While Vilnius might not be on the radar as a destination for coffee fans yet, it should be. The capital of Lithuania has a burgeoning coffee culture that’s full of characters and the kind of excitement that comes with new discovery.
Last fall I was invited to the city to attend the Dark Times conference. The invitation had come from Emanuelis Ryklys, the owner of Crooked Nose and Coffee Stories, a specialty cafe and micro-roaster located near the historic center of the city. Ryklys's spot is deeply involved in the cafe scene here, not only as a space to drink a good cup of coffee but as a hub for the young, creative, entrepreneur class to congregate. Perhaps it was the conference, or perhaps it is just the type of people who flock to specialty coffee, but while there I felt that I was surrounded by people who were engaged and excited about making their city a better place, be that through coffee, food, art, or design.
“Our coffee and cafe culture is really young, and it’s still evolving,” says Ryklys. Vilnius sometimes seems overshadowed by the other Baltic capitals, Riga and Tallinn, which is a shame. It’s a beautiful city well worth exploring, from cobblestone streets and old architecture to the local food and drink culture. When it comes to coffee, you won’t be overwhelmed by the choice of specialty cafes like you would in coffee capitals like Melbourne or San Francisco, but there’s enough here to keep you interested, and each cafe has its own distinct feel.
At Crooked Nose and Coffee Stories, I met Polina Lyapustina, who kindly offered to be my guide for the day, taking me around to some of her favorite coffee places. Originally from Russia, Lyapustina was bitten by the coffee bug a little over a year ago, and since then has not only launched a print zine (KaffeZine) but also regularly organizes cuppings and other events in Vilnius, and recently started Society Coffee Enthusiasts, a group hosting classes and gatherings for coffee enthusiasts in the city. Lyapustina embodies the positive energy that I found with everyone in the Vilnius coffee scene. Part of that might be the newness—its attraction lies largely in the fact that better coffee is a recent discovery, similar to being newly in love: everything is exciting and all you want to do is explore. Ryklys agrees, which is why his business, which focuses on an educational component about coffee, is thriving. “Curiosity and being open to new ways of enjoying coffee is something unique we have in Vilnius at the moment.”
Vilnius is also a place that’s proud of its culture, and many of the cafes incorporate local culinary traditions into their offerings. At Coffee1, a tiny espresso bar with a cozy feel, you’ll find tinginys, which translates as “lazy cake,” because it’s an easy-to-make combination of chocolate, sugar, and biscuits (how could you go wrong?). Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories serves šakotis, the traditional Lithuanian wedding cake that comes out looking a little like a tree after baking and being turned over a spit.
And this might describe how Vilnius has the potential to grow into a truly unique coffee destination: there is certainly avocado toast to be found on some menus, but since the scene is in its infancy, the players have the opportunity to take local culinary traditions and combine them with specialty coffee for something entirely different and unique.
“I’d like to see more independent and personal cafes in Vilnius [that] are keen on working and playing with coffee,” says Ryklys. “In the near future, I see Vilnius and Lithuania, filled with small and original gastronomical spaces. Actually, this is already happening, and I’m glad I can help to release some of them.”
Coffee spots to visit in Vilnius, Lithuania