We may have enjoyed the Vienna coffee and tea scene, but Budapest went one better, since all the tea rooms and coffee shops we tried had cake offerings as well. A quality cuppa and cake – that’s what the doctor ordered.
Tea rooms in this part of Europe only open at midday at the earliest. It is a drink to take in the afternoon, mostly after work and into the evening.
Interestingly, there are as many bearded men sitting sipping a tea in Hungary – on their own or with friends – as women. I say this because the contrast is so strong to what we found in much of the US, where tea is so much a ‘women’s drink’ that some tea rooms have to claim to be ‘male friendly’.
And the quality is fantastic. At Red Lion tea room (Teahaz a Voros Oroszlanhoz), just round the corner from our hotel in the 6th district of Budapest, we had possibly the best Lapsang Souchong I had ever tasted: refreshing and uplifting, but also immensely relaxing and the perfect way to end a long day.
The tendency in Hungary seems to be to steep the tea before it is brought to your table, so you can pour it right away, and somehow the pot stayed piping hot throughout our time in the tea shop. It’s all loose leaf, of course.
The food offerings were interesting in the Red Lion. We chose roasted almonds (they’d sold out of the salted sort), and a cookie (though the latter came wrapped in plastic, so was not baked on-site). The almonds actually went down very well with the tea, and gave the whole experience something of a middle eastern feel.
Coffee the next morning began at Fekete on Muzeum Korut. This was a real treat, though a surprise to be told the coffee was roasted by Alchemy Coffee in London. Good enough, in fact, to want a flatwhite (conscious as I was that this may even be the last coffee we have for a while to suit such western-style brews).
Fekete is a great little place. It’s on a main road and you can have a quick cuppa sitting out the front as the traffic teams past, but better tip is to go round the back, where there are half a dozen tables in one of those old courtyards that probably even today are the social focal point for hundreds of apartments in old city centre blocks. There’s even an old water fountain, though we didn’t check if it still worked, and we wondered if that was THE water source for the flats when they were first built.
Nice piece of honey banana bread to go with coffee at Fekete, so the focus may be on the coffee here, but they do allow a sweet tooth also to have its say.
Our second tip for coffee in Budapest is Lumen Kavezo, tucked away on Milszath Kalman Ter.
Here we actually had breakfast, a healthy mix of fruit and granola AND the inevitable poppy seed buns, which went down a treat with our cappuccinos.
Peter, who insists he is not in charge (we’re all equally in charge here is their approach), told us they roast on the premises, so you can’t get more fresh or local than this. And a nice spot to sit either inside under the impressive wall painting of the Roman character, or outside on the terrace at the front.
Thanks, by the way, to Dora, a friend of Brian’s Coffee Spot, for giving us the tips to go to these coffee shops. She made other suggestions, but in the time we had, that’s all we could manage, especially as our plan for a final coffee before catching our 9.40am train to Romania was foiled by a last minute switch to a 6.23am departure (good job we checked the night before!).
Our second suggestion for tea in Budapest is 1000 Tea, right in the centre, just off the very touristy Vaci Utca.
In fact Vaci Utsa is the only street in Budapest where I felt harrassed by in-your-face hawkers or aggressive waiters standing outside their restaurants. So, normally I would say avoid this street like the plague, but actually 1000 Tea is the perfect antidote.
This tea room is a complete haven away from the kerfuffle outside. It’s dimly lit, with lots of spaces to choose from, including a no-shoes area round the back (though most people seemed to take off their footwear anyway).
The tea was delicious again. We tried their Lapsang Souchong, which was lovely without quite the wow factor we’d experienced at Red Lion. But 1000 Tea do cake: yes, there’s a cheesecake made every day by Anasuya, who seemed quite pleased at our gushing enthusiasm for the chance to taste it (well worth it, by the way).
Their tea menu extends to 120 teas from all over the place (I couldn’t find 1000, but maybe somebody will correct me).
Funnily enough there were no teas from Africa, and yet the world music they played throughout our time in there was mostly African or Carribbean: nice and laid back, but personally I would have preferred something more Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese or Indian to match their menus more.
But this reminded us of our trip to Prague two years ago, and especially to the Middle Eastern tea room where they switched off the atmospheric Arab music as soon as we walked in, and put Bruce Springsteen on instead.
So hats off to Budapest for its fantastic tea rooms and coffee shops. This time we didn’t try the old-fashioned cafés as we did in Vienna. But when time is short and you need to visit the swimming baths in town, choices have to be made…