Madal Cafe – Budapest (HU)
Meet one of the city’s earliest adopters of true specialty coffee
A few years ago I lived in Bucarest (the Romanian capital, not the Hungarian one), and already back then there was a truly vibrant coffee culture in the city. In fact, locals met for coffee at 11pm before going out rather than going for a drink, as we say here in the West. Unfortunately the coffee was truly abismal but in those days I was still years away from discovering and embracing specialty coffee. What that time taught me however, was the fact that Eastern Europe already had a very lively coffee scene, albeit slightly different to our Western European one. In my native Hamburg for instance, coffee chains closed at 6pm and you’d get strange looks if you suggested meeting up for a Cappuccino at 11pm. Well, even that is still a strange concept in most Western cities but we’re getting there. We’re getting there.
Of course I wasn’t at all familiar with the coffee scene in Budapest until shortly before my recent visit. I imagined it would be similar to the coffee scene in Bucarest, judging by its proximity to its neighbour (relatively speaking) but as any experienced traveller will confirm, it’s foolish to assume anything these days. So I did a bit of research and came across a blog called Idle Expatter, that extensively discussed some of the city’s leading artisinal coffee spots. There was even a picture of a Budapest Coffee Map. I couldn’t ask for a more convenient introduction because I only had one day for an intense coffee hunt and then you want to make sure that every second counts. So my Budapest coffee adventure began.
First on my list was a place in the northern part of the center called Madal. From the images I had seen it looked like it was serious business and I couldn’t imagine what better way to start the day than to meet some of the Hungarian capital’s most progressive coffee people. Located just around the corner from the bridge that leads you to wonderful Margaria Island, Madal is a highly unassuming little place on a leafy pedestrian street that you’d almost be forgiven to pass by without stopping to look. But only almost.
As you walk in you are immediately faced with a very professional coffee making set up that undoubtedly shows: these people know about coffee.
I found a table by the window and inquired about the various beans that were on offer that day. Funnily enough they had a Stumptown special this month, serving their Hair Bender blend. Next to that there was also a Brazil Pocos de Calvas espresso roast, which was used to make my flat white. The baristas were super friendly and got quite excited when I told them about our brand new coffee subscription. While Western Europe is getting quite used to various things being delivered in a monthly package, this concept still seems to be quite new in Eastern Europe.
Although I did like the punchiness of the Brazilian beans, I lacked a bit of natural sweetness in the milk. I wondered if this had something to do with a different type of diet that cows in Hungary enjoyed or whether it was just that my palate was not yet adjusted to other types of milk. You have to know that in Amsterdam I hardly ever drink milk, except in flat whites and a lot of the coffee places I frequent use the same providers. Aaaanyway.
What I did like very much about Madal was its character and the baristas sporting little caps, excactly like the guys at Stumptown do. I guess it had something to do with their current special. Some people think the look is a bit too hipster but when worn well, little accessories like that can add some zeal. It seems that Madal was actually one of the very first places in town that truly adopted specialy coffee as a way of life. The guys confirmed that Budapest had its fair share of coffee shops and bars but rather than being modelled on the Italian espresso bars, local businesses aspired more to the Viennese coffee salons, which is no great surprise considering the long history of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
One thing that truly stuck out and in my view seemed a bit odd, was an extensive display of images, pamphlets and trophies related to Sri Chinmoy. Admitting my ignorance, I had never heard of this spiritual man before but it seems he left quite the impression on Madal’s owners, who I expect to be true advocates of his teachings and philosophies. Apart from a very varied selection of private label coffees, Madal also has a huge number of loose leaf teas, which they embrace with almost the same dedication as their coffees. Indeed, teas go much more hand in hand with the spiritual lifestyle associated with yoga than specialty coffee, don’t they?
As I took my last sip and finished typing up my notes, I got chatting to a fellow punter who was curious about my business and asked for some advice on how to set up a coffee place in Budapest. I found it quite humbling that he was so keen to hear my opinion on his ideas despite the fact that we don’t have a Coffeevine shop and my experience in this regard is of limited use. None the less, I hope I could share some good tips with him and I left Madal feeling energized and ready to explore the city’s promising coffee scene on this beautiful sunny day. Maybe Sri was there in spirit after all. Ok that last line was a bit too cheesy. I admit it.