Wrocław – a survey

December 8, 2012

Where better in the depths of winter to journey on holiday than the freezing Silesian city of Wrocław, you might ask, and with some justification. There are around seven hours of proper daylight if you’re lucky, biting winds, snow, and no-one else seems to go there at this time of year. To which the accomplice exclaimed, ‘Exactly’, and we booked our tickets. Of course, the above conditions do suit a traveller who goes everywhere with half an eye at least on where to huddle against such inclemency while sipping a cup of the good stuff, as they afford a rare excuse to avoid wanderings (though there were plenty of those too), and hunker down with a good book and, in two notable instances, a really excellent cup of coffee. And so I present: the cafés of Wrocław…

(A parenthetic word of warning: most ‘cafés’ in Poland are really bars which also serve coffee, but that’s not their primary function. They have Starbucks and two main local chains, Empík and Coffee Heaven, more of which below, but independents such as you find in the UK are few and far between).

PestkaWell, some of them. I visited seven in total. Two were in the up-and-coming district of Nadodrze, which is to the north of the old city across the various rivers, canals, and islands which sprawl around the tightly bunched centre of the city. Nadodrze is the students’ enclave in a university city, a touch run-down but inexpensive for rent and within walking distance of the university buildings. There is talk of a redevelopment plan, and so the cafés have moved in first, as true in Wrocław is it is in London. The first, and dearest to our hearts, was Café Pestka, which means ‘seedling’. The emblem is a tree, which warmed the accomplice’s heart. Pestka was set up only a month ago by Gabriela and her bearded, warrior-like friend (see picture). For somewhere open only a month, this is a café of staggering quality. Its newness means you won’t find it in guidebooks but it’s already being recommended by other places in town, which is a great sign. The layout is simple and clean, Scandinavian in tone and temperament, and the elegantly simple bar area displays a variety of coffee-making equipment. The welcome was very warm and they both speak excellent English. And what of the coffee? The espresso, a double shot at 7 zl. (around £1.60 at current rates), is roasted by Kofeina in Opole, a town around an hour from Wrocław. A blend of Brazilian Pereira and Guatemalan Finca la Bolsa A, it has delightful hints of blackcurrant and wood, a strong, muscular body, and a sublime crema. Though Gabriela wasn’t sure what a cortado was, once I had explained, I was served a beautifully silky cup, sweet and slick. These baristas are skilled and innovative and really care. If this place were picked up and placed in central London, it would be drowning in customers. It is one of the finest places I have visited, and I can say no more than that.

The second place which deserves almost as high praise was Café Rozrusznik, similarly in the Nadodrze district. The coffee here is from Irie, a roastery based on the outskirts of town, and was of high quality. It was a dark roast, thick and angry, but the bitterness was tempered by the precision extraction. A shade over or under and I suspect this would have been too sharp, but the machine was well-set and the barista good. The venue itself was a bit Womad for my tastes, and clearly somewhere the cool, young things of Wrocław head to, but it was most encouraging to find another, really good coffee house so near Pestka. Clusters of quality breed more quality, and there is an obviously vibrant and growing scene in Wrocław, with knowledgable coffee people seizing on the mix of students, cheap rates, tourism, and promised urban regeneration, to build really excellent businesses.

Cocofli

The third, and much loved, venue we visited was Cocofli (pictured). Cocofli is just down the road from Sarah’s, a sublime Jewish restaurant where I had latkas to cherish for all eternity, and the accomplice spied Cocofli as we were wandering nearby, drawn, no doubt, by one wall being entirely made of books. Cocofli is a café-bar in the style mentioned above, and the coffee is not especially good. An espresso is the standard 7 zl., and quite bitter, but the venue is a delight. It sells books as well as coffee, a selection made by the people who work there, and it also clearly serves as a get-together for young intellectuals and language students. It plays unusually good music for a Polish venue, and we sat and read for several hours without ever being hassled to order more. It would be misleading of me to say that the coffee is worth the trip, but this venue is a must for anyone visiting for its charm, its relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and its proximity to Sarah’s incredible food.

Of the other four places visited, the most honourable mention goes to Sufi Café, which lies just off Rynek, the main square in the old city. The interior is gaudy to the point of emetic, but the coffee is strong and well-made, as shown in the third photo, and the barista pointed us in the direction of Pestka and Rozrusznik, and so that endeared him to us greatly. The second place, Kawiarnia Literatka, is also on the main square, and is very much a bar-café. The coffee is actually quite poor, but it’s warm and snug and full of cool young things, so I thought you should at least have the option. The next place, Afryka Coffee Tea House, was right next to our hotel. The interior manages to make Sufi look restrained and well-devised, and the coffee was dishwatery. Apparently, Afryka is quite the post-dinner schmoozing spot, but I wouldn’t personally say much for it. The last, and arguably worst, place was the chain café Empík. I asked the accomplice nicely if we could visit, just to see, and she kindly acquiesed, but we both rather wish she hadn’t. It is like a faecal-coloured Starbucks, as expensive as the sublime venues above, but with all that you’ve come to expect from a chain. Do not go here.

SoSufi, a quick summary…I didn’t travel to Poland with the expectation of finding anything especially good. While Wrocław is quite an up-and-coming city, culturally Poland is not as attuned to bespoke, independent coffee houses as it is to bars and café-bars which meld the two. However, Wrocław appears to have not only the right ingredients to foster such enterprises, but two places at least which are excellent and, in the case of Pestka, exceptional. The love and care and interest in coffee was palpable at Pestka, and I would say it is comfortably within the top five venues I have ever visited.

In terms of connecting with these places, a word of warning. Twitter is not popular in Poland, largely due to a weak penetration of smart phones into the market, and Facebook is by far-and-away the easiest way to locate and interact with venues. Our guidebook, the wryly written Wrocław In Your Pocket (available at the airport), was written before Pestka and Rozrusznik were set-up, but does rate Sufi. Sadly, it also rates Afryka, so don’t place all your faith there. As ever, word of mouth from other baristas is a good way to find places. And if you seek, you shall find. Enjoy!

Café Pestka – św. Wincentego 45, Wrocław

Café Rozrusznik – ul. Cybulskiego 15, Wrocław

Cocofli – ul. Włodkowica 7-9, Wrocław

Sufi Café – ul. Kuźnicza 65-66, Wrocław

Kawiarnia Literatka – Rynek 57, Wrocław

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2 Responses to “Wrocław – a survey”

  1. Smith Adrian Says:

    Wroclaw is a beautiful place in Poland. I am planning my trip to Wroclaw, Poland in October. I really appriciate the author of this blog to provide very helpful information and guidance.

    • staggeredhermit Says:

      I’m delighted you think so. Pestka was truly superb and I hope if you do manage to get there you give them my regards!


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