Updated: Mar 14, 2020
Wondering where to get a proper cup of coffee in the Caucasian capital? Wonder no more.
Years ago, getting a decent coffee in Tbilisi was a task only for Tom Cruise’s mission impossible team. Ordering a “cappuccino” when I first came to Georgia would get you a cup of instant coffee with hot milk instead of water. The scene started to change as Lavazza and Illy (basically the Italian Folgers in your cup) entered the market, first with a wave of small little corner shops and finally, general market acceptance in restaurants everywhere, so that no matter where you go now you can at least get something decent. Starbucks awareness began to grow when in the haute neighborhood of Vake opened up a “Starbucks” (eventually people realized it wasn’t an actual Starbucks and they stopped going).
But what about for the coffee snobs—and basically any Berlin-worshipping hipster nob—who requires something at least 5 dollars a cup and served at an exact temperature in a glass test tube? I’m happy to say that Tbilisi has fully embraced the coffee revolution, from corner shops serving aeropress (or whatever the next big thing is) to even a homegrown coffee chain that looks astonishingly like that of the degenerate mermaid grinds.
If you’re visiting or living in Tbilisi and looking for your next caffeine fix, you’d do well to try these places. They're in no particular order, as coffee is highly subjective. And do note that most of the more hipster drinks tend to be lighter than what you're used to in Europe or the States.
1. Prospero’s Books and Caliban’s Coffee
Prospero’s deserves the honorable place at the top of the list for being the first real indy coffee shop to enter the Tbilisi market. It was the primary place of gathering for expats through those dark ages of the coffee bean when instant coffee ruled the land supreme. In 1999, they started roasting their own beans and had one of Tbilisi’s only espresso machines for probably about 10 years. It started as a place to sit and read your latest literary purchase from the bookstore that it shares a beautiful little courtyard with. Incidentally, I’ve never heard of the coffee house being called “Caliban’s” except on their official marketing material, as most locals tend to refer to both the bookstore and cafe as "Prospero's".
The interior is spacious, having both places for laptop soldiers and those who want to sit back, relax, and chat with friends. The patio is unbeatable in terms of coffee shops in Tbilisi, so it makes for an especially great spot in the spring or summer. They've also managed to open a similar place in the National Archives on Pekini and a smaller location next to Betsy's Hotel up the hill from the original.
Double B Coffee & Tea
2. Double B Coffee & Tea
This Moscow-based coffee company helped kick off the latest wave of coffee culture in Tbilisi. A truly “third wave” roaster excelling in their single-sourced choices, they’ll happily brew up an aeropress for you. Double B has an excellent and cozy interior that’s somewhat reminiscent of vintage American styles. It’s a big enough place to bring your book or laptop, but small enough to remain intimate and cozy.
Double B on Tabidze
3. Pin Pon
Another Moscow implant, Pin Pon has been staking a pretty stolid claim on the Tbilisi coffee front. With three locations across town—and each preserving their small-time, independent charm—it’s hard to say they haven’t met success in the city. They’ve got these strange cups here that feel like they're made from wood pulp or something, I don’t know. They’re weirdly light but, like ceramics, they don’t interfere with the taste of the joe. The last I was at their Sololaki location, their aeropress was out on loan and I had to have a V60. I’m still not sold on V60s myself. The americanos and espressos are solid though.
Their Sololaki location has a perfect balance of size and intimacy to be comfortable both with reading, working, and chatting. The Vake location is basically just a coffee window with a small cluster of eclectic furniture in an Italian yard (a great place in the summer if you don’t mind the window grandmas staring down at you), and finally, the Isani location is only open during music festivals at ElectroWerk. I’m hoping they’ll change strategies and be open all the time, as I’d love a good coffee shop in my hood.
Pin Pon's Vake courtyard location
Another leader in the Russian caffeine invasion. If the Russians can’t win Georgians over by occupying parts of their country, then at least they can do it through Western coffee culture! Whatever the reason, it’s a style of invasion that I can actually support.
Nice work benches up top at Skola
Skola has a hyper-modern minimalist interior that would look perfect in an IKEA catalog. Their coffee is great and they serve a lot of fancy food dishes too (try their breakfasts). You can also tell that one of their strategies is to have brilliant customer service, as they’ve got some of the friendliest and most amicable staff in town (a real feat in Tbilisi). The downstairs is best suited for chatting with friends, but those in need of a Rustaveli workspace and an aeropress should take their lappy upstairs where the long benches are perfect for a shared space.
Checking out the photos at Minimalist
Speaking of minimalism, you can’t get more minimal than this coffee shop-slash-photography gallery. There’s only a very small area to sit, as this concept is more to get you strolling with your coffee and enjoying and discussing the various works of local and guest photographers. See Tbilisi through the eyes of others with a visit at Minimalist.
6. Luca Polare
I think I managed to cover all of the Luca Polare branches in that list. More Italian style, this local chain named for a polar bear pours out the more traditional brews of espressos and americanos along with the tastiest ice cream in Tbilisi. Oddly enough, they contract their roasting to a family in Germany who ships it back here. Whatever they do, it’s the right mix for your more traditional styles, with a highly trained baristas ready to pour. The Aghmashenebeli and Rustaveli locations have more than enough room to hang out and get some work done. The other locations are small and more about getting a to-go cup to enjoy the surroundings.
Luca Polare's Aghmashenebeli location, a popular spot in the summertime
7. Moulin Electrique
Back in the day when your only choice was Prospero’s, these wonderful proprietors on Leselidze (now Kote Aphkhazi St.) made an investment in an espresso machine, thereby kicking off the Lavazza movement. Moulin Electrique has such a great old-fashioned feel to it, and the hidden little courtyard tucked away in the old town makes for a perfect escape from the tourist crowds and touts. They opened their second location at Fabrika as well, making it one of the better places to visit (don’t expect the best in customer service there though). They have a fantastic kitchen as well, so don’t be afraid to grab a meal here either.
Really plush and cozy spot for your high-end coffee fans with an emphasis on the Italian styles of serving. Great customer service and with a small interior. It does feature a nice little outdoor streetside patio for those enjoying the summertime in Saburtalo and wanting to get off Pekini for a spell.
ViceVersa in Saburtalo, just behind the double Carrefour mayhem
9. Coffee LAB
The American answer to Double B and I imagine this place met many cheers after opening its location near the Peace Corps office. If only it were there back in my volunteering days. That said, it’s almost always packed with people eager to get their hands on modern mugs, V60s, and aeropresses. They also serve pretty amazing brownies. The interior has a lot of space to get work done (but the tables are often all full) and as the coffee shop is literally in a garden, the outdoor seating area is beautiful to boot. There’s a playground in the garden as well, so for those with kids you can let them roam about while catering to your legal addiction.
The second floor of the Coffee LAB