Weeks and months have passed like days and I have no better explanation for not topping up A Black Spot with new reviews other than the hectic lifestyle I’ve developed this recent wee while. To make it even worse, I have been consciously opting for mochas in all the new places, and systematically taking photos of those – but never got round to writing my thoughts up.
I feel it was important for me to say this, to maintain the objectivity of my judgement, especially in the circumstances that I’m about to describe. So, yes – I have not given up on caffeine and can still tell (this part is certainly less objective) a good cuppa from a bad one.
And yet, rating of venues is always difficult when I venture abroad, but that’s exactly what happened that pushed me to writing this piece – a trip to my childhood holiday destination: Gdansk.
It’s been more than a decade since I visited the biggest of the Polish Tricity – a metropolis of three cities over the Balric Sea; in fact, I never stayed there more than a day, always camping with the folks at nearby Sopot. Back then, I would have not had coffee either, so it’s fair to say that this return to the homeland was, in fact, a completely new experience.
I made the most of the good currency exchange (the reason for all these groom parties deciding on a stag do in Poland) and opted for an apartment in the very heart of the Old Town – right in the historic centre, surrounded by atmospheric eateries and coffee shops. Just to make my planned indulgence in this gourmet spenders’ heaven even sweeter, I was joined by one of my closest friends for the duration of my stay, and a second one for one of the nights. All of us coffee lovers – I was in for a treat.
But, alas, one can only cram in this much in a four-day stay, so out of a list of recommended cafes I only managed to visit three, plus a random fourth visit to an unassuming venue. All of these were peculiar and so much different to what I’m used to back in the UK. And here’s why…
Retro Cafe – kawiarnia z duszą (cafe with soul)
As my friend and I quickly unpacked and hit the streets for something to eat (and a long overdue catchup) we had plenty of places to choose from right on our doorstep, but Retro immediately caught our eyes as the place to go to – a few empty seats (but not too many, which could be a bad sign in this area busy with tourists), nice outdoor decor and a refreshing looking menu. Ewa, my friend, went straight for a smoothie, while I decided to kick start my holiday with Bohema – a mocha, reinforced with Kahlua and Baileys; we topped this off with a cake each. Although it looked the part, the drink was more than I bargained for – if the sweetness of the chocolate with whipped cream wasn’t enough, the double kick from the liqueurs almost knocked me to the ground. I drank as much as I could, but combined with the oaty, gluten free apple pie, the experience was way too sweet, even for my tastebuds.
But this did not put me off coming back another morning, for our sourdough bread with salmon for breakfast – and a flat white this time. This looked much more promising, starting from the latte art, moving onto the silky texture of the brew presenting itself a good balance between the punchiness of the coffee and the sweetness of milk.
Since there were three of us that morning, there were also more coffees to judge the place on, although I left the tasting to their owners. Ewa went for Bohema’s sister, Awangarda (the liqueur here was Advocaat), and openly regretted her choice, summarising it as “I don’t think this combination works”. Our other friend had requested an americano with milk, but received a black coffee; she bravely attempted drinking it as such, but had to renew her request for the white stuff – a testament to what we had all agreed on previously: that a black coffee can be drunk and enjoyed, if it’s a good coffee to start with.
Verdict? A nice place with a “coffee garden” at the front to catch some fresh air and gossip – but you have to know what to order to avoid disappointment…
Pros: nice atmosphere; extensive menu
Cons: some drink combinations simply don’t work; hit-and-miss service (at least outside – they were hardly ever there!)
When we spotted this place on the corner, seemingly full of flowers inside and out, but bearing signage advertising coffees and sandwiches, to say we were baffled is an understatement. The potted plants and garden accessories guarding the entrance were very effective at hiding it, and we almost thought the place was shut – but a look through leaf-covered window revealed it was indeed open, and even had visitors. Luck had it that I had arrived to Gdansk with a cold, and at that time we were wandering about Wreszcz, the new city centre, and I had no medicine on me to help with a sudden fit of cough that hit as we crossed the cafe’s door. In retrospect, I figure it must have been something in the air – pick and choose whether to blame the pollen or the fragrance as the place turned out to be a cake/salad/sandwich shop and a florist in one. One half of the venue – the one not occupied by plants of all shapes and sizes – had a few tables crammed together, fighting for floor space with decorative furniture and household accessories.
