Join us on a three-day whirlwind of coffee in Poland’s capital.
I had high hopes for cafés in Poland. By many accounts, the Polish specialty coffee scene is booming, a fact brought to the world’s attention by Agnieszka Rojewska, who won the 2018 World Barista Championship. I was born in Poland, but the last time I visited I was 14 and didn’t drink coffee at all. But then again, it was the year 2000 — even if I did drink coffee, it’s not like I would have been able to go on a specialty coffee crawl (in Warsaw or most any other city in the world). So when I started planning my first trip back in two decades, one of the things I was most excited about was checking out coffee shops, a plan my coffee-drinking (though fairly specialty coffee agnostic) parents were happily down for. Though all the cities we visited, including our hometown of Olsztyn in the North and Katowice and Kraków in the South, ended up serving really good coffee, Warsaw required the most planning.
The gorgeous and highly recommended guide book Coffee Spots: Polska, from which I learned quite a bit of Polish specialty coffee history, has 46 listings for Warsaw alone (there’s enough material, in fact, for a Warsaw-only guide). So narrowing it down to three days’ worth of coffee was going to be tough. But, armed with a little research and some advice from a World Barista Champion (though, again, I was there for less than three full days, so please don’t blame her if I didn’t make it to your shop), I made a loose itinerary, and got really excited to drink tasty coffee in a new place.
Relax na Wilczej
Wilcza 17, 00-548 Warszawa, Poland
Our first stop in Warsaw, chosen of course by proximity to our not-quite-ready AirBnB, was one of two locations of Relax (not to be confused with Relaks, which we’ll get to later). The underground space initially seems tiny, but a beautiful black and white coffee cherry and brew method-themed mural opens up into a mezzanine that, in addition to outdoor seating, gives the café a surprising amount of space. As an aside, it seems that in specialty shops in Poland, drip coffee with cold milk poured into it isn’t that typical an order, which is pretty cool. When I asked for drip coffee with milk here we got a small pitcher of perfectly steamed milk on the side. Anyways, both the drip coffee from local roasters Coffeelab and the Kalita Wave of a natural Burundi from Danish favs La Cabra were on point. Had I never in all these years invited my parents to taste a natural coffee before? What a terrible son! They were into it in the adorable way you might expect parents who had never tasted a coffee that tastes like berry jam would be.
Wojciecha Górskiego 9, 00-031 Warszawa
Later that afternoon, we happened upon a charming outdoor seating space under a row of ridiculously cute picnic pennants and found ourselves at Nancy Lee. Named after a song by a relatively obscure American rhythm & blues band that the founders happen to be huge fans of, this sliver of a shop also slings tasty-looking vegetarian and vegan food, plus smoothies (my mom loved the berry one). I saw a Polish AeroPress Championship trophy near the register, so that seemed like the way to go. The washed Burundi from Opole’s excellently-named Hard Beans Coffee Roasters was clean as heck for an AeroPress, and full of bright pear, plum, and honey flavors. The space was warm and welcoming, full of cakes laying around waiting to be topped and frosted.
Wilcza 42, 00-678 Warszawa
In case you find yourself in Warsaw and in need of coffee brewing equipment, this is almost certainly your best bet. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a shop anywhere stocked so thoroughly with pour overs, grinders, and scales. That makes sense, as CoffeeDesk is the brick and mortar location of an online coffee retailer. As it happens, they’re also quite good at making coffee. We tried a Brazil drip and a Rwanda espresso, both from Bydgoszcz-based roasters Audun, and they were both delicious. The space is bright and large enough to feel breezy even with people tapping away at MacBooks all around. I loved its lampshades, which look like minimalist wire outlines of Kentucky Derby hats. On the way out, I struggled to choose which retail bag of coffee to choose from a shelf with 15 to 20 different roasters and over 40 different coffees. I ended up grabbing a natural Rwanda from Warsaw’s Good Coffee Micro Roasters, which ended up easily being one of the favorites from the retail bags I brought back to New York.
