For his new book Youropeans, writer Mark Schalekamp travels to Europe’s many capitals. While there, he stops by a serious café to check the pulse of local coffee culture. This week he finds himself in Warsaw, Poland, at Relaks.
Warsaw, the name alone. It doesn’t make you think of flowers or elegant architecture or majorettes. Here, they don’t do spring. Warsaw = gray. But it’s also a city of 2 million Poles, and they drink bucketfuls of coffee. But you won’t find the best cup in the historic centre, but inside a massive and rigid block on a gray side street in Mokotów. At Relaks.
“We serve The Barn coffee, from Berlin,” says one of the two girls behind the counter. Both are baristas, they learned their trade from Miko. They point to a picture of the great bearded man. “I prefer this one,” one says as she conjures a box with fourteen packs of coffee, each shut with a clothespin. “This is from Nicaragua and this is Yirgacheffe, of Kochere, from Ethiopia, my favourite. Roasted by Coffee Proficiency in Krakow, the best roasters in Poland.”
Relaks is the epicentre of Polish cinema.
I look around. Relaks is small, about 40 square meters, and it’s full. Actually, it’s packed with a motley collection of tables and chairs occupied by hipsters, some sitting Indian style, typing on a MacBook, sipping coffee. Ping, every few seconds one of the patrons receives a text message.
“Is the furniture second hand?” I ask one of het barista girls. “No!” she says, nearly aghast. “This is all design. It comes from a nearby atelier.” Stupid me. As if. Relaks’ floor, large square slabs of waste wood, is carefully curated, and the posters on the wall are apparently from an up-and-coming Polish artist. Dusty Springfield singing, just before that The Doors, simple music from a time when everyone was happy and nice to each other, when everyone was a hipster.
The next day I had a Youropeans interview with Malgotzata Szumowska, Poland’s greatest female director. She just finished with a film staring Juliette Binoche. Where do you want to meet? I ask. In Relaks, she says. It’s her living room.
The place is filled with half the birds from yesterday. One of them is a cameraman, the other a scriptwriter, the other a producer – half Szumowska’s crew, and one by one they come to our table. Relaks is apparently the epicentre of Polish cinema. Oh, and they serve great coffee.
Ulica Pulawska 48, Warsaw, Poland
All images ‘borrowed’ from Relaks’ Facebook site.