Legendary grand cafés of Budapest
Hungarians like to start their day with coffee, usually a super strong espresso, followed by more throughout the day. Coffee-to-go and American-style drip coffee are not very popular and traditional coffee houses are still preferred over chains. Even the many Mc Cafés along with Starbucks – yes, Starbucks has now stores in Budapest – try to adapt to the local coffee drinking traditions by serving their drinks in china cups.
Cafés (kávéház) have a long tradition in Budapest. The coffee culture began as early as the 16th century during the Turkish occupation and it flourished during the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century, when there were over 400 coffee houses in the city. Ever since, Budapest has always had many cafés where people sit and chat. Some of the coffee houses are famous for their history, while others used to be the center of intellectual life. In recent years many of the grand cafés were restored to their original splendor keeping the coffee culture very much alive. So, in a milieu like this, why would anybody want coffee-to-go in a paper cup?
Gerbeaud - The legendary Gerbeaud, in the heart of Budapest, is one of the largest and most traditional cafés in the city. The café was established in 1858 and was expanded by its late owner, Emile Gerbeaud, a Swiss confectioner. He bought the store in 1884 and his invention, sour cherry, matured in cognac and covered with dark chocolate, or ‘konyakos meggy’ is definitely something to try and is one of the reasons behind Gerbeaud’s rise to fame.
Central Kávéház - One of the oldest Vienna-style cafés in Budapest is the Central Kávéház, which opened its doors in 1887. Journalists, writers, actors, artists, musicians and university professors frequented the place, as it was open late. Many famous Hungarian artists became regulars here. After undergoing renovations Centrál reopened in 2000, keeping its original, elegant appearance, so customers today can get a feel for what a coffee house used to look like in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
New York Kávéház - In the beginning of the 20th century the New York was the most beautiful café in the city. Located on the ground floor of the New York Palace this was a popular spot among writers and editors. Virtually all intellectuals of the era were either regulars here or dropped by from time to time to catch up on the latest news and gossip. Many authors wrote and sometimes even sold their books here and some of the most influential newspapers were edited on the second floor. Today the New York Palace, built between 1891 and 1894, gives home to the New York Palace Boscolo Hotel. With the opening of the hotel in 2006, the New York Café also reopened and while it caters to a different audience the atmosphere is lively again, thanks to the many tourists.
Hadik Kávéház - Hadik is also one of the old traditional coffee houses of the city, which has become popular once again. Established in 1911 and once popular with writers and journalists, Hadik was recently restored to its original splendor. If you are planning a visit to the famous Gellért Baths be sure to head over to Hadik for a coffee and some delicious pastries.
Ruszwurm - Ruszwurm, a cozy little café on Castle Hill is also one of the oldest pastry shops in the city. It opened in 1827 and despite its size it still offers a great experience, especially now since it’s owned and operated by the Szamos family, a famous confectionery dynasty. They make delicious cakes and ice creams.
The coffee culture in Budapest is definitely something to experience in the traditional way. There are many more coffee houses to visit, like Auguszt, Művész, Callas, Lukács, Európa, Anna, and the list goes on. And, finally here is one more reason to try out one of the places mentioned above: cafés in Budapest serve more than just coffee, they also carry delicious cakes and pastries.
True coffee aficionados should also check out or post on Budapest's best independent coffee shops.