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 Budapest, Hungary.
BY JASON HUFFNAGLE
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Photos courtesy of Jason Huffnagle
Bisected by the Danube River, Budapest has a long history (dating back to the fourth century!) and was once two distinct cities—Buda and Pest. This distinction—whether a spot is in straight-laced Buda or on the hip Pest side of town—exists to this day, despite the two being merged in 1873. Budapest also has the distinction of having the continent’s oldest underground train, which, despite being completed in 1896, is still run efficiently and effectively.
With minimal knowledge of this Eastern European metropolis, I was surprised to find Budapest not only a charming, travel-friendly city filled with old buildings and monuments, but a place that also has a ton of trendy farm-to-table eateries, micro-roasteries, and craft beer bars. Dining establishments in Budapest typically have traditional options, such as goulash or pörkölt (think meat stew served with a side of noodles), but many restaurants, on top of their Brooklyn-esque decor and appropriately bearded and bespectacled serving staff, offer new takes on these and other Hungarian staples. I experienced this intermingling of new and old throughout my time in Budapest, and left with the impression that the demarcation between past and present are somewhat blurred.
A special representative for craft-coffee shops in Budapest, Espresso Embassy is located in District V—the heart of the Hungarian capital. Beneath arched ceilings, this shop’s cozy interior somehow provides ample seating and carries beans from local roastery Casino Mocca. Bring a book, do some people-watching—there’s plenty to be had—or take your coffee to go and get better acquainted with the nearby sights and attractions.
Near Espresso Embassy, Liberty Square is a must-see site for anyone interested in history and how the past factors into contemporary politics. Once the site of a military barracks, this public park has seen protests and violence throughout the 20th century. It also contains several monuments, including the Memorial to Fallen Soviet Soldiers, as well as two honoring Americans Ronald Reagan and Harry Hill Bandholtz (a U.S. Army major general who served as a representative to the Inter-Allied Military Mission in Hungary during World War I). The proximity of these disparate memorials gives the sense that these monuments are in some kind of argument, which very well could be the case considering current tensions over the government-sponsored Monument of Germany Occupation and the “Living Memorial,” a counter memorial erected by Hungarian citizens that protests the government’s historical revisionism.
Farther north and west are the famed neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building and the Shoes on the Danube Memorial, a site that honors victims who were killed and thrown into the river by the Hungarian fascist paramilitary organization known as the Arrow Cross during World War II.
While WarmCup is almost standing-room-only, I certainly found myself eager to stay. There was nothing lukewarm about the reception as I found myself talking shop with some of the most hospitable and passionate staff I have met thus far on my journey. If the promise of delicious coffee doesn’t reel you in, this one-of-a-kind spot shares its space with an independent cinema.
WarmCup’s neighborhood, District VII (also known as Erzsébetváros), is known for its historical Jewish roots and contemporary, edgy vibe. While you will likely have to enjoy if from the outside, make sure to visit the largest synagogue in Europe, the Dohány Street Synagogue, a beautiful 19th century structure built in the Moorish Revival style.
Other things to do in this neighborhood include checking out all the street vendors and funky design shops. Also, in the evening stop by Szimpla Kert, one of the city’s original ruin bars. Popular both with locals and out-of-towners, the venue has numerous vendors in its many old rooms, each with a unique theme, and offers local craft brews and pálinka, a Hungarian brandy that is made from a range of fruits, including but not limited to plums, apricots, and apples.
My Little Melbourne
Found on the opposite end of Erzsébetváros from WarmCup, My Little Melbourne serves beans roasted by Workshop Coffee, a London-based roastery I had the pleasure of visiting a few weeks prior. MLM offers several different brew methods, including AeroPress, Chemex, and siphon. Besides serving impeccable coffee and having a vast selection of merchandise, My Little Melbourne also offers several barista courses and is working to put together its own coffee roasting program.
My Little Melbourne is a short walk from the Central Market Hall, a great place to grab a delicious (and cheap) lunch.
Budapest’s coffee community is vibrant and diverse, and I was taken aback by the number of third-wave shops that I encountered. I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the other incredible coffee places I visited in Budapest. Here they are in no particular order (and definitely worth a visit): The Goat Herder Espresso Bar, Kontakt, and Cube Coffee Bar.
With my time nearing its end in Budapest, I’ll be making the 247-mile trip north, passing back through Slovakia and over the beautiful Tatra Mountains, to my next stop: Krakow, Poland.
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.