Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Vacation Series: Zagreb, Croatia

Coffee lends itself to many different environments and occasions. My favorite of which are art, travel, and politics (this is a D.C. blog after all). I caught the travel bug early in life, and thank goodness I did, because there are so many places to explore. This summer, I bought a plane ticket and traveled up and down the entire country of Croatia, visiting coffee shops all along the way.  The first city I stopped in is the largest and the capital: Zagreb. So from one capital city to another, it's time for some coffee talk.

Luckily, I got taken around Zagreb by the locals. Through a connection or two, I met up one of the most influential and well known Croatian journalist who led me to the best cafe in town, Charlie.  

Zagreb is known for it's outdoor cafes lining the pedestrian streets in the center of the city. When you're not from the area, it's hard to know which cafe to choose since they all look the same. In Europe, the term bar and cafe is interchangeable. Unlike in America, when you say "Let's go for coffee" in Croatia, you're referring to go out for a drink, not necessarily coffee.

Charlie is named for its late owner, Mirku Bruan. Yes, you heard me right. Bruan played soccer for Dinamo Zagreb and was nicknamed Charlie Brown. He opened this shop for people to gather, watch soccer, and discuss politics. It is very likely that when you go to Charlie, you will be among prominent journalists and government officials like I was. Don't let this fool you, Charlie is a laid back, no frills spot.

Sitting outside under one of the large sun umbrellas, I ordered a "kava sa slag," which directly translates to "coffee with cream." I was told this is the thing to get and being with the locals, I listened. I figured coffee with cream meant just that though, coffee with cream. Or I suspected it might be espresso with cream, since when you speak of coffee in Europe, you are talking about espresso and not the watered down big cup that we call coffee in America. But when my drink came (pictured above) I found out that a kava sa slag is not what I had in mind at all, and rather than the liquid cream I was expecting, the espresso came topped with whipped cream! Unusual, I thought, but okay I'll give it a go. Sitting there, I was told by the Croatians that the way to drink kava sa slag is to mix in the whipped cream, so the airy cream is spread throughout the espresso to look like this:

Still uncertain, I lifted it up and took a sip. Amazing! It was sweet and creamy, like drinking the best froth you've ever tasted. Mixed with the espresso, there is whipped cream in every sip, completely changing the consistency of the espresso and the flavor. 

As you all know by now, I typically do not add sugar to my coffee. I hate it. If you need to sweeten your coffee a bit though, this is the way to do it. It adds a little sweetness, mixing the espresso into the whipped cream rather than the other way around. Delightful.

Split, Croatia

Another way to sweeten up your espresso without adding sugar (which in my mind completely demolishes the taste of the coffee -- in most cases) is to add a desert on the side! And the most typical Croatian desert you can get is called Kremšnita.

Kremšnita has a puff pastry base and lid with vanilla and custard cream cake in the center. The best place in Zagreb to get this Croatian treat happens to be right next door to Charlie and is called Princess (I don't know why all the best places in Zagreb have English names!)

If you ever find yourself in Zagreb, know you can fit right in talking politics with the locals at these two little joints in the center of town.

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