Before arriving in Russia, I’d been really excited to jump right into the coffeehouse culture in Moscow. I often imagined myself repeatedly rising early, finding a cozy, hole-in-the-wall café, and sipping on some strong, black coffee, either while doing homework or simply enjoying the atmosphere.
These visions have largely come to fruition over the last seven and a half weeks, which has been one of my favorite parts of living in Moscow. On basically every day my group doesn’t have Russian class (Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday), I wake up around seven, give or take a half hour, and visit a new region of the city. I typically wander around aimlessly until I find a café that looks good. There’s no way to quantify the process; it’s all about the vibe I get from a café. One of the reasons why I’ve chosen to do my own searching on foot as opposed to taking the advice of online café rankings is that the lists I’ve found on the internet often overlook great cafes. My two undisputed favorites, which I’ll discuss below, appear on zero “Top 10” lists, at least as far as I know. Moreover, the cafes found in the rankings are usually ridiculously expensive. Don’t get sucked into the rankings.
I (with some help from Schuyler Kapnick) developed my personal ranking system using six criteria, obviously influenced by my individual preferences. They are as follows: coffee quality; price; décor; music; durability; and temperature. Schuyler and I decided to add temperature to the mix after a particularly uncomfortable experience at an incredibly stuffy café near Red Square. Needless to say, I haven’t been back. Most are self-explanatory, but I should explain durability a bit more. When I think about a café’s durability, I ask myself: “How much time would I enjoy spending in this café, doing homework and other things, before I felt like I had to leave?” Pretty arbitrary, but again, it has to do with a café’s vibe. To give an example, one café might receive marks between 1 and 10, like this: 9 for coffee, 7 for price, 8 for décor, etc. Then, I would find the average, which would be the café’s composite score. Fairly straightforward. So, let’s dive in.
The cream of the crop: Patisserie Francois Bodrero and Кофе пью (Coffee piu)
Both of these cafes are located near the Chistye prudy metro station northeast of Red Square. Thanks in part to these establishments, as well as the abundant green space found here, this area of the city is my favorite. I’ve been to Bodrero (http://bodrero.ru/) four times now, including this morning. I gave it a composite score of 8.67 (coffee: 8; price: 8; décor: 9; music: 9; durability: 10; temperature: 8). For consistency, I usually order an americano, but I felt like splurging on my first visit, so I opted for the cappuccino. It cost 180 rubles, cheaper than the observed average, and less than three US dollars. I prefer my coffee strong, and thankfully the milk didn’t override the coffee taste in this cappuccino, so I rated it fairly highly. The music hovered somewhere between soft French pop and modern jazz, and I was a pretty big fan. It certainly fits the vibe and décor; French influences reign supreme.
One of my favorite things about Bodrero is that it strikes the perfect balance between coziness and openness. My first visit to the café wasn’t until a few weeks ago, so the weather had grown warmer, and the front door, which opens onto the corner of a relatively quiet street, was propped open, bringing in cool, refreshing air. Also, huge windows line the walls, so most of the light in Bodrero is natural, a huge plus. At the same time, the overall quietness of the café and the area, in tandem with the aesthetically pleasing pastries, macaroons, sandwiches laid out neatly along the counter, make sure that the café remains comfortable and relaxed. I’ll definitely miss this one a lot.
Coffee piu (http://www.coffee-piu.ru/), just a 10 minute walk from Bodrero, is similar in a lot of respects, but also very different. It leans more in the direction of coziness than openness, which, in this case, is a very good thing. I ordered my typical americano for 150 rubles, not so typical in its flavor – pretty strong (but not as strong as I would’ve liked). I gave this café an 8.67 as well (coffee: 7; price: 7; décor: 10; music: 10; durability: 9; temperature: 9). I particularly liked the music. It was a playlist of smooth, jazzy renditions of American pop songs, including Prince’s “Purple Rain,” which struck close to home as a Minnesotan. Between the dark brick walls and bookshelves in every direction, it’s probably the coziest café I’ve been to. Along one of the walls, there’s a sectioned-off area where you can procrastinate and watch a chef bake fresh croissants, cookies, and other tasty foods. Coffee piu, like my other favorite, also has a very French feel to it, but the Cyrillic on chalkboards and the menu remind me where I am, which I like. I’ve returned to this one multiple times as well.
Since this is getting a bit long, I’ll include a description of just one more out of the 17 cafes I’ve ranked: Волконский пекарня (Wolkonsky Bakery; http://wolkonsky.com/russia/moscow/). This was my third-favorite café. I gave it a composite score of 8.5 (coffee: 9; price: 5; décor: 9; music: 9; durability: 9; temperature: 10). Because this café has multiple locations throughout Moscow, I should mention that the one I visited is on a back street right off of Tverskaya. I chose this café on a rainy day, which made it feel even cozier than it already is. It’s small, much smaller than the above cafes, but its size works well with the décor and the music. Unfortunately, the americano was a bit pricey, above 200 rubles if I remember correctly, but it was nice and strong. Since I visited Volkonsky early on in the term, I can’t remember as many details as I’d like, but the important takeaway is this: If you’re in Moscow, and it happens to be raining, give this café a visit. It won’t disappoint.
Кофе таймс (Koffee Times; no website)
Ванильное небо (Vanilla Sky; http://xn—-7sbebqbsyqccjf2q.xn--p1ai/) – next to the Tretyakov Gallery
PAUL (Another French café? Shocking! https://ginza.ru/msk/restaurant/paul)
Oh, and lastly, try to avoid Café Prime (it’s a chain). I just don’t like the vibe.