Head into Denpasar for coffee on Bali

When we finally got to Denpasar (via that snail-paced ferry from Java, and the tortuous bus route along the island’s windy roads) we found ourselves in the middle of Bali’s capital in a resort hotel frequented mainly by Indonesians, and well away from the touristy parts like Kuta or Seminyak.

There are countless coffee shops – probably run by Aussies and New Zealanders – over by the beaches, but we were treated to some quality local coffee culture within a short walk of our hotel in the centre of Denpasar.

Playboy's coffee house in Denpasar

First up, we found the rather dubiously named Playboy’s Coffee House, its image of the bunny rabbit’s head making us wonder what sort of joint we were entering.

The Nuova Simonella coffee machine reassured us, though, as did the house blend advertised, which married some local Aceh and Flores beans with a Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia. So some thought had gone into the coffee, and it showed with the resulting cappuccino, a delightful start to our day in Denpasar.

Coffee in Denpasar at Playboy's

It was quite a late start, mind you. At 10.15am, we were the café’s first customers (they open at 10am) so don’t dash along here for a crack-of-dawn cuppa. But if you are on the beach and fancy a coffee in Denpasar itself, Playboy’s could be the place for you.

You couldn’t find a friendlier pair than Steve and Eky, who run the show, either. The decor and fittings all look pristine and sparklingly clean, as if the place only opened a few days before, and there’s a nice touch, with Eky’s badminton championship medal from 1997 standing on the counter by the wall, showing there’s more to life than coffee…or at least there was all those years ago.

Outside seating at Playboy's Coffee House in Denpasar

There’s good air-conditioning here, or a terrace out the front if you prefer to bathe in the warm air, and a room at the side which is covered by a roof but otherwise open to the front. So, lots of options, and I’m guessing they are more of a nocturnal venue than early morning…

Playboy's for good coffee in Denpasar

Which brings me back to that name: I asked the owners why they had chosen the name Playboy’s. ‘For fun’, they said, and to create a concept for the menu, which does indeed include lots of interesting innuendoes, though we didn’t try the Nutty Naughty, the One Night Stand or the First Fruit.

We stuck to their basic coffee and cake, and were very happy with that for our morning cuppa in Denpasar.

As we walked back towards our hotel, happy to have found good coffee on Bali, we passed by another coffee shop, which drew us in with its announcement that they roast their own coffee.

Golden Honey coffee roastery in Denpasar

Golden Honey is an ‘artisan coffee roastery’ but also specialises in pizza! Again, we were the only customers in there at 11am, and with pizza not really on our minds, we decided to stick to the coffee, but wondered again if this was more of an evening venue, where people come for dinner and then finish their day with a quality coffee.

Golden Honey coffee shop in Denpasar

As you’d expect from a place that roasts their own, the coffee was good, all Indonesian this time, which we also like to see, though I personally preferred the brew they gave us round the corner at Playboy’s (the thing is, it’s always hard when a venue is the second coffee shop to be visited in a short time frame – the joy of having the first caffeine of the day means the 2nd cup has to be extraordinarily special to gain the same effect on the senses…).

Coffee from Bali at Golden Honey coffee roastery in Denpasar

I loved the concept, though: locally roasted, using Indonesian beans – our coffee made even from a Bali crop – and selling bags of the best on the counter. Once again, I couldn’t resist, and we came away with yet another bag of beans, this time from Bali of course.

So, that was our last coffee on the road on an odyssey that began with Loustic in Paris and ended with Golden Honey in Denpasar. Our next coffee would be at Adelaide Airport, when we arrived the next day into Australia.

Poster in Golden Honey coffee shop in Denpasar

But there was still tea to come in Bali. More on that tomorrow…

Coffee culture and designer tea in Kuala Lumpur

We travelled right across Kuala Lumpur in search of good coffee and tea. Most of it we managed on the rather good local transport system, using a combination of buses, monorail and the light railway, though we did opt for taxis to get home from both our favourite coffee shop and tea room.

