From castles once home to Bohemian kings and Roman emperors to classic beer halls serving up sizable pints of Pilsner, Prague is equal parts fairytale and lived in.
Last year the Czech capital saw over eight million tourists getting lost among the city’s cobbled street and Gothic spires. At every turn, the city’s rich architectural history comes into view. Everything from Gothic and Baroque to Renaissance and Art Nouveau are all brought together here, reflecting the uncertain currents of history in Bohemia and an urban life dating back more than 1,000 years.
Whether you choose to spend an afternoon exploring the bars and restaurants that surround the Old Town Square, gather with other world travelers under the famed Astronomical Clock, or stroll across the Charles Bridge and along the Royal Route to the Prague Castle, the city’s meandering streets are certain to delight you.
Prague also has a refreshingly modern side that shouldn’t be missed. A short stroll along the banks of calmly flowing River Vlatna makes this clear with a stop at Frank Gehry’s and Vlado Milunić’s iconic Dancing House or a visit to the popular farmer’s market at Náplavka for delicious homespun and modern Czech fare. The residential areas that flank the busy historic center reveal lively neighborhoods filled with modern cafes, bars, restaurants, and food markets that are all worth exploring as well.
In an interview conducted a few years ago, Jordan Michelman of Sprudge explained why Eastern Europe was quickly becoming an exciting place for coffee. According to Michelman, “The generational narrative there is part of it in a really fascinating way. All these kids born in the late 80s and 90s, the first generation to grow up after Soviet rule, and they’re the ones who are often launching these incredible cafes and restaurants.”
It should come as no surprise then that the city of Prague is also home to a well-established and superb set of specialty coffee shops, each with its own unique atmosphere and flair.
EMA Espresso Bar
For many years, Kamil Skrbek owned and operated Café Lounge, a traditional Viennese art-nouveau style café in the center of Prague. The café offered casual dining with a focus on coffee, expanding over time to include a slate of natural wines, a patisserie, and an excellent kitchen. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that Kamil first began regularly visiting his brother in London where he quickly discovered the pioneers of third wave coffee: Prufrock, Kaffeine, Flat White, Taylor St. Baristas, among many others. Around the same time, the first Czech microroasters were already establishing themselves in Prague, including Doubleshot and La Bohéme. Taking note of the latest trends, Kamil began looking for the perfect location to open his own espresso bar.
In June 2013, EMA’s first shop opened on Na Florenci, right next to the historic Masaryk Train Station. The café shares the building with the Czech Language Research Institute, a detail aptly incorporated into the design of the cafe. In fact, EMA takes its name from a young girl who appears in a popular Czech children’s book. The name, too, has become an acronym being re-worked by the EMA team all the time: Espresso, Mocha, Americano and European Masters of Aeropress, for example. The details of the space also conjure up elements of a classroom, including time-worn wooden chairs that easily remind customers of all ages of their school years. The shop, however, remains take-away focused with only limited seating available at a large communal wooden table. By design, EMA is a modern reincarnation of the historic European coffeehouse – a perfect space for meeting others and enjoying good coffee.
Coffee drinkers from novice to professionals will find the perfect cup here. EMA regularly offers a rotation of coffees from a variety of European roasteries. On our recent visit, for instance, they had coffees from Slovak roastery .black and the German roaster Johannes Bayer. The bulk of their offerings come from their own roastery. At the time of our visit, they had a number of different coffees on offer: a washed caturra anaerobic microlot from Colombia that they bought as a whole from Yannin Diaz from Finca El Paraiso, as well as two offerings from El Salvador from the Los Pirineos farm: natural Pacamara or Yellow Honey Bourbon. I chose the delicious Yellow Honey Bourbon and enjoyed my cup with a Linzer heart-shaped cookie on the side. These local delights are one their best-selling cookies and certainly a delicious compliment to any cup of coffee.
