Writer Jason Huffnagle is traveling all across Europe, drinking coffee and sharing with us the cultures, recipes, and traditions of the beverage all across the continent. In this edition, he explores Bruges.
BY JASON HUFFNAGLE
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Photos courtesy of Jason Huffnagle
We’ve been running this series for a while! Catch up by checking out Jason’s visits to Edinburgh, London, Rome, Florence & Venice, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, Warsaw, Prague. Berlin, and Copenhagen.
This once-small coastal settlement was launched into regional economic prominence after Julius Caesar conquered the area in the 1st century and built fortifications around the port of Bruges. Although the city’s port is still critical to the modern European economy, Bruges—having gone through several periods of booms and busts over the centuries—has become increasingly reliant on tourism dollars. Despite its small size compared to Brussels (its sister to the east), Bruges continually attracts visitors with its winding cobblestone streets, iconic crow-stepped gabled buildings, and an abundance of canals (the city is quite appropriately called “the Venice of the North”). Although it’s a small city, there are many things to visit (and samples to taste), including soaring churches, art museums and exhibitions, chocolatiers, breweries, and of course, coffee shops.
Li O Lait
Tucked back from the main road, Li O Lait has a homey vibe. They serve coffee beans roasted by Or Coffee Roasters, based out of nearby Westrem, Belgium. You cannot go wrong with any of the breakfast options, batch coffee, or espresso bar drinks.
Li O Lait is near several museums and churches, each with impressive art exhibitions, including: the Groeninge Museum, which has extensive collections of Flemish (from the 18th and 19th century); Site Oud Sint-Jan, featuring works by Picasso, Miró, , and Chagall, as well as other modern artists; and the Church of Our Lady Bruges, a wonderful Gothic church, founded in the 13th century, known for its soaring tower and a statue, the Madonna of Bruges, sculpted by none other than the great Michelangelo himself.
Inhabiting a bright space decorated with house plants and accented in all things gold, Vero Caffè serves some of Bruges’ best coffee. The café offers ample seating, proximity to several major landmarks, incredible baked goods (including some vegan food and drink options), and serves coffee roasted by Antwerp-based CaffeNation, an operation known for its efforts, through education and training, to grow coffee expertise.
Vero is in close to Bruges’ medieval historic center square, a touristy but must-see stop given the many architecturally impressive buildings surrounding it, including the Bruges Belfry (which you can climb for sweeping views of the city) and Provincial Court. Also nearby is the Bruges Beer Experience, an “interactive” museum that displays Belgium’s beer-making history and culture. Farther south, you will find the amply collonaded Vismarkt (a 19th century fish market) and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, reputed to have in its possession a vial of Christ’s blood.
Cafuné Espresso Bar
From the plywood bar to the multiple brew methods, Cafuné Espresso Bar’s love affair* with coffee is immediately evident upon entering their door. Although they inhabit a relatively small space, Cafuné is big on service, taking the time and care to make a cup of bonafide craft brew.
*Cafuné literally translates to “the act of caressing or tenderly running fingers through a loved one’s hair” in Brazilian Portuguese.
Located a little farther north than its neighbor Vero, Cafuné is also near Bruges’ main square. To the east, you can take a stroll through Jan van Eyck Square, named for its famous former citizen and painter, which is considered one of the prettiest squares in the city.
Bonus: Peaberry Coffeebar in Ghent
About 45 minutes east of Bruges, off E40, lies the quaint town of Ghent, known for its rich history and as the residence of Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s infamous massive triptych Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, simply known as “the Ghent Altarpiece.” Kept in Saint Bavo’s gothic cathedral, the Altarpiece is not only visually impressive, it also boasts the title of the “most stolen” piece of art, having been plundered several times (from Napoleon to the Nazis). (In fact, one of its 12 panels—stolen in 1934—remains missing to this day.)
Upon having your serving of culture and controversy, stop by Peaberry Coffeebar next door to treat yourself to a quick caffeine boost and a coconut macaroon.
The next and final (!!!) stop on my journey takes me to a place known for fashion, art, and romance, the so-called City of Lights: Paris.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Huffnagle is a freelance writer for Barista Magazine who has worked in coffee as a barista for six years. Having recently left his “adult job” in the U.S. Senate, the Alaska native is spending the next four months traveling throughout Europe. You can keep up with his coffee-fueled travels and other exploits by following him at @jasonhuffnagle on Twitter.