17th of April 2017
When I think of Prague, three things come to mind. History, beer and…more beer.
Pivo, as it’s called in the native language, has been brewed in the Czech Republic for more than 1,000 years. The first Czech brewery opened its doors in 993, at Břevnov Monastery. The tradition has continued through the centuries – and some sources claim the Czech Republic now has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world. As if that wasn’t a big enough claim to fame, the country’s best-known export is Pilsner Urquell, allegedly the first ever pilsner beer on the market.
There’s no doubt beer attracts tourists – numerous beer-themed tours are now available in Prague and, believe it or not, there’s even a beer spa where visitors can relax in a barrel of their favourite brew.
So what about coffee?
In a land that’s mad for a light, refreshing pilsner, is there a place for short, sharp espresso and freshly-roasted beans? Good news: Yes, there is. A quick search on the internet produces dozens of enthusiastic cafe reviews and images of carefully-crafted coffees topped with beautiful latte art.
In fact, coffee commentators say the coffee scene in Prague is undergoing a total transformation.
Ales Pospisil, a coffee blogger with European Coffee Trip, says: “Just five years ago, people would be only too happy to tell you it was impossible to find a good cup of coffee in Prague. Thankfully, that is no longer true. From roasters who understand the importance of good coffee to baristas eager to learn the latest skills and techniques, the Czech capital is increasingly proud of its speciality coffee.”
Nick Brown of Roast Magazine reiterates his sentiments. “Four years ago, connoisseurs of craft coffee in Prague were likely to be envious of their peers in great European coffee cities like London, Berlin or Oslo, where forward-thinking roasters and retailers had established themselves by pushing quality over ubiquitous mass-produced Italian espresso drinks. In the relatively short time since, Prague has caught up, with dozens of new roasters and retailers not merely following the lead of their European forebears, but further expanding the boundaries of what great coffee is and can be.”
In fact, the city even has a small coffee museum which features a wide range of displays and artefacts to explain the long history of coffee, not only in Prague but across the planet.
But as the coffee culture takes hold in Prague, it’s not just the customers who are benefiting.
The Coffee Universe spoke with an innovative non-governmental organisation which uses the burgeoning coffee culture to finance projects which help disabled young people in the city.
Introducing Václav Prokop.
He’s part of the team at Prague-based NGO, Centrum MARTIN, an organisation that helps young people who have physical and mental disabilities that impact their everyday life.
It has three distinct branches – a secondary school for pupils with combined disabilities, a centre providing social services and an entrepreneurial branch which finds ways to fund the different projects. The branch dedicated to social entrepreneurship is called A MANO. It has three main enterprises – a ceramic workshop, a coffee roaster and a network of four cafes, three in Prague and one in a town called Písek, around 90 minutes from the capital.
Václav explained the significance of the name. He said: “The name of the protected workshop, A MANO, translates as manually or by hand which also describes our work. It provides working opportunities for more than forty people with mental or multiple disabilities. Mano a mano means then hand in hand or step by step and that is our goal. Working conditions in the workshops are individually tailored to the needs of employees with mental disabilities.”
Václav explains that there are numerous benefits for the young people involved in their projects, not only practically but also for socialisation and rehabilitation. So not only do these young people find a job, but little by little they can live more fulfilling lives. It’s admirable work – and coffee lovers in Prague are also enjoying the fruits of their efforts.
Visitors to the Café Martin – Karlin, have given it a resounding thumbs up, with numerous five-star reviews online. The coffee shop, located at Sokolvoská in Prague, serves coffee prepared by the NGO’s roasting team. And the good reviews don’t stop there.
The Karlin’s sister café Zizkov, has also received top marks online from satisfied customers.
The beans used in the coffee shops are processed at the organisation’s coffee roasting workshop, called Prazirna Drahonice. Fans of the roast can buy bags of beans and packs of capsules from the organisation’s online shop, along with a wide range of goods made in its pottery workshop. Young people create a wide variety of ceramic items including teapots and bowls and decorative items. In addition, the team packages all orders to ensure they arrive to customers in perfect condition.
In some ways, it’s nothing new to hear about NGOs linked to the world of coffee. Socially-conscious consumers support the tireless work of charities and individuals to help improve the lives of people working on coffee farms across the planet. But it’s refreshing to hear about the good work continuing long after the coffee has been picked and washed and bagged and shipped to wealthier nations.
As the Prague coffee scene grows and develops, the hard work and dedication of organisations like Centrum MARTIN will help vulnerable young people grow and develop too. Your first espresso of the morning might transform your day; and thanks to organisations like this one, it might just help transform a life at the same time. See www.prazirnadrahonice.cz and www.centrummartin.cz for more details.