Great Non-Smoking Cafes In Bucharest Part I

The increasing influx of expats into Romania means that businesses and services must adapt and evolve in ways that may be considered “out of the box” for many local business owners. There are many ways to attract this growing demographic; at Bucharest Expat we’re constantly on the look-out for a few key elements that draw us to a particular venue. Although the majority of us expats try as hard as we can to integrate well with local society, there’s nothing wrong with trying to “bring a little bit of home” to local living. Let’s take a look at the venues that make for a good workplace (for lack of a better term). There’s still a huge group of people (especially those arriving from the US and Canada) that like to work from a coffee shop. This is certainly a concept the divides crowds – as half of the people reading this may think “if you want to work, get an office” while the other half think “mobility and freedom to work where you want, when you want, is the wave of the future”. If you fall within this first group of people, then we hate to say it, but you’re a dying breed. More and more people have mobile lifestyles – the ability to take their business with them simply by way of laptop or tablet. The days are disappearing where one needs a full-fledged office space to be productive. By the way, this “portable lifestyle” is also what helped the gourmet coffee industry grow into what it is today – where there’s a Starbucks on every corner and an espresso based drink to suit almost anyone’s taste. This brings us to  the nuts and bolts of this article; two great coffee shops we want you to take a look at.

For those on the ground already in Bucharest, you know how difficult it can be to not only find a venue that sets itself apart from the crowd, but also one that’s not full of negatives. Either there’s so much cigarette smoke that you can cut through it with a knife, the staff is so arrogant and rude you wonder why you left the house in the first place, or securing a dependable wi-fi connection can be quite tough (and in the off chance you do find a network you’ll be hard pressed to find a place to plug your computer in).

The biggest issue here seems to be that the quality of coffee is so poor here, one would be hard-pressed to call what’s being served “coffee”. We live in an area where brands like LaVazza and Segafredo are considered gourmet (or to use the comical and overused Bucuresti term “Lux”) and the idea of single-origin plantation grown arabica coffee is virtually non-existent. Let’s face it, when it comes to coffee culture here, the majority of people are trapped in the 1950’s – when the best coffee came vacuum sealed in a tin can, and was only consumed for breakfast as a drug of choice to get your morning off to a flying start. If dirt from the ground had caffeine in it, submersing it in hot water and drinking the end result would suffice well enough for most. Well, guess what? There’s an emerging demographic here that now demands more out of their daily cup of joe.

Finding a good coffee shop here that serves ALL of our purposes has been a tough nut to crack, but recently we’ve made some positive headway…

Tucano-Coffee-Bucharest-RomaniaFirst and foremost, let’s take a look at Tucano Coffee. Tucano is located on Str. Dorobanti, nr 18 – across from the Cambridge School and near the Howard Johnson Hotel. Getting there is a breeze from the metro station at Piata Romana. The cafe is located in a rather Belle-Epoque looking building, with signage you really can’t miss (actually the signage is so prominent you’d wonder why everyone can’t figure out that this is an obvious beginning step in properly marketing ones’ location). The cafe, open until ten at night on weekdays and eleven at night on weekends, keeps great hours for those looking for an early am “pick me up” or a late night latte before heading home. In order to give you a feel of this coffee shop, I’ll go ahead and tell you a story…

After driving by Tucano many times in the past year (it is a rather new location) I finally decided to walk in and give it a try. This was on a Sunday night, so options were limited as to which venues would still be open on this day, at this later hour. The first thing that struck me when I walked in was the smell. There’s a nice aroma of freshly brewed coffee, but also, there was something that was missing that actually added to the ambiance. yep, you guessed it – the distinct lack of cigarette smoke. Another non-smoking venue at your service. This was great, as now I could actually taste what I am drinking (and I don’t have to put all my clothes in the wash as soon as I get home). The coffee shop itself is rather spacious – being inside a retrofitted mansion, there’s plenty of room to pull up a chair and relax. Comfortable chairs, plenty of room, a nice atmosphere, and you’re not “jammed in” too close to other people (yes, it does fill up during peak hours just after a normal work day, but overall its’ not a bother). Tucano is not what we’d call “fitze style” – there’s no street-side windows where the “Louis-Vuitton-clad who’s who” of society can perch themselves and be seen like a bunch of clown-fish in a public aquarium. Quite to the contrary, the demographic here is predominantly university goers, each seemingly  more educated than the next – just sitting here after class either typing away on their laptops or enjoying a drink with their colleagues. The stereo plays nice music (thankfully they’re not “All About That Base”) and above all else, there’s plugs nearly everywhere on the wall and their wi-fi connection works just fine.

Inside-Tucano-Coffee-Shop-Bucharest-RomaniaSo, the menu here has everything you’d expect from a gourmet coffee shop. If you want the latest roast from Peru, or a nice, bold, Ethiopian Yrgacheffe, then you’re in luck. Chemex? Siphon? French Press? Whatever your desires, they can likely deliver. I, myself, prefer a great cappuccino. All too often when I order a cappuccino elsewhere, I almost always wind up with a cup of scalded milk with “essence of shitty espresso” somewhat involved. Not the case here – the staff is not only very pleasant, but overall they’re well-versed in the different brewing methods, and, if you ask, they’ll tell you all about what you’ll be drinking. Now of course they’ve also got some very “odd” menu items (to say the least) – fancy a marshmallow coffee? a cheese coffee? Yeah, they’ve got those – and believe it or not, they’re actually quite good! Best of all, Tucano has a great selection of cheesecakes (among other pastries and quiches). Make no mistake, this is not Starbucks – so rest assured your cheesecake probably hasn’t been sitting in the bake-case for six months prior to your order. I personally choose to pair the “Oreo Cheesecake” with a large cappuccino. Prices at the time of this writing are 13 lei and 14 lei respectively.

If all of this alone isn’t reason enough to give Tucano a go, then consider this… After ordering my first drink, I had some comments that I felt I wanted to make to the manager. I inquired with the barista about doing so, at which point I was given the card of the manager. I spent some time sending off an email. Two days passed, and I returned to the coffee shop. When my drink was brought to my table (yeah, they do that here), it was accompanied by a second drink and a comment “the manager will be joining you shortly”. Alright, well this was a shock – I mean, sure, I’m easily recognisable, but actual customer service in Bucharest? You must be kidding me. Sure enough, the manager, Rodica Jalba, sat down with me and we discussed the coffee shop, and the passion that is passed on to the employees – their apparent goal and vision to create something special – not simply another run-of-the-mill cafe clone that’s all to common in Bucharest.

All in all, this is likely one of the best reviews we’ve been able to give to a venue here. Will everyone like it? Probably not. Will those that share our needs and desires like it there? Absolutely! We urge anyone to give this place a try and see what you think. We’ll see you there. For further information on Tucano Coffee of Bucharest, visit their website at www.TucanoCoffee.ro.

In the next part of this two part article, we’ll take you inside Black-Eye Coffee, over near Cismigiu Park.