The Best Cafés With A Social Conscience Around The World

Svetlana Morini

The well versed foodie is spoilt for choice in many of the world’s global cities. With an array of wholefood markets, hipster coffee spots and restaurants offering a smorgasbord of delicious eats and drinks, there’s plenty to sate even the fussiest diner. However, an appreciation of good food and drink is a novelty for the world’s estimated 100 million homeless or three billion living in poverty. These cafés found in global cities around the world care for more than just your tastebuds.

Simon Griffiths from Shebeen, Melbourne

1. Shebeen | Melbourne

Bar, Restaurant, Australian, Mexican

Shebeen, Melbourne
© John Deer, Clever Deer Photography
While sharing a beer, university friends Simon Griffiths and Zanna McComish had a lightbulb moment. Having both volunteered in Africa, they had seen the effects of poverty and adversity first hand. While on their travels, they stumbled upon many make shift street bars and fell in love with the concept. Griffiths and McComish were inspired to create their very own street bar with difference, Shebeen, which funnels all profits towards development projects. Nestled in one of Melbourne’s iconic laneways, Manchester Lane, Shebeen’s concept is simple: when you buy a cider, wine, beer or cocktail, your money goes towards an aid program in that drink’s country of origin.
Fancy a Windhoek Light Beer from Namibia? Donations are given to mothers2mothers(m2m), who seek to eliminate the transmission of HIV between mothers and their babies, providing a ‘Mother Mentor’ and invaluable information to empower these mothers.
For those who prefer an aromatic red, there’s the Valdiviesio Merlot from Chile. These funds go to Room to Read, which works on improving children’s literacy skills and providing young women with the necessary support to complete secondary education.
Shebeen believes that everyone deserves basic access to education, income and healthcare. While offering an eclectic mix of drinks, Shebeen’s menu also includes several scrumptious meal choices, from the organic black bean noodle salad with miso lime dressing to a Mexican-style slow cooked chicken mole. Chowing down on a Vietnamese baguette or pork belly slider never tasted so good.

2. Café Retro | Copenhagen

Cafe, Beer

Café Retro, Copenhagen
© Vasco Patronilo
A non-profit café founded by a group of young Danes from Copenhagen, Café Retro offers a cozy and compassionate haven away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Staff members consist of bartenders, the PR, management, events, music and arts teams, all of whom generously volunteer their time. Café Metro runs on three guiding principles: tolerance and respect for one another, encouragement of the arts and creativity and fostering existential debates. While enjoying a latté, Tuborg beer or elderflower tea, café-dwellers can listen to a live concert by local up and comers, participate in a knitting club, meditate in the quiet room or admire the art exhibition on display. All members of the community are welcomed with warmth and open arms. Proceeds from the Café are currently sent to aid projects in Sierra Leone: Project REACT and Dreamtown. Project REACT seeks to promote a brighter future for the people of Masanga in central Sierra Leone by reducing poverty and promoting democracy through access to education. Project Dreamtown operates in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, where it provides necessary education to vulnerable youths. Café Retro’s funding has already gone towards acquiring computers, bicycles and school materials for the youths.
Curling up by the fireside on a mismatched, much-loved sofa with a wine in hand won’t be the only thing giving you the warm and fuzzies, know that you are supporting great causes.

3. The Clearing Barrel Bar and Coffeehouse | Berlin

Bar, Pub Grub

The Clearing Barrel Café-Bar / Military Counseling Network e.V., Kaiserslautern
Courtesy of The Clearing Barrel
The Clearing Barrel Bar and Coffeehouse, in Kaiserslautern, was established in 2012 by active members of the Military Counselling Network. Kaiserslautern, Germany, is the European nerve center of America’s global military bases, housing the Ramstein Air Base and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The Clearing Barrel is open for veterans and civilians alike, where guests can indulge in a fairtrade coffee, a delicious breakfast, vegan spaghetti or exciting assortment of muffins and cakes. The coffeehouse seeks to provide a safe refuge for war veterans, soldiers and their families, where they can connect with one another.
Meike Capps-Schubert, who runs the cafe, is a trained counselor with the Military Counseling Network e.V., the Clearing Barrel offers counseling support, and functions as a hub for political discussion and community resistance against ‘illegal wars and military occupation’. As well as functioning as a coffeehouse, the Clearning Barrel doubles as a bar and cultural hotspot at night, housing events, movie screenings and concerts. Speaking about the initiative, Meike said: ‘having this space available allows us to bring together in one place what we do personally, socially, culturally, and politically. I am very grateful for all of the help and support that we have received from the peace community and we hope that they will continue to support us.’

4. Merge Café | Auckland

Cafe, Australian

© Ken Yamaguchi / Flickr
Embedded in central hubbub of Auckland is not-for-profit Merge Café. An initiative of Lifewise, Merge Café provides wholesome, low cost meals for those with and without homes, encouraging everyone to eat together at the same table. Every cent raised goes towards housing Auckland’s homeless, with the aim of ending homelessness once and for all. Before opening Merge Café, Lifewise had a long history of serving meals to the homeless, going back to 1885. In recent times, Lifewise ran a popular inner-city soup kitchen, which served over 40,000 meals per year.
Although they had the best interests at heart, Lifewise came to realise that the soup kitchen, though solving the immediate issue of hunger, was fuelling a long term dependency. In what was a very difficult decision, the soup kitchen closed and was replaced by Merge Café, in a bid to create a self-sustainable model. Inspired and passionate about empowering Auckland’s homeless, Merge Café seeks to connect the needy with vital support services. Lifewise, does not discriminate, emphasising respect, freedom of choice and acceptance. Passers-by can enjoy roast meals for $5 and cooked breakfast for $3, with quiches, salads, bagels, sandwiches and sweets behind the counter for a minimal cost.

5. Cat Town Café and Adoption Center | California

Cafe, Coffee Shop, Cat and Dog Cafe, American

Cat Town Café - Oakland, CA
© Cynthinee/Flickr
Cat Town Café is America’s first feline friendly Café and Adoption Center, which runs as part of the not-for-profit organization, Cat Town, in partnership with Oakland Animal Services. The concept came to life when a group of animal shelter volunteers sought to help at-risk cats and kittens. Since its inception in 2011, Cat Town has helped over 600 cats and kittens. With the aim of moving cats out of cages and into loving homes, The Cat Town Café is an alliance between the Founder and President of Cat Town, Ann Dunn, and Adam Myatt (self-confessed Cat Man of West Oakland). Split into two rooms, the Café serves local eats from the Authentic Bagel Company, Rolling Sloane’s and Bicycle Coffee, while the Cat Room houses between 6 and 20 roaming (or sleeping) kitties, all of which are available for adoption. As a not-for-profit rescue service, the cats’ comfort and safety is Cat Town Café’s number one priority. Only 14 people are allowed to enter The Cat Room at a time, for a one hour period, in order to not stress or over-stimulate our feline friends. Visitors are also more than welcome to bring their café food and beverages into The Cat Room. The initiative has resonated with humans near and far, and the café cats have been adopted at a remarkable rate.

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