EMA’s success led to the opening of a second location in the underrated district of Palmovka in 2017 with a slightly different concept. Located in an old factory building, it is one-part espresso bar, one-part bakery, and one-part roastery. This holy trinity quickly became a neighborhood favorite, serving up their freshly roasted Alf & Bet coffee and a wide selection of breads and pastries straight out of the oven. And while the Na Florenci location remains a multi-roaster bar where visitors can still great coffees by guest roasters (about 30% of their offerings are guest beans), EMA’s Palmovka location, with its onsite roastery, only serves Alf & Bet coffees.
There is more to look forward to from EMA as well. At the end of 2020, Kamil signed a lease for a new spot next to the Krizikova metro station in Karlin, so there will be another EMA location to be discovered soon. The combination of thoughtful design, top baristas, great coffee, and baked goods is certainly what makes EMA tick. Kamil and his ever-growing team will surely be an excellent addition to this thriving district.
Na Florenci 1420/3, Prague 110 00 Czech Republic
Tucked away on a quiet side street in Prague’s Jewish Quarter (Josefov) is Onesip, a charming little specialty coffee shop run by two long-time friends, Zdeněk Hýbl and Adam Gaszczyk. The duo met during the height of their careers as professional yo-yo players, but later abandoned this path to pursue the passion they had both found while dabbling part-time in the coffee industry to support their yo-yoing. Since 2016, they’ve been working together to build up their espresso bar.
Onesip serves up all of the standard coffee beverages, including both espresso-based drinks and filtered coffee. Since they are a busy shop – especially in the mornings and afternoons – they’ve decided only to batch brew in an effort to introduce more people to high-quality filter coffee. Their investment in perfecting their batch brew system has proven successful: it is one of their best-selling products.
The shop itself serves as a place to indulge in good coffee with no distractions. With only three seats in the window and a small stand-up barista bar, the shop is designed as a classical espresso bar. The centerpiece of the shop is their beautiful Kees van der Westen machine – a truly functional work of art. The Mirage Idrocompresso was developed in 2003 and is a lever machine, meaning that there is no pump that creates pressure, but instead a spring and piston that push hot water through the coffee puck. Zdeněk explains the process as he prepares another customer’s latte: “it is much more messy and slower than conventional espresso machines, but you can really control the pre-infusion stage and because the pressure is ramped down slightly during extraction, the end result is a sweeter and more rounded tasting cup.” Kees eventually stopped producing these lever machines, so the one at OneSip is one of the last three that the company ever made.
At the shop, you can find coffees roasted by the duo’s roasting venture, Candycane, as well as a rotating selection of guest beans by Round Hill Roastery and Coffeecollective. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, I stopped by to try a cup of Ecoagricola as part of their batch brew. For this coffee, Zdeněk explained the method of processing as tropical fermentation. For the first twenty-four hours, the Yellow Catai cherry soaks in fermentation tanks at constant temperatures and pressure and is then washed. The final product is a fresh Brasilian cup with tasting notes of pineapple, roasted plums, chocolate, nuts, and perhaps a smidge of rum.
The atmosphere at Onesip is always warm and welcoming and, often, you can find Adam and Zdeněk behind the bar, where they are more than willing to share their adventures in the coffee world or discuss the mechanics of making espresso drinks with their Kees. Not to mention, you’ll be sure to receive top-notch barista service here; in 2019, Zdeněk won first place in the Czech Barista Championships.
A simple sign in the shape of a takeaway cup marks the entranceway to Kafe Karlin, located at Sokolovská 46/51. Built to be a classic espresso bar, the space is small, minimalistic, and consists of standing-room only. The floor – a detail not to be missed – resembles the cobbled street outside the door making Kafe Karlin feel like an extension of Prague’s meandering streets and that stop for a coffee an easy detour.
In many ways, the shop’s design is a gesture to the humble beginnings of Kafe Karlin. The café’s co-founders, Adam Dvorak and Zdenek Smrcka, started the project a few years ago with a small coffee stand at a local farmer’s market in Prague. Gradually, they gained a loyal following of regulars and eventually started their own coffee courses to share their knowledge and teach the general public how to make perfect filtered coffee at home. This was the beginning of Kafe Karlin as it exists today.