We found The Brew Culture by chance, mind you. We caught the 83 bus from KL Sentral up to the Plaza Damas part of town and felt quite smug to have found our way so far from the centre of town. But we’d gone there in search of a coffee shop that has actually closed down (the owner, a former Malaysian barista champ, has transferred to Johor Bahru, where he opened a new venue shortly after we got that far south – check out Atlas Coffee Embassy if you’re interested in tracking him down).

The Brew Culture for coffee in Kuala Lumpur

Plaza Damas is a massive shopping mall on both sides of the main road and there are countless cafes, but Brew Culture stared down at us as we got off the bus so we decided to give it a go. And very glad we were that we did…

Best coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur?

What we liked about the guys who run this place is their enthusiasm and passion for what they do (it seems they gained their love of coffee when living in America and/or Australia, and wanted to bring something similar home).

Their basic espresso blend for our visit included Indonesian, Bolivian and Salvadorean, but if you went for the hand brewed coffees, you could choose from a number of other options, including a delicious sounding Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia.

Cake and coffee in Kuala Lumpur at The Brew Culture

It’s the kind of coffee shop where you can choose to sit on stools at the window watching the world drive by on the main street, get your laptop out and spend a few hours working, loll around in comfy sofas, or sit near the bar and chat to the baristas (owners).

Inside The Brew Culture coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur

It was when we were swapping stories with the owners that we got talking to another customer by the name of Ony and ended up with a rendez vous for later in the week further south in Malaysia (that’s the great thing about coffee connections, they always seem to lead to other new experiences, but more on that in the blog to come…).

BrewedShelves

For coffee in Kuala Lumpur, we’d recommend getting on that bus to Brew Culture. The guys there did recommend somewhere more central, but we had a less positive experience there, which will lead to another blog entry later, around some of the issues that can crop up in coffee shops, so we’ll save that story for then rather than naming the other place in a negative entry).

When the guys at Brew Culture heard that we also review teas, they insisted we try their range of flower teas. The chrysanthemum tea was almost as good as their coffee, so if tea is your tipple, get yourself to Brew Culture anyway!

Chrysanthemum tea at The Brew Culture in Kuala Lumpur

But for great quality tea in Kuala Lumpur, we’d actually recommend a trip to the opposite end of town. The Tea Republic has an extraordinary range of teas from some of the big international tea suppliers (Ronnefeldt, Jing Tea, Koala Tea, and some Japanese and Canadian companies we hadn’t come across before).

Great tea in Kuala Lumpur at The Tea Republic

They have nine signature teas (Ceylon breakfast, Earl Grey with cornflowers, a puer-based tea, an oolong, a white tea, a gunpowder, and then the ones we wouldn’t normally choose: mint, chamomile, roiboos and fruit) and if you go for the High Tea, then for about £4 (UK) you get a pot of tea, a cake and a tray of sandwiches – so it’s great value, too.

Great place for afternoon tea in Kuala Lumpur

We loved this place for its simplicity but also its quality. It sits in the corner of a fairly plush looking shopping mall in a more affluent part of KL (Bangsar shopping centre NOT Bangsar village!), but there was no sign of any airs and graces that sometimes go with such circumstances; the staff were friendly and open to chat with us about the teas and the background to the tea room.

The owner, we found out, is an architect, but tea is her passion and The Tea Republic her big project that takes her beyond the world of architecture. But it’s funny how often coffee and tea shop owners’ past or other careers find an outlet in their new ventures: if you look at the design for the name of this tea room as you enter the place, you can see the architect’s style in the layout and feel.

The Tea Republic tea room in Kuala Lumpur

Good luck to these guys, and keep serving up great afternoon tea to the people of Kuala Lumpur. This place is open every day from 9am to 9pm, so you have lots of opportunity to get over there for an excellent cuppa.

Oh, and don’t miss the Victoria Sandwich – a real treat that tasted almost as good as cake at home in Yorkshire…

Victoria Sponge with tea in Kuala Lumpur

There’s good coffee in Siem Reap and Battambang

No visit to Cambodia is complete without a tour round Angkor Wat or a bumpy ride on the Battambang bamboo railway. But even tourists need a bit of a caffeine fix if they’re anything like us.

Fortunately there are great coffee shops in Battambang and in Siem Reap.