The witty shopkeeper aided my coughing with a sweetie and was not fazed by my request for a mocha, which did not appear on her menu (as far as I’m aware, there was no menu at all which gives you an idea of how easy going the place was). The cake selection was there but declining fast as I snatched the last piece of cheesecake, while Ewa opted for a safe cappucino and french plum pastry combo.
The portions – both of cakes and coffees – were massive, and I – me, a cheesecake lover! – had to concede defeat from the last few bites. As for the coffee, although the shopkeeper’s first attempt (as I gather), was quite nice, although just a little bit bitter on the chocolate side. No problems reported by Ewa as she cleaned her plate and cup while arranging our afternoon plans. And once we were ready to leave, I was pointed in the direction of a friendly pharmacist who would know how to sort out my throat.
All in all, a somewhat bizarre experience – but aren’t those just the most memorable ones?
Pros: freshly made lunches, good coffee; friendly atmosphere, a quiet place in the New Town – and certainly a haven in the concrete jungle…!
Cons: not good for hay fever sufferers; plus, catch those cakes before they disappear!
This cleverly-named place (which stands for ticker – or, in other words, heart) was recommended by whoever of my friends I asked about Gdansk – and no wonder, as the whole cafe was pumping with life even after 8pm which is when we arrived for a hot drink to warm us up in the chill of the evening. Indeed, everything felt warm in the venue: the lighting, the crowds, mulled wine and tray bakes. Although I expected a venue open that late to serve some savoury foods too, the menu was limited to brews, alcohol and cakes – a truly “hipster” experience as one of the recommending friends would say.
We sat in a pair of comfy armchairs and unwound after a long day in town, enjoying the atmosphere, which felt something like a cottage with fireplace lighting… and buzzing with people. Firstly my coconut mocha and apple pie arrived, followed by Ewa’s mulled wine. It all felt so right in the circumstances – but was, yet again, spoilt by the sweetness of my coffee.
If there was one lesson I was going to take out of this visit to Poland it would be to think twice about my drink-food combinations: don’t double up on the sugar! In this case, the warm apple pie actually acted as a (weak) counter-balance to the mocha, in which I tasted very little of the actual coffee, under the layer of whipped cream and desiccated coconut, milk foam, chocolate and coconut syrup – all in conjunction incredibly sweet.
This is a difficult one to summarise. The apple pie was divine, the place all in all great… I just wish my coffee had more coffee in it!
Pros: friendly, warm atmosphere, with an extensive hot, cold and fortified drinks’ list
Cons: again, be careful what you go for unless you’re prepared for a sugar coma!
The name stands for the most common thing in the Old Town’s landscape – not the amber, although you can find it aplenty on this street, but a traditional tenement. Lines upon lines of these colourful buildings add to the character of Gdansk, and many other historic cities in Poland. Cafe Kamienica, as the name suggests, is one of those, but there’s no mistaking of its purpose: the tables are flooding out its door on the raised terrace and beneath, inviting the passersby, tired of choosing their amber jewellery.
For an ideal compromise on our last day in Gdansk we decided to sit on the terrace, with our suitcases out of the way of the many visitors that came in and out for their Sunday treat. Having learnt from the previous experiences, I decided to just go for a mocha, even though the cake menu looked painfully appealing. Ewa was not so restrained and went for a chocolate and raspberry cake to accompany her black coffee.
Alas, how shocked was I to discover that my mocha was not that sweet at all! Apart from the whipped cream (which, like in all other places in Gdansk, came from an aerosol and was therefore fairly light and fluffy), the brew was well balanced with what tasted like dark chocolate mixed with coffee. I started thinking again about that orange cheesecake that I was salivating to on the menu, before I saw it delivered to the guy next door – the portion was huge, and I decided I better leave room for those pierogi (dumplings) that I had planned for my last meal.
Before we departed, I nipped inside under the excuse of needing the ladies, but in fact wanting to take a look at the decor, which I had read about in reviews. What I had read turned out to be true: the cosy two-floor interior looked like a haven on a cold, winter afternoon and certainly a place where disappearing for a couple of hours would be an easy feat.
Out of all four cafes, this is certainly the one I would return to – not to give it another chance, but to make my next stay in Gdansk that much better.
Pros: lovely atmosphere in and out; attentive staff; good portions, tasty coffee and great prices for the heart of the Old Town
Cons: you need to travel to Gdansk to enjoy it!