Searching for the holy grail
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
My 5 best coffees in Tallinn
It seems the world over that art and culture is packaged for us along with two elements that are “essential for life”. Every time we visit a national gallery or museum, there will always be a gift shop and a café to greet us before we leave. The former provides us with essential mementos as proof that we visited, for example, the Vello Vinn exhibition (recently at KUMU), while the latter provides sustenance in the form of caffeinated beverages and sugar-packed bakery goods.
Usually, the gift shop is stocked with merchandise that, if we are not careful, can populate our homes with items that almost immediately become clutter we would, on reflection, rather do without. A consumerist trap cloaked as culture. Since the museum does not allow just anyone to run their café, we can normally rely on the quality of the beverages and snacks on offer, as we can also on the hefty hit to our pockets. “It’s a day out, a treat,” we justify to ourselves, as we pay 4.50 for a cappuccino and 8.50 for a slice of sugar taunting us under labels like “wholesome” and “home-made”.
The situation I am describing is a reliable picture of a museum in just about any major city – London, Paris, Amsterdam. But this is a less accurate picture of museums and galleries in Tallinn. Sure KUMU in Kadriorg park fits this description pretty well, and many other museums or galleries around the city also have cafes (EKKM has had its own café for some years, Tallinn Art Hall now has two cafes next to its entrance), but not all of them can be relied on for the quality of their coffee.
By now, I guess I have to come clean and confess that this elaborate introduction is just a ruse on my part, so I could bemoan the lack of quality coffee in Tallinn. There are good and bad coffees in every town, but it seems to me that the balance in Tallinn is tipped clearly away from quality instead of towards it. And what is even more astounding is the fact that the arts do not seem to have any impact on this. Even in cities that are not known for the quality of the coffee served in their cafes, you can normally rely on a café in the artsy part of town or attached to one of the cooler arts establishments. In Tallinn, that rule of thumb is not reliable at all! KUMU in Kadriorg and EKKM in North Tallinn are exceptions on a good day, but even they can let you down.
I therefore assert that any blog about art in a town where good coffee is hard to find should also offer tips about the best places to get a coffee beverage that at the very least ticks the following basic criteria:
displays some coffee flavour
if served with milk, imparts some coffee colour in the milk
smells like coffee
And in some cases even manages:
a decent crema
has a complex aroma
has a full and complex flavour that is long lasting
Time for my second confession – sorry, too many already?
I am not a barista and nor have I even attended any kind of classes on coffee. I am just someone that enjoys the taste of coffee (when I can find it) and has picked up a few tips myself over the years. But I can write a few tips about where to find a good coffee in Tallinn and this post is just to get the ball rolling. Whether you are a local or from out of town visiting for the day, these are my top 5 coffees in Tallinn.
Botik – Marati 5, 11713 North Tallinn
part of the emerging Pohjala Tehas creative hub outside the city
Lola Coffee – Balti Station market (rear entrance) between May and September only
a mobile coffee van (available for events through the winter)
Kiosk No 2 – Müürivahe Tänav 22, 10140 Tallinn
a tiny new café that serves great coffee on the edge of the Old Town
Gourmet Coffee (two locations) – L. Koidula 13A, 10125 Tallinn and Pärnu mnt 15, Tallinn
Established and reliable
Surf Café – Balti Station market
great coffees from reliable baristas, try their tasty almond balls
All of these are reliable. But depending on whether you like your joe with punch, then in some cases it may still be advisable to ask for a double shot. When I asked for a double shot from the guy at the Lola coffee van, he replied, “All our coffees are double shot!” So his coffees will never be short on flavour. My kind of guy!
My latest discovery on the list is Kiosk No 2 in Müürivahe (see main picture), which makes great coffee and is a pleasant (albeit small) replacement for Must Puudel, which moved on from their Müürivahe address during lockdown.
I believe there is a Kiosk No 1 on the other side of the Old Town towards the suburb of Kelmiküla. I will check that out today. Stay tuned!
By Michael Haagensen