Kin yei coffee shop in Battambang

In Battambang, KinYei is a bit of an institution, mainly among the expat community and tourists, but still it is worth a visit. Its address is in the magical sounding 1.5 Street, but it’s very easy to find, not far from the river, tucked away in a corner.

We were actually told about Kin Yei by the guys at Feel Good in Phnom Penh. Saphorn, the barista at Feel Good very graciously told us about the barista from Kin Yei who came first in the national barista championships (while he came second).

Coffee in Battambang made by a barista champion

And we were lucky enough to have our cappuccinos made by Sakana, who won that 2013 signature cappuccino award. I don’t want to be heightest about these things (being 6’2”) but Sakana, at less than five foot high, and a delicate young woman, does not fit the usual mould of bearded, waist-coated thirty something males that dominate the western coffee world.

She makes a great coffee, though, proving that you need much testosterone to make a good coffee and we came back for more several times in our short stay in Battambang.

Upstairs on the balcony at Kin Yei coffee shop in Battambang

Kin Yei can get very full, mind you. If it’s not the local environmental cycling tours that operate out of the same building, it’s the expats working for the countless NGOs that seem to be based in Battambang.

So service can be bit confused and slow, but in the heat of Cambodia it’s hard to be in a rush anyway.

The coffee is excellent, since they get their beans from Feel Good in Phnon Penh. We DON’T recommend the ‘Khmer coffee’, which is about a quarter of the price, but tastes a bit like an instant Nescafe style.

So, best coffee in Battambang has to be at Kin Wei.

If you really like a home-baked cake with your cuppa, you could try Upstairs Café, across the river from the town centre on the road that runs along the river bank.

Upstairs Cafe for good cake in Battambang

It has beautiful décor (though the music was rather loud to relax) and a verandah to sit on and watch people go by, but it uses big global brands for its tea and coffee, so is not somewhere we’ll be reviewing for the Fancy a Cuppa website. But it does do an excellent range of cakes, very western, very spongy, if it’s cake that you’re missing so far from home.

Adam opened his coffee shop in Siem Reap only a few weeks before our visit, but it already had the feel of THE place to go if you really like your coffee.

The Little Red fox espresso bar in Siem Reap

Adam also uses Feel Good Coffee at The Little Red Fox Espresso Bar and he knows how to make a good cappuccino (it’s the milk as much as the coffee, of course), that’s for sure. He also bakes a mean carrot cake, using his partner’s great grandmother’s recipe.

Menu board at The Little Red Fox coffee shop in Siem Reap

And unlike many coffee shops in Asia, this place opens really early, meaning we could nip in for a couple of takeaways before catching our long distance bus to Bangkok. Adam and partner were there on the dot of 6.30am – we were his first customers that day.

Best coffee in Siem Reap at The Little Red Fox

This is a fantastic addition to Siem Reap’s café scene. We didn’t try anywhere else in town but this surely must be the best coffee in Siem Reap.

Best cake and coffee in Siem Reap at The Little Red Fox

Adam has done a great job moving over to Cambodia from his home in Brisbane and managing to set up a successful business in what is basically a matter of weeks. We wish him all the best in his new enterprise and hope he is still there in ten years’ time as he hopes!

I got egg in my coffee in Hanoi…

Hanoi is such a hotspot for coffee that we didn’t even find time for tea in our three days there. What’s more, Vietnam’s capital has such a wonderful range of coffee shops serving up the traditional Vietnamese coffee that we also didn’t bother trying to find any western-style cappuccino or espresso, and that must be a first for us.

Every street corner seems to have a coffee shop in Hanoi. With people (mainly guys, it has to be said, though not exclusively) sitting on low stools or chairs spilling out onto pavements, you can tell Hanoi has a café culture such as we hadn’t really seen since Istanbul.

Coffee drinkers spill out onto the streets of Hanoi

With so many coffee shops, it’s impossible in such a small space of time to visit enough to say we ‘covered’ coffee in the capital. But we loved everything we did sample in Hanoi.

Our first cuppa was at a place called Homemade Coffee in a street called Thai Phien.

Homemade Coffee in Hanoi

After the tourist focus of Sapa, where everything is in English, we were confronted with our first menu only in Vietnamese, and only limited English among the staff, so it was a case of picking at random and seeing what we got…

Coffee menu at Homemade Coffee in Hanoi

One of us ended up with an iced coffee, the other with a hot coffee with milk.

