Coffee in Saint Petersburg

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History of Coffee in Russia

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Most people believe that coffee first made its appearance in Russia in 1665, when Samuel Collins, а healer at the Court of Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich , gave the following prescription to his highness:

“Boiled coffee, Persians and Turks is a well known and excellent cure against, and usual after dinner … well, there is a cure for arrogance, runny nose and headaches

Samuel Collins

In the beginning indeed coffee was thought to have many health benefits and was prescribed by doctors.

Coffee first came to Russia in the 17th century, but it took the drink a long time to gain popularity. It is generally thought that one of the main figures that played a role in coffee’s rise in popularity in Russia was Peter the Great, although the drink was already known in Russia during the reign of his father.

But Peter did something important to popularize the drink: anyone who visited the Kunstkamera, Saint Petersburg’s first museum, would not only be allowed in for free, but would also be treated to either a cup of coffee or a shot of vodka, paid for by the czar.

It is thought that Peter himself first drank coffee when he visited Amsterdam. The Dutch were already trading in coffee that they were growing in Indonesia. At that time the coffee that was sold in Russia in pre-communist times for a large part came from Dutch traders. In 1725, the year Peter the Great died almost 8000 kilos of coffee were imported through the port of Saint Petersburg.

For a long time coffee was a popular drink mainly among the Russian aristocracy. Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, was an early riser and always started her day with a cup of coffee that she prepared herself.

Coffee During Communism

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During the roughly 70 years that Russia lived under communist reign, coffee was a luxury product. Freeze-dried coffee was a popular product, but there wasn’t enough of it to meet the demand – but in a planned economy it’s not demand that shapes supply. Whenever a shop had some freeze dried coffee for sale people would stand in line for a long time in order to buy it. But there was a deficit of many products during communist times, not just of coffee. Only during the 1980’s, during the final decade of communism, did supply of coffee go up and more people began to drink the black gold.

There were a lot of coffee-like drinks in the Soviet Union though , many of which used surrogate ingredients, like chicory. Also more unusual ingredients like barley could be found among the ingredients of these drinks. Some of these coffee-like drinks contained no actual coffee at all!

Coffee as it was sold in the Soviet Union, this a tin of ground coffee beans with chicory (a plant that is often used as a surrogate for coffee) as an important ingredient. The tin

Coffee in Saint Petersburg

Western chains

Starbucks

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With a global annual revenue of $24.72 billion in 2018, Starbucks counts as the holy grail of expansive coffee shops. They appeared in Russia relatively late though, in the year 2007 in the Khimki mega mall (in the Moscow Oblast, close to Moscow). As late as 2015 they also opened a lot of coffee shops on and around the city’s main street: Nevsky Prospekt. Why anyone would like to go there is beyond me though. The coffee is terrible in my opinion. I guess the cheesecake is alright though.
Of course Starbucks has done a great job with their branding. Everybody recognizes their logo and people will even buy their overpriced merchandise. 

Funny fact: Starbucks only entered the Russian market in 2007, because their trademark had been hijacked by a Russian lawyer who was in the business of registering trademarks of western companies, which hadn’t yet entered the Russian market. In exchange for $600,000, he was willing to relent his Russian Starbucks trademark to the company. Starbucks refused to pay and a two-year long court proceedings ensued. Only in 2007 Starbucks won the case and the right to use its own trademark in Russia, without having to pay any compensation.

Prices at different locations of Starbucks vary, but average prices in Saint Petersburg are about this

Price of an Americano: 180 rubles
Price of a cappuccino: 230 rubles

Costa Coffee

Another very present international chain of coffee shops in the city is Costa Coffee. They have a good location in the city’s main central shopping mall: Galeria. Their coffee is just so-so though in my opinion.

Russian copies of western chains

Coffee House (Кофе Хауз)

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Coffee House used to be everywhere. Besides coffee, they serve all kinds of meals. Recently they have undergone a rebranding; apparently things weren’t going so well for them.

Shokoladnitsa (шоколадница)

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It’s basically the same as the above mentioned Coffee House; a dime a dozen. Nothing interesting here. Unless you’re more interested in the business side than in the quality coffee side of the story.

Russian Coffee Shops

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If you like good coffee and you’d like to support young enthusiastic entrepreneurs instead of huge corporations, you’re of course better off visiting small coffee shops. Over the last couple of years the trend in Saint Petersburg has been that small coffee shops have started successfully competing with big holdings like Coffee House. A trend that cannot but please the lover of quality coffee. Opening a coffee shop seems to be one of the most popular idea among the youth of Saint Petersburg that would like to open a business. So there are many choices, some of them very good, some not so much.

