Like any coffee lover and resident of Cluj-Napoca, I could not resist visiting the Coffee Festival this year, an event that is already a tradition for cities such as London, Istanbul, Amsterdam, and even Romania’s “little Paris”, Bucharest. Worth mentioning is that the event also hosted the 2018 Romanian Latte Art Championship, and the 2018 Romanian Coffee in Good Spirits Championship, of which the champion will represent Romania at the World Championships in Brazil.
Bringing the festival to the heart of Transylvania, where we do not take our coffee with a splash of fresh human blood (contrary to popular belief), has proven to be yet another notch on City Hall’s already impressive belt. And they could not have chosen a better time for it. The weekend of 12-14 October of this year was a perfect example of autumn in Cluj. Imagine the most perfect blue sky of June, with the green grass of May, and so many leaves of gold it would make any king jealous.
Another spark of genius, this time intentional, was the choice of venue. The old Casino sits in the middle of Cluj-Napoca’s Central Park, which, on a weekend day, is the perfect slide for a microscope analysis of the city’s varied population. From people young and old, to mallards, ducks, swans, and a French bulldog who, in spite of its owner’s insistence, decided chasing a pigeon would be a much more entertaining use of its time, the park was nothing short of the best choice for such a festival.
The Casino is a late 19th century building, which, since 2012, has been given back to City Hall and now serves as the venue for select events the public can enjoy. As I approached the Casino, beckoned by the smell of coffee, I was greeted by an exhibit of gouache paintings and pencil sketches that seemed to have one thing in common: they all used coffee as paint. I decided to admire them only after I’d find my choice elixir to boost my senses. Before I got to enter the venue though, I was struck by the sight of what could only be described as a mild-mannered Cerberus, a massive black dog that, willingly or not, became the mascot of the festival, since everyone seemed to be punching their tickets at the entrance by petting it. Canine distraction aside, I immediately noticed that the crowd was spilling out of the venue, which turned out to be caused by the limited space available.
Inside the casino, even if you had seen it before, you’ll be struck by the grandeur of 19th century Romanian architecture, but if you’re not one for fancy interiors, the many coffee stalls would certainly pique your interest.
From fancy LED screens to chrome piping, and expertly crafted wooden stalls that would make the greatest carpenters blush, the coffee at the festival was presented well and with a whole lot of decor. I made my way through tightly packed groups of 18 to 35 year-olds on a quest to find my caffeine fix of the day. I will admit, I went in wanting to grab myself a cup of the ubiquitous yet still, somehow, legendary Pumpkin Spice Latte, since “’tis the season”, but found myself channeling my inner Italian and decided on a proper espresso.
Now, the choices were many, and the queues matched the expectations, but, like my caffeine-driven comrades-in-arms, I soldiered on and eventually found my Mecca. Among space-age coffee machines with more touch-screens than your typical high-school classroom, and passing between shelves of colorful syrups that looked like an old wizard’s collection of potions, I spotted a small stand that reminded me of a chemistry lab. I approached the two bearded twins running this steam-punk lead-to-(black)gold machine of alchemy and asked, politely, for their specialty. After they finished explaining how the gizmo worked to an inquisitive journalist type, they proceeded to craft me a double-shot of espresso. It tasted like richness; proper and exquisite, without the help of milk, sugar, or other addition. I grabbed my complimentary sticker and took off to look at the paintings outside, all while sipping less-than-graciously from my cup. After I’d finished, I went back inside and took in as much of the charming atmosphere of the casino and the energy of the people in it as I could.
The Cluj-Napoca Coffee Festival of this year was a bigger success than anyone could’ve anticipated. Now, like any good coffee-enthusiast, and if you’re reading this you’re in my boat, I may have predicted the huge turnout at a coffee festival, but, taking my brown-tinted glasses off, I can tell how the organizers may have been caught unawares by the unexpectedly large number of people that came through their doors; and while the venue was an attraction in and of itself, it proved to be a bit of a bottle-neck for the crowds of coffee-lovers who wanted a literal taste of the action inside.
If you want to find out more or maybe even become a participant in one of these events and competitions, you could take some first steps by checking out the many recipes and how-tos on our blog and learning all there is about coffee on Goffee.