Now, I’d always been a bit disdainful of people that rave about iced tea or coffee (usually folk from the southern US states, where most things are drunk iced), but actually in Vietnam, I began to appreciate a glass of the iced stuff on a steaming hot day.

When it first appeared in front of me, I still wasn’t too sure – all that ice!!!

Homemade Iced Coffee in Hanoi

But mix it up in the same way you do with a hot milk coffee in Vietnam, and you get a passably decent colour, which tastes pretty good, made with the right coffee.

Iced coffee after mixing

I didn’t get the time in our few days in Vietnam to develop a palate sensitive enough to pick out what makes a good Vietnamese coffee from an ordinary one (and we did have a couple of those too on our travels).

But when you see the guy roasting his own coffee beans in the street in front of the coffee shop he runs, the chances are this will make a good coffee. And so it was with Khoa Coffee (or Cafe Khoa).

Khoa Coffee in Hanoi

We watched the whole roasting process in front of us; a real micro-roast if ever I saw one, with a tiny number of beans going into each small roasting ball, before he then sieved the beans post roast and packaged them for the next customer.

Mr Khoa roasting his coffee in Hanoi

RoasterSifting

RoasterPostRoast

His coffee was good enough, and his meticulous dedication to his work impressive enough for me to want to buy some of the coffee Mr Khoa roasted in his shop on the corner of Hang Giay and Van Chuong streets.

And such was his pride in the quality of the coffee that he insisted we take away the newly-roasted batch rather than a packet roasted a few days earlier.

We were well impressed with this guy and his coffee shop in Hanoi. It’s our top tip for coffee if you’re in the old part of the Vietnamese capital.

Our final sample of the Hanoi coffee culture came at Pho Co Café, which is a bit of a tourist attraction these days, so it’s hard to know for sure how genuine the place is.

Views from Pho Co Cafe in Hanoi

A lot of people go there for the great views over Hanoi’s beautiful lake, and the two floors that have terraces looking out over town are worth it whatever tipple tickles your fancy.

The coffee shop is tucked away down a narrow alleyway on Hang Gai street, and you walk through a clothes shop first to even get to the alleyway.

Pho Co Cafe entrance

They take orders on the ground floor before you head upstairs and pick your spot, either looking down on the courtyard garden, with all its Buddha paraphernalia and plants growing in the dim light, or you go right up past the actual (Buddhist) shrine to those upstairs terraces.

Eggy coffee at Pho Co Cafe in Hanoi

What’s famous about this café is the egg white that’s added to the coffee (if that’s what you want, of course). We tried it and wow, yes this is a great idea for a really rich, frothy coffee in the morning. I have no idea how genuinely traditional this is in Vietnamese coffee culture (perhaps someone better informed can answer…), but this is the main draw for tourists, and it’s what gets the mention in travel guides like Lonely Planet.

We liked this place enough to go back twice, though as much for the views and atmosphere as for that eggy coffee.

Eggy coffee with a view in Hanoi

I wish we’d had a week more to explore other parts of Hanoi and try other coffee shops around the town. We’d almost certainly have come up with as many stories and versions of what makes a good coffee as we have in the three places we did try.

So for coffee lovers, Hanoi is one top destination. And as I say, I didn’t even try to find a western-style ‘speciality’ coffee shop there.

Our first Vietnamese coffee in Sapa and a bit of a taste from home for tea.

If China is famous for its tea, Vietnam is for the coffee, and the switch is immediate as soon as you cross the border. So, when we woke on our first morning in Sapa, we were keen to taste our first real Vietnamese coffee.

Now, you can get a western-style cappuccino all over Sapa, since there are enough tourists there all year round to keep such coffee shops open.

But we wanted to try the local version and hunted around for a place that looked appealing.

Little Vietnam coffee shop in Sapa

It didn’t take us long to come across Little Vietnam on the main street in Sapa, and the two young women serving in there seemed delighted to be the subject of our photos, videos and copious notes being taken as they prepared the brews for us.

