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What’s new in the Eastern European coffee market?

Time was, if you found yourself in Lithuania, in need of a decent coffee, you would have to settle for a cup of hot water poured over ground beans, and count yourself lucky it wasn’t instant. But this is no longer the case. With quality roasters, buzzing cafés and sell-out festivals, the coffee market here is changing. And not just here, but across Eastern Europe as a whole.

Our newest warehouse – based in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius – opened late last year, so we had a chat with our trader, MT, about the region’s newly-thriving coffee scene to get some insight. 

Talking of the growing enthusiasm in his homeland, MT says: “If we compare the Baltic states, Lithuania is one of the most developed in terms of specialty coffee. They still buy commercial coffees, of course, but a demand for specialty is developing. For instance, Lithuania hosts two of the largest specialty coffee festivals in the region”. The first is the Coffee Culture Days Festival, now in its ninth year. This festival also plays host to the national barista championship with the winners going on to represent Lithuania at international level. The second is the Dark Times coffee festival, now in its fourth year, a festival renowned for its great talks, events and, of course, cuppings.

MT adds that across eastern Europe, “the specialty coffee market is growing. Independent roasters do more volume, which means that the big, commercial roasters are having to share more of the market.” When asked what is popular, MT says: “I couldn't say there is a particular origin or flavour profile that they like specifically; just good quality, at an affordable price.” 

So what are some of Eastern Europe’s other coffee hotspots?

Poland

Poland has always had a taste for commercial coffees, but specialty coffee is gaining ground with an ever-growing number of specialty roasters.

Warsaw has developed a bustling scene of quality-obsessed and eager baristas wanting to learn about and serve the best coffees. Specialty roasters have been seen here since 2001 and have built a reputation for sourcing the best arabica greens and profiling optimum roasts and blends. The oldest specialty coffee houses in Warsaw are located in the old part of Ochota district.

Outside of the capital, other major cities also have a thriving specialty scene. In Krakow, which plays host to Poland’s biggest coffee festival, the Tea & Coffee World Cup, there are many independent cafés and a few roasters with the number continuing to grow. This can also be said of Poznan where there is a strong family feel within the coffee community. 

Czech Republic

Prague has long been at the forefront of the specialty scene. This is partly due to Prague’s Coffee Embassy who have made it their mission to educate and promote coffee culture in the Czech Republic. They hold one of the biggest coffee festivals in Eastern Europe – The Prague Coffee Festival, which is growing year on year. 

Outside Prague, cities like Brno have a burgeoning specialty coffee scene. Like Poland, the major cities may lead the way but the smaller cities and towns are developing a specialty coffee culture as well.

Latvia

Not to be outdone by neighbouring Lithuania, Latvia has a budding coffee scene with some great cafes and a growing community of quality roasters. Latvian baristas are some of the world’s finest with Raimonds Zadvornonvs taking part in the London Coffee Masters championship this year.

While Riga’s specialty coffee scene may still be small, it has ample potential with the vibrancy of a culture on the move. 

Slovakia

Slovakia has always had a passion for coffee, unfortunately, during the Communist era, many famous coffee houses were forcibly closed down but, when the European borders reopened, coffee culture in Slovakia was reignited. Now the specialty coffee is thriving in the capital and larger cities. 

The perfect cup of coffee in Slovakia is 100% Arabica espresso, professionally roasted and prepared. However, most of Bratislava’s coffee is offered in a blend of both Arabica and Robusta. The highlight of the year for coffee loving Slovakians is the imaginatively titled Coffeefest based in Bratislava in April. 

Quality is permanent

MT concludes by stating that this burgeoning taste for specialty coffee in Eastern Europe is more than just a passing trend: “The demand for specialty coffee is consumer led. Educated by the numerous coffee festivals throughout the region, the consumers have a real knowledge and taste for quality coffee. There’s a definite move away from the commercial coffee – coffee that was roasted a few months ago; mass roasted beans, often months travelling through distribution channels to the consumer –  towards smaller batch-roasts; 10-20kg of high-quality green beans sourced from interesting and different regions around the world. These speciality batches are getting more and more popular, not just in Lithuania, but across the whole region”. 

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