Affectionately referred to as the Pearl of the Danube, Budapest, Hungary, has become one of Europe’s top travel destinations in recent years. It also has a particularly noteworthy specialty coffee scene that’s worth exploring on your next trip to the Hungarian capital.
What to do in Budapest
Amidst the hills of Buda, visitors can stroll around the cobbled medieval quarter, basking in the grandeur of Buda Castle, admiring the colourful tiles of Matthias Church, and taking in the impressive views of the cityscape below. On the Pest side of the river sits the magnificent domed Parliament and around it the elegant nineteenth-century mansions that today house the shops, restaurants, cafés, and bars that make this vibrant city buzz.
There is plenty to do and see in Budapest. Whether you’re spending the afternoon exploring the bustling stalls in the Great Market Hall, relaxing in the city’s many historic thermal baths, or heading to the crumbling ramshackle courtyards to take in the atmosphere of the infamous ‘ruin pubs’ after nightfall, you’ll need to get your caffeine fix. No matter what you’re looking for, Budapest’s thriving specialty-coffee scene will have something to offer during your stay.
The Growth of Specialty Coffee in Budapest since 2012
In fact, Budapest has been earning its spot on the specialty-coffee map since 2012 when My Little Melbourne and Espresso Embassy first opened their doors. As the pioneers of filter brews and espresso roasts in Hungary’s capital city, these two shops built the foundation for the well over a dozen coffeehouses that can be found in Budapest today. These cafés represent the new generation of baristas and coffee aficionados who have helped put great espresso, classic brews, and coffee cocktails, on coffee shop menus across the city. Without a doubt, Budapest is quickly finding its place among Europe’s top coffee destinations.
Although there are many more coffee shops to explore, here are a few of the standout locales from my recent visit, each offering its own charming setting and serving up some of the best specialty coffee in Budapest.
Where to find the best specialty coffee in Budapest
My Little Melbourne & My Little Brew Bar
My Little Melbourne was among the first specialty-coffee shops to open in the Hungarian capital. Located in the historic Madách Imre Square, the café is steps away from the heart of the city’s former Jewish quarter, which is now home to many hip restaurants, shops, bars, and cafés.
Inspired by a recent holiday in Australia, co-owners Dia and Peter Balázsi set out in 2012 to create a space in Budapest with the same easy-going Aussie-style atmosphere they fell in love with on their trip, where locals could indulge in good coffee—especially the Australian-inspired flat whites—and take time off to enjoy high-quality coffee in a cozy but lively environment.
“We’ve always believed in the power of the overall experience of drinking coffee,” Peter says of his and Dia’s vision for the café. “In our case, this meant a laid-back, sunny Aussie vibe paired with an effortlessly cool interior design and above all, perfectly made coffee and absolutely positive and helpful customer service. We really wanted to have a piece of Melbourne within the heart of Budapest and according to many of our Australian guests, we’ve succeeded.”
In an effort to further push the limits of the city’s specialty coffee scene, the Balázsis decided to expand the business in 2015, opening My Little Brew Bar next door. As with the café, this latest venture was a first for Hungary, as well. “After three years of success, we decided to have a separate brew bar— the very first in Hungary for true brew lovers,” Peter says. “We also wanted to combine brew and design, so the space became not only a brew bar but a design shop as well, where all our coffee lovers could find some coffee- or design-related goodies for themselves and their homes.”
The side-by-side shops cater to every kind of coffee drinker. In the espresso bar, you can find excellent roasts from Budapest’s own Racer Beans Coffee, as well as selections from London’s Workshop Coffee. Most recently, the espresso offerings included Racer Beans’ El Salvador Las Palmas, and Workshop Coffee’s Caballero Espresso from Honduras. Next door, the brew bar offers a selection from the same roasteries, as well as a rotating menu of filter coffee from Australian guest roasters.
If measured by the number of espresso- and milk-based drinks sold every day, My Little Melbourne is the more popular of the two shops. However, My Little Brew Bar is where the coffee-obsessed will likely feel most at home. And if you can’t choose? Well, Dia and Peter created a solution for that, too: Guests are welcome to move between the two shops freely.
The service at both locations is superb, adding to the warm and welcoming atmosphere. The baristas are not only friendly, but they also have extensive expertise about the industry as a whole. There’s a good reason for that: Peter and Dia encourage staff to engage with the European coffee culture nearby and organize trips for their baristas to some of the greatest specialty-coffee cities on the continent. Their most recent destination was Barcelona. No wonder the baristas at My Little Melbourne and My Little Brew Bar are always happy to share their coffee expertise.
The line of visitors clamouring for a table at Cirkusz begins to form in the early morning and stays solid until the shop closes at 5 p.m. The cafe is located in the former Jewish quarter and is a popular brunch spot for both tourists and locals. While the brunch is certainly worth the wait, what many visitors likely don’t know is that Cirkusz has been serving up some of the best specialty coffee in Hungary for years.
An easy tell that the crew at Cirkusz knows what their doing is the quality of the equipment. Their coffee is roasted in-house on a Probat and is prepared with a Mahlkönig PEAK and a La Marzocco Strada. Equipment aside, however, it’s the baristas that really make this place shine.