With the economic crisis, which is currently taking place in Russia the trend is also that cheaper establishments tend to replace the more expensive ones. All while not compromising on quality.

Here are my favourites:

Welcome Coffee

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Address: Sadovaya Street 17 (Google Maps)
Opening times: Mon-Sun from 10 am until 10 pm

At the moment at Welcome they have just 1 coffee shop in the city. Currently, they are based inside the city’s Gostiny Dvor, an old merchant court. If you’re interested in Russian design (of clothes), you can have a look at the Freedom Store, also located inside Gostiny Dvor, right above Welcome Coffee. Their coffee got me hooked and is reasonably priced. And that’s the most important thing.

A picture from Welcome Coffee’s Instagram. Welcome Coffee has had several different locations in the city. Although their current location, inside Gostiny Dvor is a historic one, it also has an important downside: they are not so easy to find there. They place a banner on the street and a picture on their instagrams to help pedestrians find them.

At welcome the coffee is just so good! I understand that drinking coffee with milk or not is a very personal thing. I however urge you to order a coffee without milk at Welcome, it is very good.

Price of a black coffee: 110 rubles

Andy Coffee (ЭНДИ КОФЕ)

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Address: Bolshoy Prospekt, 106 ( Be aware, this is the Bolshoy Prospekt on Petrogradka, keep in mind that this is not the only Bolshoy Prospekt in the city. There is another one on the Vasilyevsky Island.)
Most nearby metro station: Petrogradsakaya
Opening Times: Mon-Fri from 8:30 AM until 9 PM, on Sat and Sun from 10 AM until 9 PM

A picture of the preparation of an espresso shot from Andy Coffee’s Instagram

The area around Petrogradskaya is a great place to wander around if you’re into architecture especially. Although many people consider this area to be part of the center, it is definitely much quieter here. It takes around an hour to walk from Vosstaniya Square to this area.

The advantage of it being a bit more far away from the centre is that is quieter, wheareas privately held coffeeshops that are not part of a chain are usually tiny in the very center, Andy Coffee offers its visitors a lot of room with comfortable couches to sit on and some magazines to read. That’s why Andy Coffee is a good place to do some work.

Besides good coffee at Andy Coffee they offer nice pastries. According to their own words, they also offer good breakfasts, but I haven’t tried those.

Price of an Americano: from 130 rubles
Price of a Cappuccino: from 170 rubles

Double B (Даблби) aka ‘the Russian Starbucks

At the moment Double B has just 2 coffeeshops in Saint Petersburg, it used to have more. I guess some projects were not so successful.

Address: Millionaya Street 18 (google maps)
Address: Kronversky Prospekt 65 (google maps) (on Petrogradka)
Address: Vladimirsky Prospekt 5
Address: 6-Ya Liniya V.o. (Vasily Island), 25

Double B Coffeeshop at Vladimirsky Prospekt 5 in Saint Petersburg

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As I have said and will continue to say: I don’t like coffee at Starbucks at all. At Double B they actually brew drinkable coffee and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s what really matters. So, as far as quality is concerned, Double B is actually light-years ahead of Starbucks. Double B’s history is already telling. One of Double B’s founders, Anna Tsfasman used to work as a manager of a coffee shop in Moscow and never had the intention to go into business for herself. But when the owners of the coffee shop that she managed decided to serve the clients cheaper and, consequently, lower quality coffee, this concerned Ms Tsfasman and she countered with a proposal to open a new coffee place that would serve just coffee, but the very best coffee. That wouldn’t be profitable, according to her boss. Her concern about the quality of coffee and her belief that people, also in Russia, are willing to pay for such quality led her to open her own coffee shop.

A picture from Anna Tsfasman’s Instagram, Russia’s queen of coffee.

Even though she never planned to go into business, once she did, she planned to make it big from the start. Unlike many small coffee bars, she searched and found investors from the very beginning. With $1 million starting capital Double B’s first coffee shop was opened in Moscow in 2013. In the relatively short period of its existence Double B has managed to become a fierce competitor of Starbucks in Russia and has grown to become an international brand. In 2017 they opened a coffeeshop in Dubai. They also have two coffeeshops in Prague.

Ms Tsfasman has a clear mission: to become one of the biggest specialists of coffee in the world. Understandably, in order to achieve this not so easy goal, you have to remain concentrated. That’s why Double B’s coffee shops are usually just serving coffee. Only recently have they very carefully begun offering some croissants for sale.In Moscow, however, Double B has some cooperation with other brands, like Ilikewine, with whom they have a joint establishment on Pokrovka Street.

