Recently I was in Riga for work (a different project to the one on cafés). This was my first trip to Latvia, and of course I took the opportunity to check out some of the café culture on offer. I was only really in Riga for just over a day, but still I managed to find a few interesting places. After arriving at my hotel I went for a quick walk around the area to find some food, and as soon as I walked into a larger shopping centre and supermarket I found the first Costa Coffee of the trip. Unlike many other cities of Europe though you won’t find a Starbucks in Riga. There are however many other places you can relax and get your caffeine fix.
While I often don’t visit too many chain coffee shops when I’m abroad, on this occasion a Costa Coffee was just in the right place after a rather chilly early morning walk. As usual, when sitting in a coffee chain like this, there was little to suggest that I was hundreds of miles from home. In fact it was sitting in a Costa in the Czech Republic which first prompted some ideas for my current research project, many years ago – about why these chain cafés have become so popular.
Latvia is experiencing a growing number of coffee shops, including both chains and independent specialty coffee shops. From the selection of coffee shop chains there are definitely a few worth trying, and its interesting to see the different atmospheres inside.
Coffee Inn was my favourite, a Lithuanian café chain with over 45 branches in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia which roasts its own coffee in a roastery near the Varene river. They had lots of interesting coffee combinations in this place, including coffee made with tonic water (which is also something I’ve seen in some specialty cafés in the UK), and their own pumpkin spiced latte (which tastes nothing like the Starbucks version, much better in fact). I visited here in the late afternoon and like many other coffee shops of this type across the world it was full of young people, from what I could tell mostly students, with a few tourists getting some respite from the cold. There are a number of branches in Riga, and I visited the one on Kaļķu iela. I was welcomed by a young barista who was soon to pick up on my poor Latvian language skills (for which I apologised) and switched to English. She helpfully explained various different options for the coffee on offer, and I opted for a pumpkin spice latte, for comparison purposes. I also later had an espresso -both of which were excellent, but I also liked the atmosphere of the place, relaxed, with lots of magazines and books around, as if to encourage you to sit and stay a while. Like most places in Riga, because it has been designated the European Capital of wi-fi, there’s no problem getting internet in most cafés like this one.
Then there was Double Coffee, with 13 branches across Riga, first established in 2002. This business operates on a franchise model, and has a table service rather than at the counter, which leads to a more relaxed and restaurant feel. They also have a broader menu than you would find at some of the other coffee shops with full meals and snacks too.
There were lots of other smaller local coffee shop chains such as Caif Café, with cafés in Riga and Jelgava, Index café with two stores in Riga, as well as other independent coffee shops such as Golden Coffee or All Cappuccino.
I particularly liked Miit Coffee & Bikes, not far from the Esplanade park which was clearly one for the cycling enthusiast, with its own bike design studio where you can get help with maintenance of a bike, or help with sorting out a new one. I’m also reliably informed that the place transforms a bit in the evening with a full bar and DJ.
One place I didn’t get the chance to visit was the Rocket Street Roastery. The roaster, café and shop which also has its own Coffee School with weekly public cupping session covering coffees from Ethiopia, El Salvador, Honduras, Brazil, Colombia, and Costa Rica. It’s interesting that this trend for specialty coffee shops and roasters to be involved in educating people about quality coffee, and the various ways to brew it has reached the Baltic states too.
That’s about it from Riga this time. Perhaps sometime soon I’ll go back to the Baltic to explore coffee culture out there in a bit more detail.