Kaldi the goat herder lived on a hill. He tended his goats, loved them, cared for them, and contrary to the Vice documentary almost never had sex with them. Diligent shepherd that he was, he allowed his goats to wander and nibble at various grasses and berries on the slopes of southeastern Ethiopia, allowing them the pleasure of sampling vegetation at their individual discretion. He lived over 1000 years ago, and legend has it that one day, his dear flock strayed into a little visited grove and ate some strange red berries, after which they were significantly more agitated and alert. Kaldi ate them himself, and in turn experienced similar, not unpleasant symptoms. The bean was the coffee bean, and thus the power of the dear little cousin of the cocoa bean was discovered.
Over 400 billion cups of coffee are drunk globally every year. Serbia, for its small size, is a powerhouse of coffee drinkers and 5.4kg per person per year are consumed in this country, placing them 6th worldwide. This is an amazing statistic, considering nobody has a damn clue how to brew a cup of this life-giving beverage. The entire culture of Serbia revolves around the café and the social glue that holds relationships together here is stuck fast by the bitter, gloomy residue of leftover coffee grounds. Dates are offered, marriages proposed, divorces agreed upon, shots fired, politicians bribed and death warrants signed over coffee. One would think, given its socio-economic and cultural significance, there would be more attention paid to its preparation, more love given to such a precious and important ritual.
Sadly, beans are over-roasted, kept in unsealed jars or bags, allowing their oils to degrade. The same filters are used and re-used and used again, the espresso machines cleaned a maximum of once a week. The ‘baristas’, far from being concerned if the coffee they serve has the correct temperature, flavour balance or has been brewed for the correct amount of time, would consider you lucky if he hasn’t hung his cock in your drink before bringing it to you. Serbian attitudes to coffee are like English attitudes to alcohol… the English don’t savour their drinks… they down them as fast as possible, drinking to get drunk.
There are islands of coffee appreciation, however. Admittedly, there are very few roasting houses where beans are prepared wholesale, where café owners could purchase their beans.
The beans have to be roasted on site, or close by, and served within days, before the oils are decayed. The techniques of extraction are numerous and to my experience, only one place in town employs a multitude of these and serves hands down the only high quality coffee in town. Pržionica makes me wait 10 minutes for a filter coffee, and I sit happily, knowing my cup is literally being filled drop by drop by expert hands and each sip is like snorting a line of Walter White’s Blue Sky meth.
They roast their beans on site, offer several different beans with radically different properties and thus, very different profiles for various coffees. Only Historical Kenny’s house is missing for the SodoSopa downtown Dorćol setting, in the epicenter of the hipster heartland. I’m very much at home in the industrial reclamation, surrounded by exposed pipes, brick walls and carefully manicured ‘alternative’ vibes. I take enormous voyeuristic and sadistic pleasure in observing mainstreamers enjoy ‘slumming’ and dropping their manbags and girls keeping their not always real Chanel bags, but ‘grunging’ it up with a pair of converses. Actual hipsters avoid the place like the plague, in fear their reputations would be irrevocably destroyed in case they inadvertently came into contact with deep house music or a clean piece of glassware for once. Now that Royal Kafana in Kralja Petra is closed they might be forced to relocate.
What is the Serbian hipster? Is it dead yet? Can we kill it? Should we? Is it evolving… learning?
It used to be easy to identify by the smell… now, it’s morphing, confused by the lack of clearly defined mainstreamery against which to rebel. Too much underground culture has been appropriated by the douchebags… and now tattoos are not even safe any more. Tattoos were a stigma not even a few years ago in Serbia; now every newly inspired lesbian, Instagram poser and gluten free wannabe is sporting an old skool typefont or god forbid, the spiderweb. I have faith that the time will come when the tramp-stamp becomes ironic enough to be popular again.