The one thing that cyclists obsess about almost as much as the latest group set is coffee. For this reason alone Croatia should be top of the list for any cyclist, such is the way that coffee is inextricably linked to life in Croatia. Coffee is not just a hot drink in Croatia but the oil that lubricates the complex moving parts of life.
Coffee is how life is planned and friendships maintained. In Britain we perhaps see coffee as a means to an end, a way to give us a much needed boost in the afternoon to get us through the rest of the day. In Britain it is alcohol that tends to be the great unifier and it is in our pubs where plans are hatched. I have been to many a pub around the world but none come close to matching that of a British pub for atmosphere and we should be rightly proud of our pubs but drinking in a pub is a nocturnal activity.
Coffee and cafes are more accessible, you can go anytime. You can go on a whim. Try going to a pub at 10am on a Monday morning. I mean I know they exist but self-respect, and a job, gets in the way.
Through coffee, I have learned that Croatians put more effort into seeing their friends than we do in Britain. Croatians think nothing of arranging a last minute meet-up at a café to indulge in some chat; sometimes lofty and sometimes not.
Plans in Britain need more time to ferment. Typically a group message will go out seeking availability for a meet-up one month in the future then you will wait for around two days to collate the response, the usual suspects in the group responding with the urgency of a man eating his last meal on death row. The replies are then screened for availability and if the minimum number of willing participants has been met. The balance of the group must also be vetted and then and only then can formal plans be made and put in the diary.
Croatians live a more spontaneous life and meeting for coffee is part of that.
If you prefer your coffee to be served with a side of glamour then look no further than the centre of Zagreb on a Saturday morning. People-watching has been a favourite human pastime for millennia but nowhere is it done with such zeal than Zagreb where it even has its own name; Spica. This is the only time of the week where the coffee takes a back seat and the only objective is to look as glamorous as possible. Men and women alike look like they have awoken at dawn to prepare for this most public of coffees where, for a few hours every week, the city centre streets of Zagreb transform into an urban catiwalk. I am no expert in the Croatian psyche but I imagine that it is a middle-finger to the economic hardship and a reaction to the years of rationing as the country struggled to be independent.
I am very much an observer rather than a participant in this game, particularly since having two young kids in tow somewhat ruins the image of Spica. Where others have big glasses and bigger heels, I have big stains and bigger bags under my eyes.
Back in the land of normal coffee you will find that Croatians are masters at lingering over empty cups of coffee as the rest of the world turns. It is such an ingrained part of the Croatian experience that no waiter will ever rush you out of their café to free up tables. They know the importance of letting conversations meander and find their natural paths. Personally speaking my only criticism of Croatian coffee is that it is on the small side so I tend to order two.
The quality of the coffee is good with the major Italian brands represented as well as Croatian ones like Franks. You will be searching in vain for something that resembles a “vanilla bullshit” from Starbucks. In fact you will search in vain for anything resembling a chain coffee shop that is ubiquitous in British high streets.
Ironically, this coffee culture in Croatia is completely exhausting when we visit as our limited time is filled with visiting friends in cafes dotted around Zagreb to the point that I could write a pretty authoritative blog. With two young kids I am used to feeling of tiredness and my body has adjusted accordingly so these frantic days are great for catching up with people and indulging in either gossip of debate depending on the mood.