A perfect coffee break
As a former barista and caffeine addict, one of my first priorities when coming to Prague was to find a good coffee shop, also known as a kavarna in Czech. Along the way I have discovered several distinct and delightful differences between American and Czech coffee culture. Coffee culture in Europe as a whole seems to be held in higher esteem than back in the States.
Czech Coffee menus are similar to Czech people, they’re straightforward. You won’t find a plethora of flavors and mix ins, instead, coffee menus are simple, highlighting only the traditional pick-me-ups. Zoolander would have to go without his orange mocha Frappuccinos and skinny vanilla diet fanatics have to accept that natural milk comes with natural fat. Drip coffee is almost always unavailable, and espresso reigns king. The closest thing to a classic cup of Joe is an Americano, which is essentially a watered down espresso. A flat white is an espresso with steamed milk, but without the frothy foam of a cappuccino. Espresso shots can be short, meaning stronger, or long, meaning a bit more diluted with water. And baristas everywhere have been grinding their beans in anxt since the term macchiato was redefined by Starbucks. A macchiato is actually more similar to a mini cappuccino, with a shot of espresso and a dollop of foamed milk. Do not be alarmed to find a small cup of clear liquid sitting beside your espresso. This is called water, and in the Viennese tradition it is meant to act as a palate cleanser after enjoying a coffee beverage. In Prague, this tradition is mostly reserved for the higher end cafes, although I believe all kavarnas should follow suite.
Hot chocolate in Prague seems to be an artform of its own. For a chick who grew up with Swiss Miss and the occasional Ovaltine, the scene of a barista melting real chocolate pieces into freshly steamed milk is a beautiful sight. The thick drinking chocolate is rich and creamy, and the perfect treat on a cold winter night.
Kavarnas are more than just drinking places, they are ground zero for the blossoming minds of Czech intellectuals. Authors like Kafka frequented Cafe Louvre, which recently celebrated annual Poetry Day, by giving guests a free cup of coffee in return for a poem. Café Savoy is known for its uniquely divine ambiance and heavenly desserts. The kavarna atmosphere is an indicator of the Czech lifestyle. It’s unrushed. It’s comfortable and accepting. I don’t feel guilty by monopolizing a table for several hours, or feel the need to order an unnecessary amount of drinks. By spending a lot of time in Prague cafes I have realized that coffee can create communities. Prague cafés are a place for people to meet, drink, discuss, and share.