Ravishingly old school or daringly modern, cafés are an essential part of Zagreb’s urban landscape. Sitting and talking for hours over coffee is a must-do, even in today’s busy world. The difference now is the coffee itself is often meticulously sourced, directly traded from the developing world. All that’s needed is a few delicious fresh pastries, a selection of global and herbal teas, some artsy décor, and a savvy barista to complete the coffee shop experience. Here are some of the best ones in Zagreb.
Cafe, Croatian, $$$
This long-time cultural hangout and book club is now more of a café that stages literary events, personal appearances by authors, Q&A sessions and the like. All kinds of coffees, smoothies, snacks and, especially, teas, are provided as you settle down with the book edition of your choice. You can pick reading material off the shelf and return it right after. One-off membership costs 10kn/€1.30, allowing you any number of return visits over the course of a year.
Quality coffee is the name of the game at this main outlet of expert bean-roasters called Cogito, whose empire stretches to Zadar and Dubrovnik. Here in a passageway near Ilica and the National Theatre, coffee is sourced from Honduras, eastern Congo, and Ethiopia, among other producers, to create the winning Tesla Blend of the best in-season beans. The darker Blackout variety is characterised by hints of roast almonds and dark chocolate. The many teas come from Jardins de Gaïa in Alsace. Enticing baked treats are also available.
Across the street from permanently trendy design studios and fashion boutiques Love, Ana and I-GLE, Dežman Bar exudes urban cool. With its impressive range of spirits and cocktails, it feels like a bar you’d find around Zagreb’s flower market, but it tends to be busiest by day. Stand-out desserts and pastries complement coffees provided by the equally sought-after local Cogito fair-trade enterprise, and all takes place amid stark, contemporary décor highlighted by framed photography.
Arguably the first of the new-wave cafés in Zagreb, Nik Orosi’s award-winning Eli’s Caffe was set up by this former national barista champion with the mission of bringing quality brews to the Croatian capital. Location also helped spur its success. It sits on Ilica near Britanski trg, where a Sunday morning flea market attracts bohemian browsers happy to sit and compare finds at this coffee shop. While Nik now has considerable competition across town, his capable team can still whip up a mean cappuccino or latte – with soya milk if required – in an easy-going atmosphere.
The date here is significant as it’s the year this landmark railway hotel opened, catering to passengers who could have their luggage dispatched over from the Orient Express while they waltzed from the station. It’s an era reflected in this stylish café and cocktail bar, where prime coffee is served along with what is regarded as the best štrukli (Zagreb’s signature pastry of particular quality) in town. This is also the best destination for afternoon tea, before a pianist takes to the ivories and cocktails are served.
The terrace here, overlooking Zagreb’s main square, has always been a major meeting place in town. For generations, this was the Gradska kavana, an old-school coffeehouse that had seen better days by the time it closed down a decade or so ago. Later bought by Johann Franck, food producers based in Zagreb since 1892, this prominent café underwent a complete facelift to theme it after the Art Deco days of the 1920s. By day it’s perfect for coffee – produced by Franck since 1960 – while live shows take place in the evenings.
In the same Cogito family as the flagship branch on Varšavska, U Dvorištu differs from the mothership in that it has outdoor seating called dvor, meaning ‘courtyard’. Given its late-night opening and decent range of craft beers, U Dvorištu also comes alive after dark, when focus falls on the well-curated music selection and occasional entertainment such as poetry recitals. Ultimately, though, it’s down to top-notch direct-trade coffee, sourced from Africa and Central America.