Among them are Edit Juhász, who placed third at the 2014 Latte Art World Championship in Melbourne, Australia, just two months after the café and restaurant opened, and Adam Torok, 2018 Barista Champion of Hungary. You won’t find Adam’s and Edit’s trophies at Cirkusz though. They have relocated to The Perfect Match next door. The Perfect Match is the latest addition to the city’s coffee scene by the masterminds who founded Cirkusz.
The Perfect Match
On a recent visit, the paint on the exterior was still fresh and the finishing touches were still being out on the café space, including affixing the exterior sign. Compared to Cirkusz next door, this café is pint-sized. There are only about eight tables available for guests in total. And although there’s a selection of food available, the real focus—the real purpose of The Perfect Match—is the coffee. In fact, since 2016, the team behind The Perfect Match—Edit along with Attila Jambor, and Tibor Tamasi—have been working with Adam to roast coffee under their own name: Bagira. What started as a boutique roastery has quickly become the biggest in all of Hungary. Bagira is known for well-balanced roasts. They also have a heavy focus on ethical sourcing and single-origin beans.
“We have beans for everyone,” co-owner Tibor Tamasi says. “Dark roasted Brazilian for Italian wave lovers, an El Salvador/Brazil specialty blend for those who drink white coffees—it’s full of chocolate and nutty flavors. We also have single-origin 90+ coffees for those who like light-roasted coffees as an espresso or filter.” For a little shop, this place has it all and, without a doubt, everyone will be able to find a perfect (coffee) match here.
Blue Bird Cafe & Roastery
Just around the corner from Cirkusz and The Perfect Match is The Blue Bird Cafe and Roastery, a colourful gem on a quiet street in the Jewish Quarter. This urban retreat is one of the best specialty coffee shops in Budapest for caffeine lovers. There is even a sign hanging outside greeting visitors with a reminder that coffee is the most important meal of the day.
In the warmer months, you can sip your drink of choice while swinging from a hammock outside. On cold winter days, you can nestle into a cozy corner inside the cheery bird-themed shop. In either case, you’ll have a front-row view of the stunning 1872 synagogue designed by the famous Austrian architect, Otto Wagner, directly across the street.
The Blue Bird’s interior design provokes a sense of whimsy that’s been artfully constructed with superb attention to detail. On the main level, you’ll find mosaic tile floors and a broad archway made up of hundreds of differently shaped pieces of wood around the espresso bar. There’s also custom wood furniture and quirky avian-themed accents throughout the space. The vibe is imaginative and sunny without being obnoxious, contributing to the Blue Bird’s reputation as one-of-a-kind among the city’s cafés.
The Blue Bird roasts its own coffee right next door, so you’re guaranteed to have a fresh brew when you order from the extensive filter-coffee menu. You can choose your brew method, too—everything from a V60 to Chemex, AeroPress, French press, siphon, and cold brew is available on the bar. Considering the company’s penchant for eccentricity, you won’t be surprised to find thoughtful and fun alcoholic options, too. We particularly loved Sascha’s Choice, a cold brew-infused bottled beer that is the result of a collaboration between Blue Bird and a beloved local craft brewery called Horizont.
If you’re lucky, Blue Bird’s own artist-in-residence will draw your portrait on your cup while you wait for your order. Images by the same artist are also pasted around the shop. The drawings showcase the menu items, making the menu itself a unique and interesting creation.
Update: Due to COVID-19, WarmCup had to close indefinitely as of the end of 2020.
Also located in the Jewish Quarter is WarmCup, where customers linger inside at the windows watching the busy street scene change from moment to moment. Other patrons might be grabbing a coffee before heading in to see a film at Mozi Art+Cinema, the independent art-house theater that shares the same space.
WarmCup’s pairing with the theatre offers a trendy alternative to the average Budapest café by giving visitors the chance to drink great coffee while watching or discussing award-winning films from around the world. It’s a unique atmosphere perfect for coffee lovers and film buffs alike. What’s more, access to the cinema has given WarmCup the opportunity to engage in community events, including those within the coffee industry, on a regular basis. For example, WarmCup regularly organizes screenings of coffee-related films and invites the city’s coffee community to come together to learn and develop.
We would be remiss not to mention that this hybrid café also makes excellent coffee. Coffees served at WarmCup are primarily filter-based and are roasted by London-based Alchemy. Of course, espresso-based drinks are available.
In the summer you can even enjoy an Iwaki cold-drip coffee, an espresso tonic, or V60 over ice and fruit. Regardless of the time of year or reason for your visit, you’ll feel warmly welcomed by the barista team at WarmCup who are eager to share their creations and answer questions from customers. This completes the feeling that WarmCup is the perfect place to try something new, kick up your feet and relax after a busy day, stay for a film, or all of the above. It’s all there for the taking.
This short list does not do the specialty coffee scene in Budapest even a fraction of the justice it deserves, as there are many more shops to discover great coffee in the Hungarian capital. This list includes Espresso Embassy, Double Shot, Kontakt, among others. No matter what you’re looking for, Budapest is serving up some of the best specialty coffee in Europe.
Note: This article originally appeared in the February and March of 2020 print edition of Barista Magazine.