July 17, 2016

Cafes in Warsaw, Poland

I'm not a nervous traveller but I must admit that I felt a little tender at the thought of visiting Warsaw by myself. Perhaps it's just that 2016 has been a tender year in general but I was surprised by these feelings or that, ignorantly, I knew little of its history, except for having once read a wonderful children's book called 'Escape from Warsaw' with a cover that I remember looking at repeatedly on my sister's bookshelves. Its characters looked excited but also frightened. While I knew the former well, I could tell the latter was something I was yet to really know, and still don't, and that this was morbidly fascinating; what does real, dangerous fear feel like? I wonder and hope I might never find out. 

Warsaw. Warszawa. I did not know what to expect. Somehow, without knowing the city at all, I lucked upon an airbnb in an area with two of the best cafes - Charlotte and Ministerstwo Kawy - within a short, safe stroll. It was a in a quiet pocket, surrounded on all sides by the city, with an old writing desk and a hot shower. I didn't need any more. 

Arriving late on a Saturday afternoon, I dropped off my bags, googled 'Warsaw's best cafes' and set off on foot. Cafes punctuate a journey; they're my way of navigating. 
A city can't really be seen via public transport and the decision to walk Warsaw was one that was unkind to my feet but generous to my experience.

The first thing of note was how very clean and quiet the city it, it was as if I had it to myself, which felt like a gift. 

The next was how remarkably sizeable it was, especially considering my pledge to remain on foot. Nothing is concentrated, so moving from cafe to cafe were few and far between, popping up unexpectedly on corners and most modestly; unassuming. 

The people were warm and polite, accommodating but not familiar, which was appealing. All too often I find the service towards tourists in foreign cities insincere and the Poles just don't overindulge, no need to fuck around, just willing to oblige, host, and have a conversation with you if you care to start one. They're genuine.  

 It struck me that Warsaw was very much a city in recovery, as tentatively as it is tenaciously rebuilding itself. Some parts polished and finished and, at others, literally falling apart; open, gaping wounds still healing from a painful history. A long stroll along the river bank reveals a prime location that is completely undeveloped but shows promise for the future. My what's app city guide Paddy, a friend of my sister's who permanently relocated to Warsaw, sends me furiously passionate messages leading me this way and that, and regaling me with histories and his own poetry in ode to the city. The people of Warsaw love Warsaw, and you can tell. What's more, it's kind of infectious.

Cafe Stor 
Picture source: Unknown

My first destination and a substantial stroll across the city leads me to Cafe Stor in an unassuming spot - small, casual, on the roadside - just around the corner from the Chopin Museum. Big windows pore out onto the road which, when dimly lit at night, is meditative as the cars glide by. The coffee is from roasteries in Berlin and Krakow, and sourced world over. A large marbled wall gives the effect of being at sea and there's a small shop area for buying good quality teas (I loved the peach white tea) and whole beans. I like the cafe so much, I return a number of times over the weekend, just to sit and read.

Charlotte Cafe
Regarded by Warsaw publications as 'Paris in Warsaw', Charlotte is a stone's throw from my apartment and wins my heart instantly with its ragged, exposed walls and large bar filled with freshly baked breads, croissants and impossibly large jars of jam. The tables are filled with people peering at the morning papers, smearing thick chocolate on their toast, and sipping from hot coffees and glasses of fresh orange juice. From the windows I can see a beautiful church and the canary yellow tram as it pulls through intermittently. Open from 7am until late, the time of day doesn't really change the atmosphere. It's Paris in Warsaw and Parisians will do as they please. 

Ministerstwo Kawy

Again, an unassuming spot, just next to the beautiful church and tramlines, Ministerstwo Kawy - reportedly the best coffee in the city - isn't in the centre of town because there doesn't seem to be a centre of town, unless you count the old town, which is beautiful but filled with tourists.
It's on the drag to the city's largest park, Lazienki, which runs across to the river and, it's true, has really very excellent coffee - 100% Arabica beans mostly from Central America, sourced from a Swedish roastery - despite the service being a little cool.
The space is lovely, too, with window seats and nooks to lose yourself to. I spend the morning planning recipes, tram spotting, and watching people mill in and out of morning service.

Green Caffe Nero
Green Caffe Nero is Poland's version of Caffe Nero but unexpectedly gorgeous. While the Caffe Nero estate in the UK is currently undergoing country-wide refurbishment, their stores in Warsaw have already achieved what they've set out to do - become the bigger coffee chain with an independent feel. A local bakery, Muffia, supplies a beautiful cake selection and fresh salads, sandwiches and soups. The locations are usually historical and rich with character, and the cafes are filled with attention to detail searched high and low for in flea markets and reclamation yards across the world. The back bar in one store, for example, is part of a Flemish mirrored room that has been broken into fragments and lovingly restored. The coffee, as always, is strong but excellent quality, from the roastery in Clapham Junction, London and sourced mostly from Central America.



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