Marszałkowska 27/35, 00-639 Warszawa
After a morning stroll through the gorgeous Łazienki Park, we traveled west through rows of government buildings and embassies to Ministerstwo Kawy (The Ministry of Coffee). Again, we encountered CoffeeLab on drip alongside many single origin options, from which I chose the washed Ethiopian from famed Swedish roaster Koppi. As with many Warsaw shops, the brew bar had lots of coffees to choose from (five in fact) and three different size options for each: one made in a tiny Kalita 155, one a V60, and one a Chemex (in addition to regular automatic drip coffee for one of the coffees). That type of variability definitely sets Warsaw shops aside from most American shops. My mom was a bit coffee-ed out by this point, but she couldn’t resist a piece of a giant, cranberry-filled beza, a meringue-based cake (think: a Polish version of a Pavlova). Highly recommended. I don’t know what it is about Warsaw and light-fixtures, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the spider-like structure of desk lamps.
Elektoralna 11, 00-137 Warszawa
If you’re into coffee competition pedigrees, a shop with two Polish Barista titles, two Brewers Cup titles, and an AeroPress title between its two owners is pretty impressive. If that doesn’t concern you, you’ll still probably find Forum a very nice place to sit down and drink some coffee. It weaves a fashionable tone of pink into a wood panel aesthetic that is both beautiful and unmistakably Polish. And the coffee was unsurprisingly tasty, especially the Tanzanian AeroPress from Finnish roaster Good Life. The similarities between the roasting styles of the Scandinavian and Polish roasted-coffees seemed apparent: you’ll get lots of light roasts at many of the specialty cafés in this city. Forum also had home-bottled cascara (that’s dried coffee fruit) sodas and cold brew, and while I could not have possibly consumed any more caffeine at that point in my day, I wouldn’t bet against them being delicious.
Juliana Ursyna Niemcewicza 3, 02-022 Warszawa
If you’re looking for a coffee shop name, and the neighborhood you’re opening is called “filtry” (that does indeed mean “filters”), well, that makes things pretty easy. Filtry opened in 2007, which as far as I can tell makes it the original Warsaw specialty coffee shop. We rolled in to start our final day in Warsaw after a few in the South of Poland (great coffee there too!). The building Filtry is located in was covered in tarp and under construction when we arrived, but much to our relief we found the shop powering through. We sat down at a table between a man with a gigantic dog and a mom playing chess with her child. The day’s pour over and AeroPress offerings were from Barcelona’s Hidden Coffee Roasters (a first for me), so my mom and I split a tasty Kenyan and a really wild Colombian, while my dad went the cappuccino route. Some cake also made its way to our table, and we enjoyed another morning at a café that has no trouble existing as both a comfy neighborhood spot and as specialty-focused of a shop as you could ask for.
Puławska 48, 00-999 Warszawa
Our last stop in Warsaw was Kawiarnia Relaks (not to be confused with Relax) in the Mokotów neighborhood. Another pioneering Warsaw specialty café (this one’s been open since 2010), Relaks greeted us with its expanse of wood paneled and white walls covered in a poster show (Polish Poster design is a big thing) and an array of mismatched chairs and tables. There was nothing ramshackle about the beverage program, though, with multiple roasters on display, this time alongside Relaks’ own beans on the usual assortment of brew methods. My dad and I went for drip this time; I chose one from Ethiopia and he by this point was totally down for a Brazil without milk. Mom was again done with coffee for the day, so she went for a raspberry herbal tea, which was brewed with care and served beautifully.
All in all Warsaw treated us extremely well, with coffee shops that seemed at the same time extremely welcoming and relatively ambitious. That’s not to say that every customer I saw was nerding out about single origins and pour overs, but no one seemed intimidated by the number of different coffees, roasters, or brew methods available on most menus — and the dialogue between baristas and customers was endearingly plentiful. That makes Warsaw a wonderful place to drink coffee, and I’m pretty confident in saying it won’t be another two decades before I (or my parents!) return to do so.