Prague local favorites: Kafe Karlin

To be honest, the people of Kavovy klub really ruined mediocre coffee for us. Some five years ago, you felt like a connoisseur over a cup of Illy coffee. Then Zuzi joined the wonderful Scuk gang and agreed to attend their coffee course. She was concerned. Coffee usually caused bad heartburn for her and she always ordered lattes to dissolve the coffee in lots of milk. But she was new and wanted to learn. The course, lead by Zdenek, one half of the Kavovy klub duo, opened her eyes to specialty coffee. No heartburn and delicious arabicas!

The course also infuriated Jan, because the circle of cafes in Prague where Zuzi would be willing to actually have coffee considerably shrunk to just Al Cafetero and a then Muj salek kavy when it opened a bit later. Luckily, the circle has widened a lot in the past years, as new speciality coffee shops opened one after another. One of the latest to enter the game was Kafe Karlin, lead by Adam and Zdenek, the duo behind the Kavovy klub who organised the first courses for the public showing how to prepare specialty coffee at home, including the one attended by Zuzi, and who started brewing delicious coffee at the local farmers’ markets.

Although small in size, we love stopping at Kafe Karlin. Zuzi thinks Zdenek still prepares one of the best espressos in town. Also, Kafe Karlin is just a block away from two spots that sell sweets we love to devour on with coffee: we either have a rakvicka at Lokal Hamburk, or anything traditional at the Simply Good bakery. We came to Kafe Karlin to ask Adam and Zdenek a few questions. Getting an interview there is pretty hard: you are always interrupted by regulars and newbies coming for a cup or two, and it is clear that Adam and Zdenek love to teach the gospel of specialty coffee and that Kafe Karlin is creating a nice community of loyal coffee aficionados who just love to stop by, get a cup of great coffee and a small chat.  

How did you two meet?
Adam: I approached Zdenek when I got the idea to start home coffee-making courses. We called these would-be events “Kavovy klub” (Coffee Club), and two months later, it became reality. 
Zdenek: Coffee was a career for me from the very start. I think I first tasted good coffee in Copenhagen at the 2008 World Barista Championships. I had an espresso at the barista party and Contra Coffee and my jaw dropped. That is where I realized I wanted to work with specialty coffee. It became my passion. 

Why did you open Kafe Karlin? Was this the climax of your efforts?
Adam: We’ve been organizing Kavovy klub events for five years and wanted to expand our activities, so having a cafe was a logical step forward. And we still want to move forward. We have our e-shop now, want to roast more…
Zdenek: We have just received our first palette of green coffee beans. It took us four years to reach this point.

How difficult is the transition from serving coffee to roasting coffee?
Adam: It is a natural transition. But not everybody wants to roast, and not everybody has enough funds to buy a palette of green coffee beans. Just to explain: we don't do the roasting ourselves. But we have the beans roasted according to our roasting profile and instructions. 
Zdenek: Adam and I work really great together. I really love to work with the coffee, and Adam is the guy who pushes me forward and makes things happen. Nothing would be done without Adam. I am just the guy who loves to fool around and try new things with coffee. 

What is your recommendation for someone who wants to open their own cafe?
Adam: You need a great location. 
Zdenek: What makes a difference is when people already know you. Also, you must expect to be in the red for the first six months, and then to break even if you’re lucky. The only exception was Muj salek kavy: we opened the door the first day, people came in and never left. It was a great success. 

Were there any surprises when you opened? Something you did not expect?
Zdenek: A pleasant surprise was seeing people having coffee here and then become regulars. They say they come over to brighten their days. At first they came once a week, now they come twice a day. 

Do you have a coffee guilty pleasure? Does anything like this exist? Do you drink the coffee at McDonald’s, for instance?
Zdenek: I have tried it several times. I always ended up throwing the cup away. But I can down a classic Czech “Turkish coffee” if it’s prepared from good beans. I’d rather have that than a crappy espresso.  
Adam: Of course, Turkish coffee, prepared the way they do it in many pubs and households here, is nothing to write home about. But if the bean is good, the grind is coarse and the extraction time right, you basically get coffee for cupping. It's similar and good. 

What is your favorite coffee drink?
Adam: Filter. Filter and espresso. I only drink coffee drinks with milk when I need to test them. And then when I have something sweet. For instance, I can order a double latte with a cake. But that's very rare and can easily fit within the "guilty pleasure" category. 

On your day off, where do you go to have coffee? Any new discoveries?
Adam: We do not really have time to explore and discover. Zdenek has a small kid, and we’re open from Monday to Friday, brew coffee at the farmers’ markets on Saturdays, and we run the classes on Sundays sometimes.
Zdenek: The usual suspects. Muj salek kavy, Kavarna Prazirna, EMA Espresso Bar, Monolok and so on. But new places have been popping up a lot recently, which is great.

Any trends you see in the future? Forecasts for the Prague coffee scene in 2015?
Adam: Nothing surprising. More places with good coffee will open. Coffee is now fashionable, and that’s good: it creates more competition. 

Photos by Couple of Prague.