If you’ve never been to Budapest, there are three things I want you to realize before reading this review. One: there is a lot of espresso in Budapest. It’s actually really hard to find a café or restaurant without some means of pulling some kind of shot. Two: there is virtually no filter coffee in Budapest. Three: coffee in Budapest is basically all bad. If you have been there, I think you’ll agree when I say it qualifies as a coffee desert. If you happen across the open doors of Espresso Embassy, you just might think you’re seeing a mirage. I had been in Budapest for two full days before Espresso Embassy took me in. It was nothing less than sweet relief.
When I walked into the café, I was greeted by, I think, three smiling baristas. Maybe four. At the register, I asked for an espresso and a cappuccino, which got a response: “Oh, that’s a tasting menu! You’ve hit the jackpot!” Jackpot indeed.
My espresso, which I picked out of two options, was the Flor del Café from Costa Rica. It was exactly what I wanted. My first sip was a nice, reserved lemon tanginess. After that, I tasted dark chocolate bitterness and sweetness all the way to the balanced finish. It had a thick drinking chocolate mouth feel, which impressed me, because they must have served me a 40 gram shot—again, exactly what I wanted.
In my cappuccino, I thought I tasted organic milk. This was confirmed when the guy on bar, after spilling a bit of it on the counter, let me know that “organic milk is great for polishing wood.” I’m going to keep that in mind. I had the Costa Rica espresso again in my cappuccino.
This time, it was all sweet. That acidity from before dulled into a clear almond sweetness and the dark chocolate notes lightened into milk chocolate and vanilla. Plato is up in his world of forms drinking this cappuccino right now.
My initial intention was to enjoy my coffee outside. It was a gorgeous day in early May, which meant it was warm enough to be out, but cool enough not to hate coffee. I had my espresso outside, which was a total dream, but then one of the baristas came out and alerted me that rain was coming. I heeded the warning and stepped inside. Sure enough, it started to rain. Now I think this is the case: you’re much more appreciative of your surroundings when they’re sheltering you from rain. I stepped back inside to dark floors, rustic, low-lit brick walls that lifted into rustic arched brick ceilings, clean wood tables and countertops, and a diligent staff quickly bussing tables and cleaning up to make room for the fresh influx of customers. Espresso Embassy was showing off here.
The splendor of a good café is most certainly it’s hospitality. We all know the barista who is smarter than us, loves coffee more than us, and wants his/her café empty of us. No one likes that barista’s drinks. And more than that, no one likes that barista’s drink on a table they had to clean themselves. You won’t find that experience at Espresso Embassy. I received a warm welcome out of a coffee-cruel city into a clean café, was served some delicious coffee, and even given a benediction on my way out—after saying how great I thought my experience was, the girl on bar told me “you’re pretty damn great yourself.” As if the V60 to go wasn’t blessing enough… Quickly now, someone write a paper on ceremony in the service industry. Just a few blocks away from St. Stephen’s Basilica, I think Espresso Embassy might be showing us a good liturgy for our cafés too.
This was my experience. If you find yourself skeptical after talk of deserts and mirages, I understand. I only have one prescription—go see it for yourself. Espresso Embassy is good.
All photos by Abby Ott.