Coffee is an obsession in Croatia
, and in its capital, Zagreb
, the coffee culture is as strong and prevalent as the locally prepared žižule
grappa. And the coffee itself? It would knock the non-fat foam off a Starbucks latte any day.
But it's not just about the flavor. Here, having coffee is as much of a social ritual as an essential kick-start to the day, and hours and hours are spent over a cup and saucer. It's not surprising that locals have eschewed the "to-go" cardboard coffee cup and sleeve trend, opting instead to revere coffee as a destination in itself.
To understand this, you need only spend Saturday morning at the intersection of Bogoviceva and Gajeva Streets, near Zagreb's Flower Square. The outdoor cafés stack up on these pedestrian-only passageways, and the well- and high-heeled patrons sit elbow to diamond earring and watch the world, and each other, catwalk by. The most coveted spot is a perch at Charlie (Gajeva, 4), once owned by the late footballer Mirku Bruan, who used his nickname as the bar's moniker. Celebrities, models, actors, singers and femme fatales descend on this area of central Zagreb to see and be seen, and presumably drink coffee, in a phenomenon known locally as Spica
. I've heard many translations for this word – pinnacle, point, and striker (the soccer/football position) among them -- but ask a Zagreber and you'll be told that Spica means only one thing: Saturday morning coffee.
In search of something a little more down to earth, and with lower heels, for my own Spica, I strolled along Ilica Street, Zagreb's main thoroughfare. A few cafés appeared but none appealed to me -- too smoky; too over-lit; too many laptops. Dodging an endless hustle of bikers and walkers, I stopped to lick the windows (as my French friends say) of pastry shops like the family-run Vincek, whose cakes and cookies looked too perfect to eat. Then one of the always-stuffed blue trams of Zagreb whirred down Ilica Street and startled me, and as I was recovering I noticed a crowd gathered beneath an awning printed with the words "simply luxury coffee."
From the moment I entered the minuscule Eli's Caffé, I knew this was not going to be an ordinary coffee experience, and that owner Nik Orosi was not going to be an ordinary barista.