3 Shining Cafés to Experience in Tirana

Cloudy sunrise over the colorful city of Tirana.

The Albanian capital’s unique culture and appreciation for coffee is visible in the city’s specialty shops.

BY MICHAELA TOMCHEK
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

Photos by Michaela Tomchek

Albania is a mountainous country, hugging the coast of the Adriatic Sea with beautiful and quiet beaches. Its capital, Tirana, is nestled in the center of the country, with the sea just 30 minutes to the west. Ruins from previous monarchies, lovely parks, and the Namazgah Mosque’s white stone rising in the center of the city make a lasting impression.

Tirana has a rich culture, once being a part of the Ottoman Empire, and coffee is a big part of that culture. Cafés offer a plethora of beverages, and people enjoy their patios, sipping espresso, smoking cigarettes, and chatting with friends well into the night. The specialty-coffee scene is quite special amongst cities in Europe, with three shops in particular offering wonderful coffee experiences.

The Namazgah Mosque in Tirana is set to become the largest mosque in the Balkans.

Antigua Caffe

Wandering around the tall apartment buildings adorned with hanging laundry and plants, you will soon stumble upon Antigua Caffe, pioneers of the specialty-coffee scene in Tirana. Julia Bozo’s family started the company back in 1995, opening their own specialty roaster. She opened her own shop in 2020 after returning home from the United Kingdom to bring high-quality coffee to her home. She mentions that she “wanted to create a space that held a lot of meaning and served a deeper purpose. A space where people could not only explore the amazing variety of hundreds of flavour notes but also learn about the craft and huge amount of labour behind it.”

Antigua Caffe is a true cultivator of specialty coffee in Tirana, with the shop serving their own coffee in addition to other European specialty roasters such as Fjord in Berlin. Not only is the coffee exceptional (I had a delectable Colombia Chemex), but they also serve some delectable pastries and vegan snacks to accompany your coffee journey.

Antigua Caffe spearheaded specialty coffee in Tirana when they opened their roastery in 1995.

When asked about the coffee scene in Tirana, Julia notes that locals typically prefer espresso thanks to the Italian influence. However, the scene is “vibrant and rapidly evolving. Traditional espresso bars are a staple of daily life, and in recent years, there has been a significant rise in more modern coffee shops. The city is doing great in blending its rich coffee culture with new trends, creating a diverse and dynamic coffee experience.”

Julia also notes that cafés are beginning to veer away from lower-quality robustas and focus more on higher-quality arabicas. However, the term specialty coffee is not well-known in Tirana. Julia notes “that gap in awareness is the first step we need to climb. With Antigua we were eager to change the status quo and we’re actually known for being the pioneers of specialty in Albania, which is both a great honor and responsibility.” She also says that “a big part of our community consists of tourists and expats who are already into specialty. However, it makes us very happy to admit there is also a growing number of Albanians who are starting to appreciate a little zing in their morning fuel.”

Situated on the Rruga Nikolla Tupe, The Coffee Lab roasts their own beans.

The Coffee Lab

After wandering around and climbing the Pyramid of Tirana or looking for the Tirana Castle, stop by The Coffee Lab for a truly local experience. Situated on the Rruga Nikolla Tupe, The Coffee Lab is tucked away from the bustle of the center of the city. Beans are roasted in this shop, and they have an array of drinks to try including espresso, cappuccino, and something called a Spicy Latte—a creamy, cinnamon-infused beverage. The Coffee Lab uses a U-Roast micro-roaster, and roasts some of their own coffee in-house; they lean toward darker roasts, preferred by the clientele. This is truly a local experience, sipping espresso on leather sofas inside surrounded by dangling lights and plants, or sitting outside on the patio, listening to the occasional hum of cars as they pass.

People in Tirana love espresso-based drinks, so The Coffee Lab is a great spot to immerse yourself in Albanian coffee culture. Nibble on a cookie and relax as you listen to the chatter of the community. Specialty coffee is still catching on in Tirana, but The Coffee Lab is a wonderful way to see how locals are working to improve the coffee scene, building a bridge from the robust past to the bright future of coffee in Albania.

Opened by local Uarda Begaj, Hana Corner Café is a community-oriented shop offering art classes and books for solo coffee drinkers.

Hana Corner Café

Just near the bustling area of Blloku, you will stumble upon a lively street with plenty of restaurants and shops. It is here where Hana Corner Café serves its customers, its yellow walls greeting you as you venture farther down the street. The café itself is small inside, with a communal table, local art, and plenty of books lined up along the back wall. An array of pastries is displayed on a counter, and various coffee brewing machinery are awaiting your order just behind. And … they serve a variety of vegan and gluten-free treats such as delectable cakes and peanut butter cookies. Plenty of local, organic, and vegan options promise a tasty experience.

The shop was opened in 2022 by Uarda Begaj, a local who, after spending 18 years in Berlin working as a computer scientist in AI, decided to return home and open a coffee shop. She craved to open a calmer café space compared to the usual loud spots in Tirana. “Albania has a coffee culture of going to coffee shops with people, no places to go alone. So, Hana offers books to lone patrons and workshops,” mentions Uarda, noting that “people feel comfortable coming alone, with a strong sense of belonging, customers say it feels like home … after almost two years it is way more than just a coffee.”

Not only is Hana a place for great coffee and a snack, it is a place of community with locals partaking in classes, art, and gathering with friends. It has a lovely patio, warm interior, and many offerings for opportunities to learn how to embroider, pottery, and baking. Visiting Hana made me wish I was a local so I could spend my time attending the events, making friends, and learning how to be more artistic.

Cafés in Tirana tend to stay open late and offer popular outdoor seating for conversation.

Uarda actually tells me that half of her patrons are foreigners who decided to live in Tirana, and now call Hana home. There is a free workspace in the back for digital nomads, and she has plans to expand. By September, there will be a new kitchen, with brunch being offered, the first farm-to-table experience for people in Tirana. Hana is also plastic-free and low-waste. They roast their own coffee at a roastery in the nearby seaside town of Sarandë; the beans are hand-selected by Uarda, and she ensures the roast fits the profile her patrons seek when drinking cappuccinos, pourovers, or espresso.

Hana offers coffee drinkers of all stripes a chance to relax and feel at home as they sip on excellent coffee and eat some delicious local food.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Michaela Tomchek finds coffee an important part of life and the world. She is an appreciator of the crop, the producer, and the many cafés throughout the world serving beautiful beverages. Currently, she writes about coffee, hoping to spread her joy across the globe. 

Cover of June + July 2024 issue of Barista Magazine featuring Mikael Jasin of Indonesia.

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