In Hungary, we’re in the oldest coffee culture on our cruise. Coffee was introduced in this region by the invading Turks at the end of the 1500’s. The first delivery reached Buda in 1579, addressed to a Turkish merchant by the name of Behrám. Initially the Hungarians called the drink fekete leves (black soup).
The term kávé appears for the first time in an epic poem by Miklós Zrínyi (1620-64). The Hungarians still were not enamored with the taste of coffee, even after 150 years of Turkish domination, because it frequently brought with it unpleasant side effects. In accordance with Oriental custom, the Turks would not discuss money matters at table, or indeed any unpleasant matter. At the end of the meal, however, when coffee was served, they had no compunction about simultaneously producing the list of taxes to be collected. When faced with trouble, Hungarians even today say, “The black soup (i.e. the worst) is yet to come.”
In 1873, the three parts of Budapest – Buda, Pest, and Óbuda – were united and the whole city started to develop very quickly, and the population grew dramatically. Almost everyone was an immigrant, a first generation budapesti. As a result, Budapest became a very exciting city and a real melting pot with a rich cultural scene. This was the audience that the coffee houses had to serve: people with different backgrounds who spoke different languages (at that time in Budapest, almost everybody was bilingual as, besides Hungarian, the other official language was German). There was incredible competition among coffeehouses to serve this burgeoning populace.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Budapest alone was home to more than 600 opulent coffeehouses. Often synonymous with the idea of ‘sanctuary’, coffeehouses were a center of social interaction where writers, poets, artists, and politicians gathered to read, observe the world, exchange ideas and philosophies, or plot rebellious acts. The great French film director Jean Renoir once proposed that, "All great civilizations have been based on loitering." And in its multitude of coffeehouses, it was a city that raised loitering to an art and a science.
The New-York, for instance, was primarily a literary cafe--the waiters even handed out writing paper to suddenly inspired scriveners--though it drew artists, musicians and some of the theater crowd as well. At least one coffeehouse apparently attracted political troublemakers as well: The Hungarian-born American historian John Lukacs notes that he knows of only one instance anywhere in Europe "when a great national revolution literally started from a coffeehouse, from the Cafe Pilvax in Pest on the morning of March 15, 1848, Hungarian Independence Day." The famous Youths of March set out, Sándor Petőfi in the lead, to act on their revolutionary ideas.
The New York (formerly known as the Hungaria) is one of the only coffeehouses that survives from that time until today. The Central and Gerbeaud’s mirrors and gilded chandeliers survived World War II and the communist era. The Central has been restored from its interim life as a restaurant for construction workers and an amusement arcade. Ruszwurm, located in the historic Castle district of Buda, is also one of the oldest operating cafés in the city. Its famous cakes and coffee even caught the attention of the Austrian Empress, Elizabeth, who supposedly had Ruszwurm cakes sent to her for breakfast.
The communist party considered the cafés as centers of underground organizing, so to put an end to any conspiracy they closed the most popular coffee houses in Budapest. During the Communist regime a new form of café was introduced, the so-called espressos that were small places where people spent only a couple of minutes until they finished their coffees, usually at the counter. Even if there were tables, those were very small ones, so the interior design suggested that people shouldn’t stay for long.
A new wave of independent cafés focusing on the sights, smells, sounds, ambiance, and emotions that come with the coffee experience have been gaining momentum in the Hungarian capital. My Little Melbourne was one of the first unique third wave coffee shops in Budapest. They even have a barista training school that launched a number of other new shops. The Tamp & Pull was started by a World Barista Competition finalist. New coffee shops abound here and the 2017 World Coffee Symposium of the Specialty Coffee Association was just held in Budapest in early June.
The national drink of Hungary is coffee - an espresso, which is called kávé, presszókávé, or fekete (strong black coffee).
Fekete kávé: extremely strong, black coffee; also used for single espresso
Tejes kávé: single espresso with steamed milk. A Hungarian version of a café au lait
Hosszú kávé (literally ‘long coffee’): espresso with hot water added (an “American” coffee)
Koffein mentes: decaffeinated coffee
An ice coffee is likely to get you coffee, not with ice, but with ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. There’s coffee in there somewhere.