Double B uses Franchises

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Double B’s quick growth is partly due to the fact that they work with franchises. Not all of their establishments are franchises, but many of them are. They want the franchises to be such that the customer isn’t able to tell, whether this coffee shop is owned by the brand itself or by a franchisee. They claim to have control of their franchisees every day by making surprise visits to them.

Tough Barista Training

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Training of baristas at Double B is no joke. Future baristas have just two chances to pass the Double B barista exam. If they fail, they won’t be given the honor to work at Double B.

Prices At Double B

Prices of a lungo or a double espresso: 150 rubles
Price of a cappuccino or a flat white: 250 rubles
Price of a latte or a big cappuccino: 300 rubles

Coffee 22

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Address: Kazanskaya Ulitsa 22 (google maps)
Nearest metro station: Between Sadovaya and Nevsky Prospekt
Opening times: from 8:30 AM until 11 PM

Located in the very center of Saint Petersburg not far from Kazan’s Cathedral Coffee 22 offers its visitors a good atmosphere that is very cool. Nice music, nice people, a great place to sit for a while, read a book and or do some work.

Apparently at Coffee 22 they also serve good breakfast, until 14:30. I can’t tell if they’re really good. I haven’t tried them.

Unlike Double B, Coffee 22 has decided to offer its client food as well as coffee. With that they have gotten qualified help from Eduard Muradyan, one of Saint Petersburg’s most famous caterers.

A picture taken at Coffee 22, at Kazanskaya Ulitsa 22

Espresso Bike

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Address: Kazansaya Ulitsa 7 (google maps)
Nearest metro station: Nevsky Prospekt
Opening times: Daily from 10 AM until 11 PM

Kazanskaya 7 is an interesting place. It’s a huge building that accommodates different kinds of places, like time cafes and barber shops. In the basement of this building, a bit hidden, you’ll find Espresso Bike, which offers good coffee for reasonable prices.

The cave in which Espresso Bike is located.

Zinger (Зингер)

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Address: Nevksy Prospekt 28 (Google Maps)
Nearest metro station: Nevsky Prospekt
Opening times: every day from 9 am until 11 pm

After having mentioned all these places because of the good coffee they serve, I think I’m allowed to put Zinger on this list, just because it has one of the best views in the city. Zinger is located inside the city’s most famous bookstore dom knigi. Its huge panoramic windows offer you a great view of the Kazan Cathedral.


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Maybe not the best coffee in town, but what a view…. Very cheesy picture of course, but you understand what I mean

Price of an americano: 190 rubles
Price of a capuccino: 255 rubles

Saint Espresso

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Address: Kuybysheva street 10 (Google Maps) (on Petrogradka)
Nearest metro station: Gorkovskaya
Opening times: Daily from 8AM-9PM

This is a coffee shop for the orthodox coffee lovers. It has the interior of a church, with fresco painting on the wall and a Spartanic looking interior.

Saint Espresso’s Logo

Character of Coffee (ХАРАКТЕР КОФЕ)

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Address: Fontanka River Embankment 109 (Google Maps)
Closest metro station: Sennaya
Opening times: Mon-Fri from 9 AM until 9 PM, Sa-Su 10 AM until 9 PM

Character of Coffee doesn’t just offers very good coffee at good prices (100 rubles for a black coffee), also the atmosphere of the place is just very pleasant. The staff are very friendly. If you drink black coffee, you should really try their filter coffee. Usually they have at least 2 different kinds of blends of filter coffee, for different kinds of beans and I usually stay to try them both.

A picture taken at Character of Coffee

Mad Espresso Team (MET)

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Address: 2-ya Sovetskaya Street 27 (Google Maps)
Nearest Metro Station: Vosstaniya
Opening times: Mon-Fri 8 AM until 10 PM Sa-Sun 10 AM until 10 PM

MET just started as a small coffee stand on Sennaya square. Now business is going well and they have moved to a more comfortable location for its visitors.

People doing their (home)work at Mad about Espresso Team.

Rudy’s Coffee to Go

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Address: Corner of Liteyniy 47 and Belinskogo Street
Nearest metro station: Gostiny Dvor
Opening times: Mon-Fri from 8 AM until 11 PM, Sat-Sun from 9 AM until 11 PM

Rudy’s Coffee to Go is the smallest coffee shop in the city. That’s why you can only buy take-away coffee here. So if you want to drink good coffee while on a budget, this might be the perfect place for you!

A picture from Rudy’s Coffee’s to go Instagram. They located in a former police cabin!

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