Al Cafetero take a look at this small cafe with ambitious coffee

Suchi Rudra

Written by Suchi Rudra
Published on 15.06.2009 09:50 (updated on 15.06.2009)

Karel Gregor´s visions of coffee do not normally include sugar and milk—additives that he says “destroy” the pure taste of coffee. This is serious coffee we are talking about here, coffee that has a “floral aroma” and is best drunk from a wide-mouthed cup, which allows the coffee to breathe. Since opening Al Cafetero six months ago with his wife Antonia, Karel has been satiating customers´ curiosity and palates with his extensive knowledge of coffees. You might just call him a sommelier of coffee.

Before Karel, a Prague native, crossed over into the entrepreneurial world, he managed Café Savoy for three years, where he picked up the subtleties of fine food and drink preparation and service. His wife, who hails from Slovakia, was working in the hotel industry for several years, where she herself learned the tricks of the fine dining trade.

“What we like is something that is unusual, and so that is what we offer, unusual products. We aren´t commercial at all,” Karel says about their café philosophy.

What makes this a true “coffee-lover´s” paradise, as the café´s Spanish name implies, is its unique coffee-making procedures. Al Cafetero, on Blanicka Street, is reportedly one of two places in the Czech Republic that offers its patrons the vacuum pot (or siphon) cup of coffee, a 200-year old method that is highly popular in Japan.

“I love this vacuum pot method, because it really is like a ritual, like the Japanese tea ceremony,” Antonia says. “You can feel something with your eyes and your mouth.”

But not only will Karel prepare your coffee uniquely and right at your table while he explains the meaning behind the magic, he can also offer you ten unique types of coffee beans to choose from.

Karel and Antonia have teamed up with La Boheme, who exclusively provides the café with the highest quality chocolates, wines and, of course, coffee beans that are freshly roasted right in Prague. The café´s offerings include organic beans from Ethiopia and also the most expensive coffee bean in the world, from Indonesia—Kopi Luwak. For 1,800 CZK, you will be the proud owner of 250 grams of this most rare bean, which is also produced in a rather unusual way that the owners gladly explain to their patrons.

On the less expensive side, all of the other coffees, teas, chocolates and wines on the menu are available for purchase. One especially popular product purchased by customers is the Czech produced Babicka Tea, which comes in 14 different atypical flavors.

“If we serve something here, we want to sell it for the home as well,” Karel says.

Not to worry if you do like your coffee with those interfering ingredients of milk and sugar—the menu still retains the traditional favorites like cappuccinos and lattes. And to temper down the caffeine buzz, you can order from a delicious variety of light dishes, including grilled Tuscan style vegetables, salads, fresh Italian and Spanish cheeses and hams, and of course desserts. Antonia´s homemade tiramisu, created from a generations-old Italian family recipe, has already been declared to be the best tiramisu in town—not an exaggerated claim by any means.

The café duo has decided to run their business entirely on their own, without hiring any staff. Al Cafetero is open daily from 8.30 until 21.30 (or when the last customers leave), but closed on the weekends, allowing the owners some time off and a chance to return refreshed with more inspiring coffee ideas.

“It´s very personal here, very much a family feeling, you can feel like you are at home,” Karel said. Antonia was initially unsure about the café´s location on a calm side street, away from a nearby high way that would have given them plenty of visibility. But the owners never wanted to become a tourist attraction either, and are happy to be a place for locals and expats who call Prague home.

The café certainly does have a sense of home, seating only 25 people indoors, with room for six more on the three sidewalk tables. But its living room-like space is cozy and unobtrusively decorated. A couple of cushy sofas lean against the back wall, a solid “coffee table” is planted before each sofa, where coffee demonstrations or business meetings (the café has free wifi) take place. To aid in the pure coffee experience, the café is non-smoking, something that might be highly appreciated by some of the expat community. The music is smooth and light but still has a bit of a kick, just like the tiramisu here. Upon the walls, a few framed diagrams and sketches from the late 1800s and early 1900s depict the technical details of several various coffee making processes.

A visit to Al Cafetero is essentially like a visit to a live exhibition of coffee, an exhibition that you can partake of and also learn a lot from. And Karel and Antonia will be your most obliging tour guides, offering samples, souvenirs and a friendly chat.