The first thing any visitor to Athens notices, of course, is the Parthenon. The ancient temple to Athena sits atop the Acropolis and is visible from almost any place in the old city. A few kilometers away, on a quite side street, is another sort of temple, only instead of wisdom, pilgrims come seeking a cup of coffee.
My recent visit to Taf Coffee in Athens was something of a redemption story. Years ago, six to be precise, I agreed to meet some friends in Greece on holiday. They were island-hopping and I was going to meet up with them in Athens at the end of their journey. Although I was excited to see my friends, secretly, I was most excited about visiting Taf, which was known to me from their perennial success at the World Barista Championship.
I was surprised by how quiet the Greek capital was as I made my way north from the city center. Upon finding a locked café with a sign on the door, I learned why the streets were empty. August 15 is a national holiday in Greece (the Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary), and Taf would be closed for the entirety of my visit to Athens. Through the glass door, I could see a sign announcing the arrival of the famed Panamanian farm Hacienda la Esmeralda, to only compound my disappointment.
Some things, as the cliché goes, are worth waiting for, and a recent trip to Greece offered a second chance to visit Taf. As I approached the café, it was a relief to find full tables on the sidewalk, filled with Athenians sipping espresso between cigarettes.
The café space is smart but modestly sized with only a small handful of seats. But the selection of microlots on offer make Taf a true coffee destination. The combination of a cozy, neighborhood atmosphere with world class
Rather ingeniously, Taf features three espresso options. The first, a cheaper blend, is a more familiar flavor profile and price point for conventional coffee drinkers. The other two espresso options, one blend and one single origin, feature brighter, more dynamic, fruit-forward coffees. Taf is a unquestioned specialty coffee pioneer in Eastern Europe, and one wonders whether the cheaper espresso option was born out of necessity. Still, we love the idea that any coffee drinker could find a drink at Taf they liked.
I started with a single origin espresso, a red honey process bourbon from the Telia, Herbazu micromill in Costa Rica. The espresso, served in a cappuccino cup, had a juicy acidity without being harsh or sour. It was an exceptional pull of what is clearly an exceptional coffee.
In light of how long I had waited to visit Taf, it felt appropriate to also order a pour-over, in this case a natural Ethiopia from Ninety Plus. Taf acts as a broker for Ninety Plus in the region, and offers some of the high end importer’s best lots in their café. This cup was truly exquisite, a delicate balance of florals and raspberry jam. Quite possibly the best cup of coffee I drank in a café in 2017.
An ancient myth says the goddess Athena gifted the city of Athens the olive tree. Our visit to Taf makes us think a coffee tree must have been a follow up present.