We both liked Cluj before we even set out to look for places for a cuppa. It has a very relaxed feel, a cosmopolitan cultural edge and a definite sense of its place in Transylvanian history.
And right in the centre of the old town, we quickly found Coffe Olivo, which gave off a bit of a night clubby feel when we first saw it, but actually had a takeaway section out on the street, which became our focal point for repeat visits during our stay in Cluj.
Coffe Olivo has the best coffee in Cluj (well, at least from our limited experience); a nice range of single origins on the menu and a good, deep rich espresso on the machine.
It also had some pretty decent loose leaf teas, and they had no problem serving us a good strong brew with a drop of cold milk, which was just what the doctor ordered after a gruelling train journey into Romania from Hungary.
Their marble cake was also a nice addition for slightly delicate tummies after the same hot train ride.
My only gripe with the place was that they didn’t open at 8am as advertised on the morning we left town, so we ended up going for our morning train without the tea we craved, and I wonder if that contributed to our sickness and heatstroke later in the day…
We had found another coffee house online, but when we walked past it was not only shut but advertised just a cheapish Italian brand of coffee, which we would not normally break down the doors to try.
So, we’d have been happy to leave Cluj with just the one recommendation for coffee. But then we stumbled upon Captain Bean, aka Bogdan, who saluted us as we walked by, and enticed us over to try his espresso off the back of his pedal bike.
Bogdan has apparently achieved some national notoriety for his enterprising approach, basically getting on his bike to make a living serving up coffee. He has excellent customer service, knows how to charm both regulars and passers-by like us, and has done his homework on his coffee.
He acknowledges he is not a coffee expert (but then nor are we), but knows not to do the corporate chain thing of scorching the coffee or milk (so his coffee was the perfect temperature). He’s pretty open about his desire to earn a living, so has not gone for high end Arabica or single origin, but found a 60-40 arabica-robusta blend that actually tasted remarkably smooth.
Hats off to this guy. And I kind of like his image, of beret-wearing captain, a little bit Che Guevara, only Che would be turning in his grave at the entrepreneurial spirit…
And so to tea in Cluj.
We had found Samsara Chill Out Tea House on a google search, but we were in for a bit of a surprise.
The tea room is in a residential street, some 10 minutes’ walk from the old town of Cluj. The guys who run the place took it on five years ago and have converted the inside into an extraordinary space.
From the outside, you would have no idea – except for the hint in the tea room logo on the garden gate – that inside is another world, with low-key electro-transe music playing, beautifully painted walls (lots of purples and patterns with sea horses, turtles and other creatures), and those low hanging coloured linen sheets off the ceilings.
It’s shoes off as you enter and there are no chairs, just cushions and low tables. It is virtually impossible not to relax in here and prepare yourself for the tea.
And there were lots of teas to choose from, with some giving you a hint of the kind of atmosphere Samsara aimed to promote: there was Flower Power Tea (with hibiscus, cardamon and others I couldn’t work out from the Romanian); Meditation Tea; Ayurveda Tea, and one I liked the name of – Anti-Strain Tea, though I think it was to do with stress rather than being against the idea of using a strainer…
We opted for a Darjeeling, sticking while we can to our favourite black teas, with which they had no issue bringing us some cold milk, though they also came with small biscuits and lots of honey, which you could either scoop up with the biccies or dip into your tea.
They weren’t big on cake, but we did try the raw vanilla cake, which was basically an iced cake, rather like an ice cream on some sort of pastry bottom.
It was quiet when we were there, with maybe half a dozen other customers having a cuppa. And I can’t tell what kind of clientele they normally have on, say, a Saturday night. But I liked this place.
We both left it feeling extremely relaxed, we’d felt very welcome from the first moment, and we’d thoroughly recommend it for tea in Cluj. But don’t go in there expecting Bettys or Fortnum and Mason.