Anyone familiar with Vietnamese coffee will recognise the little filters that are almost the trademark of the national drink.

Preparing our first Vietnamese coffee in Sapa

We guessed that we’d need to wait a few minutes for the coffee to filter through into the glass below, but we were intrigued by the glutinous white layer below that, which of course was the sweetened, condensed milk you also have to get used to (and we did!) if you’re going to drink Vietnamese coffee on a regular basis.

We still needed special instructions that first morning, because if you don’t stir the two liquids up, they will stay as two thin bands of different colours in the glass. But mix it all up and you get a classic ‘white’ Vietnamese coffee, though they – wisely – don’t call it ‘white’, and just say with milk. This photo is, after all, after it’s all been stirred up…

Vietnamese coffee in Sapa

It’s actually a very taste brew. It’s strong, and one local suggested they shouldn’t be drunk after 3pm if you want any chance of sleeping at night, but we got so into them for the 10 days we were in Vietnam, that we certainly had at least one a day, and even broke the supposed 3pm deadline a couple of times (without disastrous consequences, I might add).

We did try a second coffee later that first day, but it was neither as good nor in a place with as nice an atmosphere, so our top tip for coffee in Sapa goes to Little Vietnam.

For tea and cake, we moved on to a couple of the social enterprises that operate in Sapa.

Baguette & Chocolat in Sapa

Baguette and Chocolat has been going for some 20 years. It only employs what it calls ‘disadvantaged youth’ and helps them into careers in catering and the hotel industry.

We came here mainly because of its cakes, which drew us in from the front window – and they were indeed pretty special, in a French kind of way (meaning small and delicate rather than the American/UK tendency to go for size).

Lemon tarts at Baguette & Chocolat in Sapa

We matched these lemon tarts up with some beautiful citronella tea with local honey for a pretty tasty post-lunch treat.

Citronella tea in Sapa with local honey at Baguette & Chocolat

So for cake (and a cuppa to go with it) we recommend Baguette & Chocolat in Sapa.

But just across the road from these guys is another charity, just as worthy. The O’Chau social enterprise is a backpackers’ hostel, but also a café and handicrafts store, with all monies raised going to build the social enterprise side of the organisation, helping young people from Sapa and villages around the town continue their education. You can check out their work at www.sapaochau.org

O'Chau in Sapa in the mist

Of course, we were mainly here for the tea, a final brew before we caught our bus down to Hanoi.

Now, I’m all for doing things the local way when it comes to tea and coffee (except for that awful green stuff we tried in China), but when you spot an old favourite like Yorkshire Tea on a menu that’s 10,000 miles from home, it’s hard to resist.

The lass who served us found it highly amusing that we came from a town only a few miles from where they package the Yorkshire Tea, so she was delighted to pose for a photo, which duly got tweeted and then passed on to all their followers by the guys at Yorkshire Tea. That’s what I love about social media.

Yorkshire Tea in Sapa at O'Chau

And it was not a bad brew, either. Taken with milk, it almost tasted like a cuppa back home. Hats off to them over at O’Chau.

So for tea in Sapa, I’d actually recommend dropping in to see the guys and girls at O’Chau – worth supporting their work in any case!

A great concept for coffee in Kunming

Until we arrived in Kunming, we’d always associated Yunnan Province with tea. But then we found Salvador’s Coffee House and discovered Yunnan Coffee.

Salvador's Coffee House in Kunming

I liked Salvador’s before I even found the place. It was nowhere near our hotel, and we’d had terrible trouble finding places in other Chinese cities without a map or good guidance, so I took the unusual step of emailing Salvador’s to find out the best bus route to get there

And I was delighted when co-owner Colin actually replied, with very clear instructions (Bus Number 2, in case you are wondering).

From the outside this looks like many other expat coffee shops we’ve seen in far-flung places, but the first thing we noticed inside Salvador’s is that there are as many Chinese customers as there are expats (sure, many of them may be studying at the uni round the corner looking for careers abroad, but the mix gave this a good feel as part of the local community rather than an expat ghetto).

Inside Salvador's Coffee House in Kunming

And all the staff are local. In fact, read the inside cover of the menu and you’ll see that Salvador’s goes out of its way to employ and train up young women from Yunnan villages, offering them a stake in the business and giving them not only a salary but great skills which will take them far if ever they move on to other things.

