Zagreb isn't short on coffee shops. The city centre is a parade of glass-fronted cafés and smoky outdoor terraces – many are longstanding independents, and there’s barely a chain-store in sight. Croatians are sacrosanct about their kava: it’s something to be enjoyed leisurely, not slugged from a cardboard cup on the way back to the office. That said, much of what you’ll find in your cup is commercially blended and can be spectacularly bland. Luckily, a cluster of ace coffee-shops are flying the flag for specialist and third-wave coffee – some double up as artisan roasteries, too. We’ve trawled them all to bring you a definitive guide to the best coffee Zagreb has to offer.
RECOMMENDED: the best cafés and coffee shops in Zagreb.
'You are now entering Evolution Area' says the sign on the door, which leads through to a coolly minimal white space with a handful of tables grouped around the bar. For several years now Eli's has been Zagreb's leading venue for quality coffee, leading a brown-stuff brewing revolution that is slowly spreading to the city's other bars. It is also one of the few cafe-bars that has remained 100% non-smoking, ensuring that you can actually taste and smell whatever it is you're drinking. A foxy young professional clientele gather here to gas, goss and guzzle coffee from 100% arabica beans selected and roasted by the café owner Nik Orosi, the country’s first specialty coffee roaster and supplies a half-dozen cafés with enough taste to want the best coffee in town.
Flagship city-centre bar of the Cogito bean-roasting outfit, this recently-opened clinic for unrepentant caffeine-a-holics is just off the main street, at the start of the mysterious, half-hidden passageway which leads from Varšavska through to Masarykova. Minimally decorated save for some salvaged furniture and a few pictures, it serves a hard-to-beat brew, plus leaf teas, some freshly-squeezed juices, and that’s about it – save for some muffins and cookies provided by the Piknik bakery and sandwich bar.
Quahwa treat coffee with the reverence it deserves. One of the few independent roasters in town, Quahwa is a smart café situated down an attractive courtyard on Nikole Tesle, an easy walk from the main square. The beans, organic Arabica, are imported from Ethiopia and roasted in the café downstairs. Upstairs, the minimalist interior is cool without feeling cold: cushy ‘70s armchairs and hairpin-legged tables are strewn haphazardly about the polished parquet. Coffee is slightly more expensive than what you'll get in the cafés clustering around nearby Cvjetni Trg, but the difference in quality is discernable and well worth the few extra kunas. Beyond coffee, Matcha-lattes, specialty liquors and excellent craft beers from The Garden provide a respectable list of alternatives.
A recent addition to the growing number of top-drawer cafés in the city centre, Express serves direct-trade coffee from several origins (the specific farm will probably be chalked up on a board) and organic leaf teas. Decidedly mellow in atmosphere, it looks like a tiny place with room for only a handful of drinkers, but actually stretches back deep into the building with a long narrow corridor leading to a semi-hidden smokers’ lounge right at the back. Outdoor seating on the pedestrianised bit of Petrinjska, and decent on-tap beer (Erdinger and O’Hara) ensure that it’s a decent summer-evening spot too.
With bare-brick ceilings, concrete floor and lots of chunky metal, this is very much a post-industrial coffee-drinker’s dream. It’s certainly not without interior-design humour, however, with a long central table mounted on fat lengths of salvaged metal piping, and side tables that look like the interlocking cogs of a machine. The coffee is the main attraction (supplied by local importers and roasters Cogito Coffee), although the organic leaf teas are also a cut above the Zagreb average.
Hidden in an off-street courtyard, this mellow café next to a music shop has quickly built a regular clientele since opening in mid-2011. They take their (free-trade, Ethiopian) coffee very seriously, and serious caffeine addicts will trek halfway across the city to get their regular fix. With poetry readings, jazz in the evenings and art on the walls, it's something of a cult cultural hub into the bargain. The discerning drinks menu marks this spot out as more than just a regular boozer; with Erdinger, Fischers and O'Hara stout on draught.
Thank to a gaggle of designer stores the narrow, arcade-like Dežmanova is fast becoming one of Zagreb’s coolest addresses, an impression only bolstered by the opening of this chic new café-bar. The interior is as modernist as they come but soothing with it. Matt-black walls jostle with warm woody tones, and geometric light fittings convey an arty bent. As far as the drinks are concerned the accent is very much on quality at a decent price – coffee is supplied by local direct-trade roasting outfit Cogito, beers include the locally brewed Zmajsko Pale Ale, long drinks a refreshing Bellini (25kn), and there’s a good wine list with plenty of sparkling options. The cakes are hard to turn down, and there’s an evening menu of pršut and cheese platters.