Cafes are a must-do part of my travel plans. Here are my favorite cafes from my travels – some were recommended to me, others I chanced upon, just walking around.
Cafe Central, Vienna
I chanced upon this after exploring the museums in the old part of Vienna. Cafe Central is one of the oldest traditional coffee-houses in Central Europe. It has been operating since 1800s and has been the location for artists, intellectuals and politicians to have discourses and critiques and planning revolutions – some famous and infamous – including Sigmund Freud, Trotsky, Theodor Herzl, Hitler & Tito.
As I walked in through the doors, I was immediately greeted with high vaulted roofs with magnificent chandeliers hanging from them like a ball-room, waiters in tuxedo jackets and the serenading music of classics like Mozart played live by a pianist.
I decided to have the traditional Viennese Coffee, also known as Einspänner Coffee. It had a strong coffee-base and cream on top with shavings of orange peel. It also came with a side of a chocolate, which I popped in my mouth immediately. But I learned later I had to mix it in my coffee, and understood the tuxedoed waiter’s polite but disappointed look towards me.
Stumptown Coffee, Portland OR
Portland, Oregon is the new frontier of the craft-coffee scene in America and I was recommended Stumptown. The name comes from early days of the city’s founding, which created a large section of stumps after cutting down the trees earning Portland the nick-name Stump Town.
The coffee was amazing of course. But the highlight of my visit was an influencer coming in with a full light and camera-crew and filming the entire menu, the coffee-making process, the ambience and the customers. So, I am probably on a youtube or instagram video somewhere.
Cafe du Monde, New Orleans
Cafe du Monde is one of the heritage coffee houses of New Orleans and listed as a must-do on all travel guides to this historic city. And the cafe does stand up to its name. It’s located at the heart of the city right across the Mississippi river.
The colonial-era windows and long-hanging vintage fans reminded me of my grandparents’ house located on the other side of the world in India.
I was initially disappointed to find long lines across the block even during the early morning hours, however, I was told the long lines were for take-out only, since the entire city was fond of this place. The dine-in option had a smaller queue and there was direct seating available if I didn’t mind sharing my table with other customers.
I felt like a VIP being led by the server across long lines and getting seated immediately. I still don’t understand why a lot of folks in the US would prefer standing in long lines for a ‘reserved’ table.
The coffee is New Orleans style Cafe Au Lait – made with the traditional boiled milk. I am going to let you in on a secret so you don’t have to buy the brand coffee from here. The characteristic taste of this coffee comes from adding chicory – a Creole and French Colonial twist.
Imagine my surprise when this tasted exactly like Madras Filter Coffee I drank growing up in India. Same thing – Chicory. I have also been told this is the same ingredient in Vietnamese Style Coffee. So all you have to do is buy Chicory powder and you can make New Orleans, Madras and Vietnamese coffee at your home.
Kozlovna Restaurant, Prague
Not technically a cafe, but had a great cafe-like ambience and one of the best tasting coffee. Like many other places in Prague, Kozlovna had brick-styled arcs and low ceilings reminiscent of medieval cellars. In addition, it had a …… goat-theme going on – which made me take a second glance passing by and deciding to enter.
The coffee had whacky images of a gradual transformation into goats and the beer had a cartoon of being milked from goats directly into beer-mugs. I just love whacky Czech advertising.
Caffe Veloce, Kyoto
I walked into this by mistake thinking this was a tea-house. The cafe scene in Japan is generally minimalistic and pristine, with cafes looking like apple-stores. But this one looked like a comfy diner or a library.
I ordered a cup of matcha and some coffee-jelly – and the coffee-jelly in a dessert-bowl topped with ice-cream and whipped cream blew my mind. I also loved drinking coffee-jelly pieces mixed with condensed milk from the vending machines.
Spending time at cafes is the thing I miss the most during the Covid lockdown. I am looking forward to visiting them once things get better.