29 April 2024

Seven Speciality Coffee Shops To Visit in Sofia, Bulgaria

Earlier this month, I spent an enjoyable — and very well caffeinated — long weekend in Sofia. The speciality coffee scene in the Bulgarian capital has been growing in recent years, with a number of new cafes joining longer-established coffee spots. This meant I didn't make it to all of the venues on my list; I was also a few weeks early for Sofia Coffee Week. But I did visit seven Sofia coffee shops and drank lots of delicious coffee, enjoying chats with some lovely coffee people. I even managed a speciality coffee pitstop on my very brief visit to the city of Plovdiv — scroll to the end of this post for the details. 

As usual, my very favourites are marked with purple icons in my Google Map and asterisks below.

Sofia Speciality Coffee Guide

* Better Specialty Coffee

One of Sofia's newer speciality coffee spots, Better Specialty Coffee, will celebrate its first birthday next month and has already made a name for itself. It's clear how much passion and attention to detail for every aspect of the customer experience has gone into owner Nikolay's petite but perfectly formed coffee bar. There are a few seats inside, as well as a couple of more on the pavement.

I enjoyed a delicious piccolo with the Alpha Blend espresso while I chatted with Nikolay about his lovely coffee shop — and speciality coffee in Sofia more generally.  The coffee menu started out with just espresso-based drinks and single-origin V60 pourovers but now includes various iced coffees and — excitingly — a full menu of non-alcoholic coffee cocktails. Yes please to the Cold Brew Old Fashioned! More food options may be on the cards in the future. My only regret is that when my phone ran out of data on my last afternoon in the city, I wasn't able to return to try the delicious-sounding coffee from Papua New Guinea I'd spotted on the shelf.

Better Specialty Coffee is located at ul. "Neofit Rilski" 59. Instagram.

* Coffee Syndicate

Coffee Syndicate was one of the closest coffee shops to my hotel so I headed straight there after checking in. The two-hour time difference between Bulgaria and the UK meant I was in need of sustenance as well as coffee and Coffee Syndicate served me very well on both fronts. They have an extensive coffee menu and, on spotting the distinctive jars of Friedhats beans, I decided to go for a single-origin washed Peruvian coffee brewed through the V60. The berry and white chocolate flavour notes came through beautifully and it paired very well with the sweet treat I ordered.

There was a big range of different eclairs available behind the counter but I stopped looking as soon as I spotted the lavender one and it was super-tasty. There are also sandwiches and a few other savoury options, as well as cocktails. The location is very handy for the National Art Gallery and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Coffee Syndicate is located at ul. "Moskovska" 3. Website. Instagram.

Dabov Specialty Coffee

One of the Sofia coffee OGs, Dabov has several coffee shops in central Sofia — and in several other countries. I visited no. 3, on Angel Kanchev Street, which is the most central. They roast their own coffee and there was a huge variety of single-origin coffees on offer. I was a little short on time so decided to go for a piccolo and the knowledgeable baristas helped me to decide on a natural Ethiopian coffee. It was a great choice — the coffee was very well brewed and the raspberry and orange flavours came through nicely. There are a few bench seats around the edge of the coffee shop and if you are looking for beans, your only problem may be narrowing down which one of the retail bags of beans to go for!

Dabov Specialty Coffee is located at ul. "Angel Kanchev" 28 (and other locations). Website. Instagram.

* Drekka

Drekka is a beautiful coffee shop located a short walk east of the city centre. I loved the blue-accented interiors and the long marble table that takes up a large part of the space. There's also a sweetie-shop-like wall holding coffee beans from an impressive selection of international roasters. After chatting to the friendly baristas, I ordered a pourover brewed with a coffee from Dutch roaster A Matter of Concrete. They weren't on my radar until recently when I tried (and loved) one of their coffees at the new Nostos, back in London. The coffee was a washed Sidama from Taferi Kela in Ethiopia and the careful brewing brought out the bergamot and rooibos flavours.

While I was chatting to the baristas, I spotted their other retail shelf, which had some more coffee brewing kit on it. Better still, it had a 4 oz KeepCup in pink and turquoise — my colours! Not quite the same as the one I lost, but perhaps even nicer. I bought it, of course, and it insisted on posing with some ancient ruins for the lead photo of this blog post.

