It was the Kávový klub (Coffee club), a group of enthusiasts and genuine connoisseurs, who contributed hugely to the coffee renaissance that we have been experiencing in Prague for several years now. In its beginnings it acted as a training centre for baristas, then played a part at farmers’ markets (to this day they are still active at Jiřího z Poděbrad Square, Náplavka, and Vítězné Square, also known as Kulaťák), and it didn’t take long before its founders Adam and Zdeněk opened the brick-and-mortar café called Kafe Karlín, followed by its younger sister café Kafe Kolej at Smíchov railway station.
Kafe Karlín is located on Sokolovská Street not far from modern office buildings in Karlín in Prague. Thanks to this strategic location there are dozens of customers dropping by daily to have a quick espresso on their way to work. The moderate size of the place doesn’t necessarily invite customers for a long sit-down over a book but there are two tables to stand by where you can perhaps enjoy a delicious mini cheesecake. In the aesthetically pleasing interior there is a non-traditional cobblestone floor that follows from the pavement outside.
Adam and Zdeněk pass for true experts among baristas. Therefore, you can rest assured that with their cafés and stands you are in safe hands. You can see both of them in action in Karlín and at farmers’ markets. The boys are respecters of high-class coffee and are selective when it comes to picking which high-quality green seeds they’ll have roasted. In Kávový klub they provide courses for professionals who wish to start their own business as well as for ordinary coffee lovers who wish to get better at making coffee at home.
Do you have any particular relationship with Karlín that factored in your decision to not only open your café here but also to name it after this quarter?
We do now, of course. We actually formed this attachment when we opened the café. Adam even moved to Karlín afterwards. Today, Karlín to us is a beautiful and very pleasant quarter.
Surely there are dozens of customers coming to your café every day. Do you have regulars from Karlín whom you know by name? How long did it take to win their favour?
Naturally we do. We attempt to offer more to people than just selling coffee. If you put your heart into it, people will know and will like to come back. I guess we know around twenty regulars by name, although there are many more who stop by regularly every day. Some of them we remember from the markets and they followed us here. That makes us incredibly happy.
What are your favourite places in the neighbourhood that you visit regularly?
In Karlín there are plenty of interesting and much liked places, for example the interesting foursome located in a row on Křižíkova Street: Veltlin, Tea Mountain, Můj šálek kávy, and Garage. Mostly we go to Lokál Hamburk, though, which is just round the corner, or to the newly opened bar Diego. A bar, or actually a pub, offering a good selection of local and foreign beers had been missing here. With Lokál it is really nice that their staff sometimes come to us for coffee in return.
Besides Kafe Karlín you also own Kávový klub and Kafe Kolej. How are these projects interlinked?
That’s simple – via high quality. Kávový klub is sort of an umbrella organisation, under it we organise courses or sell our roasted coffee. All our cafés and stands have a high-quality and properly made coffee in common. Thus we have customers visiting different branches depending on where they are at the moment. We cannot forget to mention our wonderful baristas because you can see that as well as our coffee, customers come to see them, too.
What is the difference between making coffee under limited conditions of a small stand and in a fully equipped café?
When you take away the natural elements – such as the wind, rain, sun, constantly blown coffee, humidity and temperature changes that make it really hard to set a coffee grinder and can accidentally cause sun tanning on the verge of sunstroke, or frostbitten lips to the point where you can hardly repeat customer’s ‘double espresso with a dash of milk’ order - making coffee outside is not that different from a cup prepared comfortably in a café. You have to adapt to a lot of things but it’s possible. Generally speaking, making coffee outside is easier when it’s 25°C than in -5°C, which is a temperature in which we are also able to work.
What does a person have to be able to manage in order to become a great barista? How did you two become baristas?
Barista is actually a profession and one needs time to learn it. It’s not as easy as it looks from the other side of the counter. You need to be patient, have discipline, and we can also call it being detail-oriented. One must always try and experiment, and possibly test new ways how to improve the taste of coffee. Zdeněk became a barista almost naturally – after finishing gastronomic school and working in a café he had become gradually more and more interested in the profession. He was lucky to meet and work with good people, and then it was crystal-clear that his life would revolve around coffee. Adam’s journey was noticeably more complicated, although started with a cup of good coffee. He considers tasting his first cup of high-class coffee to be the beginning of it all.