The concept is so interesting and unique that there is a French anthropologist writing her PhD on the place – she’s virtually set up home in the café for now so go there in the next few weeks and you’ll surely see her propping up the bar (or indeed helping out wiping tables); after that she’ll be in the field in those Yunnan villages where the baristas come from. Should be a fascinating study.

But we were there mainly for the coffee (and cake, of course). And what we really liked about the coffee they have here is that it is all grown locally in Yunnan Province, and roasted by Salvador’s themselves (though they do also sell some Yunnan coffee roasted by others).

Yunnan coffee beans sold in Salvador's cafe in Kunming

It may not be the best coffee we ever tasted, but it’s a wonderful concept and we liked the place enough to return three or four times during our short stay in Kunming.

Coffee in Kunming at Salvador's

For traditional western coffee drinkers who also like cake with their cuppa, Salvador’s also comes up trumps, with some fantastically tasty and good value pumpkin muffins (though whether these are just seasonal – and so we got lucky – I’m not sure).

Salvador’s celebrated its 10th anniversary last September and both Colin and partner Kris seem just as full of new ideas as ever, so long may it continue (interestingly, they have diversified into Yunnan energy bars lately; and the Salvador’s concept has now launched in a nearby town of Lincang, only this time fully employee-owned).

So for coffee in Kunming, Salvador’s should not be missed.

A complete contrast to Salvador’s can be found about ten minutes’ walk away, heading towards Kunming’s big lake to the north of the town centre.

Kafka Cafe serving Julius Meinl in Kunming

Here we found Kafka Café, with a big sign over the front door telling us they get their coffee from Julius Meinl.

Now, I’m a big fan of Meinl, as large companies go, so I was keen to see how it tasted in Kunming. And if I’m really honest, I probably just preferred the cappuccino they served up here to the Yunnan coffee we had in Salvador’s.

Coffee in Kunming at Kafka Cafe

The Kafka Café also has a very relaxing feel with lots of space, light, and interesting spots to sit among the books, in the window or out the front on the terrace.

Inside Kafka Cafe in Kunming

They also did Yorkshire Tea, the first time I’d seen our tea from home in the far east (served in – virtually – a pint jug and black) – it was nice to try, though not quite the same as having it back in Yorkshire.

A pint of Yorkshire Tea in Kunming

And I have to say, I prefer the Salvador’s concept of going local rather than importing from thousands of miles away. So, although we enjoyed Kafka Café, it would probably be a 2nd choice for us for coffee or tea in Kunming.

But our Yunnan coffee journey didn’t end in Kunming.

Tom, the owner of the hostel we stayed in near Lijiang, is also a great coffee enthusiast, and he proudly served up Yunnan Coffee for us first thing in the morning (highly recommend his place, by the way: the October Inn is 15 minutes walk from the old town of Lijiang).

Early morning coffee at October inn in Lijiang

Lijiang Old Town is virtually impossible not to get lost in. It must be China’s equivalent of Venice in that way.

That meant we just couldn’t find Tom’s coffee supplier (which he had recommended and had told us was in a small shop just a few metres from the water wheel – in case you feel like trying for yourselves).

But amazingly, we did manage to find Prague Café.

Prague Cafe in Lijiang

We didn’t find out how they got their name, but this lovely coffee shop in Lijiang serves up more good Yunnan Coffee, with some great cakes for us westerners, catering also though for Chinese customers who seem to prefer noodles with their coffee (at least at the time of day we popped in…).

Cake and coffee in Lijiang at Prague Cafe

Actually, Prague serves up Lavazza in their espresso machine, keeping the Yunnan coffee for their pourover (and by the way, they also have lovely puer teas on the menu).

I’d recommend this place if you’re looking for tea or coffee in Lijiang. But it’s hard to give directions as we found it by chance: best I can do is, down the stream from the water wheel towards the market and it’s on a street just over a bridge half way down.

The view out of Prague Cafe in Lijiang

And I reckon that pretty well sums up their postal address too. But that is how things work in Lijiang.