Within a few years, Adam and Zdenek opened two other espresso bars in the city. By this time, they were already roasting their own coffee, but did not yet have their own roastery. In 2019, they finally fulfilled one of their dreams and opened their own roastery and education center, complete with the birth of their own brand, Respekt Coffee, which they serve and sell at each of their locations.
Recent popular choices for both staff and customers at Kafe Karlin have been Indonesian Frinsa Ateng Super for filter and Ethiopian Chelbesa for espresso. However, they always at least five kinds of coffee available for filter and espresso and they are constantly rotate their choice to keep their regulars tastebuds engaged. On the filter menu at Kafe Karlin, you’ll often find clean and juicy coffees from Africa, primarily from Kenya. Other recent favorites include coffee from Java Frinsa Estate in Indonesia, a family-run business located on the fertile volcanic soil of Bandng Highland.
Their shop’s slogan is — “coffee faster than the tram.” This way regulars can stop in, get their morning filter, and still catch their tram at the nearby stop to get to the office. Kafe Karlin proved many times during my stay in Prague that familiar faces, fast service, and fantastic coffee is a perfect way to start the day.
Muj salek Kavy
Even in the middle of the week, this popular neighbourhood coffee shop located in Prague’s Karlin district is a hot destination for locals and tourists alike. The café belongs to DoubleShot – Czechia’s foremost specialty coffee roasters. It was their first coffee shop – and they have since expanded to have several shops across the capital city – and it had already existed before DoubleShot bought it, after the former owner moved to Berlin to continue his coffee ventures there.
Muj salek kavy offers a cozy atmosphere with industrial elements, a style that they settled on in the early 2000s before this kind of interior design swept the coffee world. Although, the owners have hinted that they are planning to revisit the interior in the coming months so this will definitely be a coffeeshop transformation to watch in the coming months.
The popular Prague cafe, whose name translates to ‘My Cup of Coffee’ in Czech, has made it their mission to serve the best possible coffee that they can buy, roast, prepare, and serve. Unlike the other stops on my Prague tour, what I particularly liked about Muj was their friendly table service and that all of their products matched the incredible quality and taste of their coffee.
The coffee they serve at Muj comes exclusively from their own roastery, where freshness, taste diversity and a close relationship with the farmers is valued. The team tries to visit the farmers as often as possible, building a close relationship with those involved in the production and supply process. Travelling to Central America and Africa frequently to select coffees, they look to taste the terroir, variety, and processing method, but also to experience the philosophy of the producers they work with firsthand.
In the shop, they offer beans to suit everyone’s taste. For starters, they always offer two different coffees for espresso drinkers. The first is their own espresso blend Tam Dem, which changes its composition during the year, but always remains fresh and full of taste. The spring version consists of a washed Bolivian caturra from Marcelino Katari, dry processed Ethiopian coffee from Blida Kojowa processing station and washed Kenyan coffee from Gakuyuini factory. In this espresso blend, it is easy to taste the sweet and fruity notes of caramel, dark fruits, and Dutch cocoa. While Tam Dem is the choice for visitors looking for a more traditional espresso-based beverage, Muj salek kavy also offers a single origin option for those looking for something different. During my visit, I tried the Gakuyuini Espresso, which originates from the Nyeri region of Kenya and is grown by the Thirikwa Farmer’s Cooperative Society. The Gakuyuini is a juicy and dense espresso with a distinctively fruity taste, similar to a currant jam, balanced out by hints of plums and marzipan. It was perfect in my flat white, which accompanied a decadent English breakfast.
The selection of coffee doesn’t stop there, however, as they also always offer three new coffees each month which they prepare for a batch brew and one method hand brew method. During my visit, they were relying on the trusty Hario V60 and had three different filter coffees on offer.
Also, on their menu was a delicious addition: Irish coffee with a Czech twist. Called “Hustopečská káva or Hustopeč coffee, the drink is named after the eponymous city in the country where the magical almond spirit used to make the drink is produced. While I didn’t get to try this, it’s definitely the first drink I’ll be ordering when I return to Muj on my next trip to Prague.