Whether it’s tea that tickles your taste buds or it’s coffee you crave in the morning, Prague is well worth a visit.
The great thing about seeking out the best places in any town or city for a good cuppa is that it gives you a whole new insight into that place.
Just remembering Rome in Georgia, where we not only found good coffee, but also got to meet the owner of the local paper and the chair of the local Chamber of Commerce. Or Blackburn in Lancashire, where the ladies in the tea room actually went to the Beatles’ concerts before they were even famous…
So, what kind of journey would Prague take us on, once we’d crossed the Charles Bridge, checked out Wenceslas Square and taken a tour round the Jewish Quarter?
Well, our google searching before we left for Prague suggested that Al Cafetero might be the place for coffee in Prague. It didn’t look anything special from the outside, but step through the door here and you immediately know you’re in a sacred place for coffee lovers.
It’s partly the hushed tones people were speaking in, partly the smell of coffee. But mainly the line-up of state-of-the-art filters on the counter that give you a hint that the people in this place know their stuff.
Oh, and manager Karel wears a flat cap with a smile, in line with many baristas in the UK these days.
And true enough, the coffee here is excellent. At just the right temperature, with no need for sugar, the cappuccino is served in a small cup that would make Starbucks frown with puzzlement.
Mind you, contrary to all the coffee expert recommendations, this member of the Fancy a Cuppa? team actually likes quite a big cappuccino to start the day. Not on Starbucks dimensions of course, but you can also get a ‘large’ coffee at Al Cafetero (the cups must be at least 10 oz volume…) and no eyebrows raised by Karel on the way.
This is a great place: small, intimate, family-run. Only let-down for weekend visitors to Prague: it’s closed on Saturdays and Sundays! But I guess that’s the downside of small, family-run venues…
For our second coffee, we tried a completely different part of Prague. Karlin is more residential, a little bit affluent-looking. So it was not surprising to find Muj Salek Kavy was buzzing with the chatter of mums and toddlers and a crowd of young people on their laptops.
Coffee just as good as at Cafetero (not surprising since they use mostly the same supplier – Double Shot). Again, perfectly-presented (again with a smiling, flat-capped barista – Tashi, this time).
So good this time that the Fancy a Cuppa? team had to have a second cup (and you know what, I actually preferred this one because it was just a tad hotter – for me sometimes the ‘perfect’ coffee temperature can be just a bit lukewarm…but I know I’m a heretic for saying so.).
Two great coffee experiences, giving us ideas of trying a European tour and seeing if other EU capitals can match the quality of these Prague coffee shops. We’ll certainly write them up into very positive reviews…
So, what about tea?
Well, we knew that a couple of our favourite tea rooms in the UK had been inspired by the Prague tea scene, so we were expecting great things…
And we were not disappointed.
There’s quite a Middle Eastern feel to Siva Tea House which is in Masna street, right near the Jewish Quarter. You can sit and puff on hookahs downstairs in the darkly-lit basement; you can sit upstairs on kilim rugs and peer into the shop full of tea paraphernalia.
Though if you look American, as we clearly did to the very friendly staff there, they just might put some Bruce Springsteen CD on, thinking that’s what you might like. We were about to decamp downstairs to join the hookah crowd, but they were happy to switch to more meditative eastern music when we explained why. Ah, Bruce Springsteen and tea – somehow just does not go together, does it??
You probably could get an English (Indian) style cuppa with cold milk added, but somehow the atmosphere called for something a bit different. So I ordered my first ever Pu erh to accompany our hummous and baba ganosh with Turkish breads.
Simple fayre, but fantastic, and fitting for the place we were in. A real tea treat and a taste of things to come, if we ever get onto our planned Silk Road tea and coffee trail…
Our second tea venue was very different.
Set back a little from Wenceslas Square, Dobra Cajovna is probably Prague’s tea HQ. It’s actually part of a chain that has venues in about 20 Czech towns and cities, but it has nothing of the chain about its atmosphere and set-up.
Each table feels very individual, maybe because lots of them are made from old tea chests. And a few brave souls kicked off their shoes and squatted or knelt in the areas where you can take your tea Japanese-style with no chairs and very very low tables.
As for the tea on offer, I have never seen a longer menu: 14 black teas; 29 green teas; 11 blue/green teas (!!); 6 red teas; 5 white teas; and 13 pu erhs; not to mention the miscellaneous list. You begin to see why those UK tea rooms were inspired by this place.
Again, we abandoned the usual Fancy a Cuppa? strong black brew with milk, and went for a Darjeeling First Flush. Delicate and delicious with the baklava nibbles. Gives a whole different meaning to the notion of afternoon tea…
What a fabulous place Prague is. We love the way our search for good coffee and tea takes us to suburbs and districts most tourists wouldn’t venture into (though none of these is very far from downtown really).
But one final tip, if you really haven’t time to hop on the metro or walk a mile or so, there is a coffee shop right by the Charles Bridge. Cafe Ebel is a bit tucked away, on Kaprova street, but has a good atmosphere and some nice cake to go with your coffee.
We’d still recommend our two top tips, but if you’re in town for sightseeing and coffee is just an excuse to rest your weary limbs, then this is the place to go for your cappuccino.
Now, where shall we go next in Europe? And when??