Touristy it may be, but we loved the place. It made a fitting end to our time in Yunnan, the only province we’d probably rush to return to in all of China. But then it probably is the only province that produce both tea and coffee in China.

Great tea in Tbilisi – coffee too. We liked this place!

We had the good fortune to take tea in Tbilisi with the man who is surely Georgia’s No 1 expert on tea. We then found a tea room that proudly serves up his teas in town. And we managed also to find a great coffee shop linked to a book store on Tbilisi’s main avenue.

You can’t really sit down for afternoon tea at Shota Bitadze’s lovely tea house on Galaktioni Street in Tbilisi. It’s more of a retail outlet with lots of teas from China and from Shota’s own plantations in Georgia.

Tea house in Tbilisi

But engage Shota in conversation on the wonders of the tea world and the chances are he’ll invite you to sit down and sample a few of his favourites.

The walls of his tea house tell stories of their own, with photos of early Georgian tea traders (the Chinese brought tea to Georgia in 1847) mixed in with more recent pics from Shota’s own tea journeys (to India, China and beyond).

Inside tea house in Tbilisi

The shop is a tea lovers’ dream, with things to spot and admire on every inch of wall or surface.

And we got to taste a few of the favourites from Shota’s collection, all lovingly presented with great (gong fu) ceremony.

Teas for sale at the tea house in Tbilisi

Shota stayed beyond his normal 6pm closing time to finish showing us his stock and have us sample some of them. We were also joined by his son, George, who looks likely to continue the family tradition and helped pass on to us the Georgian tea story (in excellent English I might add).

Shota Bitadze and son George

Of course, we bought a box. We have a good supply of teas for our journey, but could not pass up the chance to enjoy teas for a few mornings at least, knowing we have met the man who grows them and prepares them.

Tea from Georgia

Next day, we found the lovely Alt Haus Tea Room, which is very close to the big bike sculpture that seems to be now a major stop-off point on Tbilisi tours.

Big bike sculpture visible from Alt Haus Tea Room

There are more than 60 loose leaf teas on the menu here, but we had to try more of the Georgian Tea from Shota. And the black tea is good and strong enough to warrant a dash of milk, making us feel even more at home than Shota had done the previous day.

Tea at Alt Haus tea room in Tbilisi

Tbilisi is really a top spot if you’re into your teas.

Alt Haus Tea Room in Tbilisi

Alt Haus Tea Room in Tbilisi

Alt Haus has a great feel to it, too, with a bit of a bohemian look, bright colours, interesting décor and lots of small sections to sit in. Just beware if you pop to the loo, there: also great décor, but if you struggle to cope with seeing yourself in the mirror, don’t go there, because there is one of those mirrors-both-sides set-ups that mean your reflection goes on ad infinitum…

Mari was in charge on the day of our visit; a very friendly approach and obviously proud of the quality of teas they have on offer here. A top place we’d highly recommend.

We only had time for one coffee in Tbilisi. So that had to be at Caliban Coffee, which is attached to Prosperos Books on Rustaveli Street, the main thoroughfare in Tbilisi’s centre.

Caliban Coffee Shop in Tbilisi

There’s a real expat feel to this place, with big American-style muffins to munch on with your cappuccino and classical music playing gently as background.

Tbilisi

With the British Council upstairs and the Canadian Consulate in the same courtyard, this place clearly has a captive customer base. But if I lived in Tbilisi, I’d also be willing to hike across town for a coffee of this standard.

Coffee at Caliban Coffee Shop in Tbilisi

They roast their own across town; it’s quite a dark roast, but an interesting blend involving Indian and Haitian beans as well as the more familiar Indonesian or Colombian.

And if you like your French Press coffee, they can do that too, so Tbilisi has something to offer coffee lovers as well as the tea community.

Talking of tea, Caliban Coffee also had loose leaf teas, though they said they import them from England. I wasn’t able to find out more, but much as I love some of the tea suppliers back home, I know if I lived in Tbilisi I’d want to drink the local brew day after day.

So our to tips for Tbilisi would be Caliban Coffee shop and the Alt Haus Tea Room, with a must-do visit to Shota Bitadze’s tea house. Right, there’s your next weekend away sorted out then…