Drekka is located at ul. "Marin Drinov" 23. Website. Instagram.

Fabrika Daga (Rainbow Factory)

Fabrika Daga (AKA Rainbow Factory) has been serving up brunch and speciality coffee to the hungry denizens of Sofia since 2014 and there's now a second location near the Doctors' Garden. The original cafe, on Veslets Street, was really busy when I arrived at lunchtime on a sunny Saturday. The large, L-shaped bar takes up most of the space, with small tables and bar stools placed by the walls. With local art and exposed-brick walls, it's a cosy and relaxed space. I nabbed a seat in the window and then went to order. 

The brunch menu is extensive and varied, with dishes from Panagyur-style eggs and avocado toast, to sandwiches, salads and some lovely sweet treats. I ended up going for the slow-roast pork sandwich, which was huge and very tasty. As for the coffee, it's from Dabov. I had a very nice flat white; they also offer hand-brewed filter coffees.

Fabrika Daga is located at ul. "Veslets" 10. Website. Instagram.

Kolichka Bar

I happened upon Kolichka Bar when I was wandering around the quiet, leafy streets near the Doctors' Garden and Zaimov Park. The queue was out of the door of the tiny coffee bar and microroastery and there were even more people congregating on the pavement outside. I took this as a good sign and joined the queue. They had three single-origin coffees in the hoppers, as well as a Mexico/Indonesia blend and a Colombian decaf. I opted for an Ethiopian coffee brewed as a piccolo; very nice it was too! And if you enjoy your coffee, you can buy beans from the huge range in the front window.

Kolichka Bar is located at ul. "San Stefano" 9. Website. Instagram.

* Urban Embassy

At Urban Embassy, it really is elbow-room only, especially when the customer in front of you in the queue is carrying a double bass, as was the case when I visited. But worry not: there are several tables out on the wide pavement and they also have more seats at the space next door. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the fruity aroma of the exact kind of coffee I like to drink. It turned out that it was a honey process Colombian coffee and I could smell the lychee notes as soon as founder Nikola Kirilov opened the jar of beans. I don't think I've ever drunk a coffee where a specific flavour note came through as intensely as the lychee in this coffee. Heck, I've eaten lychees that don't taste as lychee-like as this coffee! Suffice to say, it was really good: one of my favourite filter coffees of the year so far.

I had also heard that Nikola made his own nut milks with nuts sourced from southern Bulgaria (in the 'nut belt', Nikola told me) and although I don't always like the taste of nut milks with espresso, the hazelnut milk tasted delicious in my cortado. Nikola also gave me a little sample of the milk by itself and it was incredibly creamy. Located in the south of the city centre, near the National Palace of Culture, Urban Embassy is a must-visit on any Sofia coffee tour.

Urban Embassy is located at ul. "Fridtjof Nansen" 19. Website. Instagram.

A quick practical note: all of the venues on this list accept credit card payments and have at least some staff who speak English. Of course, a dobŭr den (good afternoon) or blagodarya (thank you) always goes down well! There were a few other coffee spots on my list or that I spotted while exploring downtown Sofia. Hopefully, I can check these out next time I visit: 369, Bug Coffee, Chucky's Coffee House and Martines.

Bonus: SNACK! Speciality Coffee in Plovdiv

I only had a few hours in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second city, as part of a day trip I took from Sofia. I didn't think I'd have the chance to go to any coffee shops but towards the end of my visit, the heavens opened big time, putting a damper on my sightseeing plans. Instead, I scampered across the Maritsa River and sought refuge inside SNACK! Specialty Coffee. The Plovdiv roaster has a delightful cafe on Maritsa Boulevard.

I had an excellent flat white, brewed with SNACK!'s Urban Espresso blend. I also bought a bag of beans to take home — there were around 20 different coffees on offer. With some help translating the flavour notes from the friendly barista, I chose a natural Costa Rican coffee. I've been brewing it at home in my Kōno dripper and the tropical fruit flavours have been superb.

SNACK! is located at bul. "Maritsa" 25, Plovdiv. Website. Instagram.

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