Hungary’s love of coffee is grounded in history, with many of Budapest’s grand coffeehouses still flourishing, but gourmet java lovers also have a number of new-wave cafes where they gather to sip their favorite bitter brew.
Thanks to a strong Turkish and Austro-Hungarian influence, by the dawn of the 20th century, the coffeehouse was deeply embedded in Hungary’s cultural psyche. Often synonymous with the idea of ‘sanctuary’, coffeehouses were a center of social interaction where writers, poets, artists, and politicians gathered to read, observe the world, exchange ideas and philosophies, or plot rebellious acts. In Budapest, the heyday of coffeehouses—between 1890 and 1940—saw the establishment of many legendary cafes, including the Centrál Café in 1887, New York Café in 1894, and Múzeum Café in 1885. Luckily, many of these venerable establishments still hold strong today, drawing a consistent clientele of tourists and returning local patrons.
But young Budapesters, in unison with many others around the world, are taking to coffee as a lifestyle statement. No longer are city slickers happy with just a strong cup of hot coffee—these days, we all want a captivating, consistently high-quality yet cost-effective cup of coffee served in a stylish, fashion-forward setting. First to enter Budapest was the Western-style ‘on-the-go’ coffee craze that brought with it branded coffee chains such as Starbucks, California Coffee, and Costa Coffee, where caffeine addicts can always score non-fat grande macchiato with a dash of cinnamon or even an organic, Fair-trade triple Italian-style espresso. And while these chains are popular (and ever-expanding), a new wave of independent cafes focusing on the sights, smells, sounds, ambiance, and emotions that come with the coffee experience have been gaining momentum in the Hungarian capital.
Whether you’re on the lookout for a cafe with artistic decor, searching for a rare bean from Columbia, or simply craving some mouth-watering treats to pair with your caffeine fix, you’ll find many unique third wave coffee shops to suit your taste. Here are our picks for the best artisanal coffee shops in Budapest.
Blue Bird Cafe
Dob utca 16, Budapest 1072
+36 30 208 0580
Stationed inside the always-busy Gozsdu Udvar in downtown Pest, this devoted coffee bar takes its bean roasting very seriously. The Ukrainian couple operating the place source the best beans from around the world, while skilled baristas roast and ground them on the spot for proud caffeine addicts to take home or enjoy on the eclectically-decorated premises. Aside from the great coffee, you’ll want to relax here with fresh pastry or a plate of handmade macaroons.
Arany János utca 15, Budapest 1051
+36 30 964 9530
A part of the new generation of quality coffee shops touting the craft coffee thing, this 2013 entrant is a busy stop for all the high-powered bankers, businessman, and embassy workers who get their morning fix here. Beneath the vaulted, beige-tinted brick ceilings a team of barista’s roast and sell fine coffee beans, turning them into perfectly proportioned, fruity espressos. There’s a nice selection of pastries available, and high-speed Wifi to complement the coffee.
Múzeum krt 5, Budapest 1053
+36 1 787 7503
Simply named “Black” (a popular moniker for coffee in Hungarian), this hole-in-the-wall coffee spot is perpetually packed with caffeine-starved university students and discerning coffee types. The master baristas behind the bar brew a clean cuppa using the impressive La Marcozzo machine and fair-trade beans from the developing world that are ground on Super Jolly and Volcano machines. If you’re not in a hurry, try one of their decadent cakes and lounge for a while in the small garden patio out back.
Károly Körút 22, Budapest 1052
+ 36 1 952 1821
It’s a toss up whether this cool Jewish-district cafe is best known for its nitrogen-powered coffee tap, the Roket, or the sinfully delicious cakes that overwhelm the sweet selection. Roket is a cold-steeped brew which is prepared cold and poured on tap like a beer. Besides this new-age coffee concoction, coffee aficionados will appreciate the line-up of specialty beans and the expert craftsmanship that goes into making every cup of espresso or latte. To enjoy these delicacies at home, the many grinders, beans and designer coffee-making items that are on display are also available for purchase.
Lumen Gallery & Cafe
Mikszáth Kálmán tér 2, Budapest 1088
+36 1 781 5156
From the outside in, the mood at Lumen Gallery & Cafe is decidedly upscale and artistic. A wooden deck filled with tables and chairs announce its presence on Mikszath ter, while the bright interior is filled with contemporary photographs and artwork. It’s the perfect place for young artsy types to get a glimpse of Hungary’s new-age art while sipping through a range of locally roasted beans from around the world. There’s also a range of craft beers and Hungarian wines, if that’s more your speed.
Hollán Ernő utca 3, Budapest 1136
+36 20 281 9691
Just steps away from busy Jászai Mari tér, this low-key and cozy coffee sanctuary has a cult-like following for its high-quality brews, using roasted arabicas sourced from Austria and England. The natural blonde-wood furnishings and zen atmosphere are in line with the spirit of Sry Chimnoy, a spiritual leader simply known as Madal for whom the cafe was named. There’s a simple yet satisfying menu of cakes and snacks to go with your coffee as well as a range of newspapers to keep you occupied while you sip.
My Little Melbourne Coffee
Madács Imre út 3, Budapest 1075
+36 30 394 7002
With a location smack dab in the middle of the tourist-heavy Jewish district, this tiny cafe provides the perfect place to fuel up for a long day at the office. It’s also a serendipitous spot to recharge for travelers. Order a cup of foamy latte topped with an amazing latte art design and enjoy with fresh croissant. For lunch, ask for a salad, a sandwich, or one of the many freshly squeezed juice options and soak up the cross-cultural Australian atmosphere in middle of bustling Budapest.
Rumbach Sebestyén utca 10, Budapest 1075
+36 30 292 0329
Every convert to new-wave craft coffee has a story about the ‘aha moment’ and many a coffee fiend has experienced that in this design-shop-cum-cafe. The three passionate baristas behind the bar make Has Been coffee sourced from a Bolivian family farm, turning it into a heavy-bodied espresso kick that is the base of all the artistic coffee creations. There’s also drip coffee from a Hario V60 as well as French press coffee to satisfy all java needs. As an added bonus, you’ll also find plenty of designer apparel (think limited-edition shoes, t-shirts, and eco-design items) and a massive assortment of unique screen prints. For DIY artists there’s also possibility to sign up for workshops and courses in various design fields.
Tamp & Pull
Czuczor utca 2, Budapest 1093
+36 30 668 3051
There are three Tamp & Pull outposts in Budapest and they all reflect the coffee obsession of award-winning barista and owner Attila Molnár. One look inside the original outpost on Czuczor street (near the Central Market)—complete with a variety of coffee roasters, a blackboard listing all the brews, and a bar embellished with a La Scala and copper-and-tin constructed FaemaStar espresso machines—will have you swearing by its industrial-chic style. Tamp Lab on Váci Út is the new, big sister establishment that also offers workshops and cultural events, besides a selection of sandwiches, yogurts and biscuits. Regardless of the location, you can’t go wrong with any of their caffeinated ‘black, white, soft, and tea options—you’re guaranteed quality and professional service.
To learn more about the fascinating history of Budapest’s gorgeous old coffeehouses, check out our Literary Coffeehouse Walk.