roasters such as YUME Coffee Rosters, Origo, Pressco in Baia Mare, and Bob Coffee Lab in Bucharest. Lupsac and Moldovan also buy coffee roasted around Europe from The Barn, April Coffee Roasters, La Cabra Coffee, JB Kaffee, TAF, and Gardelli Specialty Coffee Roasters.
“We were extremely excited when we received the first coffee from The Barn and we started preparing it. It was a great feeling for us and our customers,” Lupsac says. “We weren't sure what it would look like, didn't know what coffee we were going to use, just that we want to deliver quality services for an unforgettable experience.”
Lupsac and Moldocan prefer single-origin coffee, but don't say no to a good blend. They explained that brewing methods like V60, AeroPress, and Chemex remain difficult to sell as many people in Romania associate filter coffee with tea and assume it is weaker than espresso. “We are trying to offer a range of filter coffees to raise interest and encourage our customers to try them,” Lupsac says. “There is a real connection between baristas and customers here in Cluj. That’s makes us special.”
Coffee Addicts is a small independent coffee shop opened in 2016 by Mihai (Mike) Tarta. I stopped at the cafe for a quick cappuccino to go on a hot Sunday morning, the cafe was quiet and I had the chance to chat a bit with the barista. The espresso was heavy-bodied, with hints of dark chocolate, prepared with a blend of four medium roasted Arabica coffee beans.
An eye-catching mural of a tree bedecked with multicolored toadstools and creatures sets the fun scene here, suggesting variety and intrigue are the main attractions at this cafe. Indeed, it's a multi-roaster shop which is “always open to experiments and fresh ideas,” says Tarta. “The coffee culture in Cluj is expanding and our customers welcome the change.”