Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Coffee shops of Reykjavik

One thing I love doing is sitting in a nice coffee shop drinking really good coffee, maybe indulging in a slice of cake, imbibing the ambience and generally just relaxing; chatting if I'm with a friend, reading or writing if I'm on my own. Reykjavik is a wonderful city for this. There are so many little coffee shops and cafes and although they all seem busy, it's usually possible to get a seat. The decor and atmosphere is very different depending upon where you go, but one thing they all have in common is great coffee.

I don't like milky buckets of coffee so I tend to avoid Starbucks type chains and rarely drink lattes or cappuccinos. In the UK I'll usually ask for an Americano so that I know it's freshly made. Coffee which has been standing around and kept warm for half hour or more (hours in some places) does not taste good. In Reykjavik I drank 'regular' coffee. This is usually in a big flask that you help yourself too. Because the cafes tend to be busy and Icelanders seem to drink a lot of coffee, the coffee in the these flasks in replenished frequently and so never has time to get stale. The coffee is dark and very strong which is just the way I like it.

A regular coffee is usually refillable as well, meaning I could sit for ages and have a couple of cups. The price was usually between 300 and 400 krona (about £1.60 to just over £2). Drinks from the espresso machine are usually more expensive and not refillable. Here are my thoughts on the coffee shops I went to:

Cafe Paris

This is a popular cafe situated on a corner overlooking the square in front of the cathedral. In summer there are tables outside. In winter everyone huddles inside, but as it's quite large it doesn't feel cramped. There are pictures of volcanoes on the walls and a bookcase in the middle. It serves full meals and has a bar, as well as selling coffee and cake.

The first time I went in I had an Americano as it was free with my Reykjavik Welcome Card. It was strong and dark and had a little bar of Milka chocolate alongside. I had a piece of apple cake with it which arrived beautifully served with cream and fruit and a sliver of chocolate.

Next time I ordered regular coffee. Instead of being given a cup to fill myself at the counter, the coffee arrived in a silver insulated pot. Very posh. I got two and a bit cups of coffee out of it and still got a Milka chocolate even though it was regular coffee. I thought it would be expensive, but it was only 400kr.

Cafe Paris can be found at Austurstræti 14 and their website is here.

Tiu Dropar

Tiu Dropar is in the basement of Laugavegur 27. It's a cosy, quirky looking place. To get to the cafe you have to go down steps at the side of the building. The door leads in to a long thin room with a counter at the far end. There is another room at the back. The decor is old-fashioned enough to be retro; there are old teapots and jugs and things used to ornament the place.

I was here fairly early in the morning and so there were only a few other customers. Later in the day it does get very busy in here. The other customers seemed to be having breakfast, whereas I just had a regular coffee and a pancake. The coffee was refillable and good. The pancakes were piled up on the counter and I couldn't resist. They were thin and sugary and rolled up into tight cigars. It was served cold, but tasted delicious.

The website is here but doesn't seem to be working very well.

Cafe Haiti

I discovered Cafe Haiti when I was here last time. It was a tiny one-roomed place with a couple of tiny tables. The owner is from Haiti and from what I can make out came to Iceland because she married an Icelandic guy. Her English isn't great so it's a bit difficult to talk to her. She imports coffee beans from Haiti and roasts them herself.

In the two and a half years since I was last there, she has moved into much bigger premises in the touristic harbour area. Although nice, her new place doesn't have the cosy ambience of the old one. It was very quiet when I was there this time, though this could have been due to the blizzard that had whipped up over night and was still going on. In the old place there was a steady stream of Icelanders coming in to buy takeaway coffee. It might be a bit out of the way for them now and maybe she's relying on the tourist trade instead. But because of the weather it was hard for me to really know.

I had a regular coffee here. It was just as good as last time, but I don't think I'd bother walking down to the harbour especially for this. Not when there are also so many other good places located more centrally.

Here's the facebook page for Cafe Haiti.

Te og Kaffi

This means tea and coffee in Icelandic. It's part of a chain and the one I went in was in the square opposite the Prime Minister's offices. This was beside my bus stop and so was quite handy. It has a modern look and red cups. I just had coffee here which was refillable and tasted good.

Their website is here.


Kaffitar is also a chain and seems quite Starbucksy. I resisted going in at first as I didn't expect to like it. But one afternoon I really felt like a sit down and a coffee and I could see a free table here. So in I went and was pleasantly surprised. I had an Americano and a slice of Snickers cake. The cake was amazing (I really must try to find a recipe) and the Americano tasted like real coffee. This was the branch on Laugavegur.

A few days later I went to the National Museum and the cafe in the museum is a branch of Kaffitar. The cafe here is on the ground floor and has plate glass windows looking onto a water feature. I sat by the window with a regular coffee (refillable) and watched the birds bathing in the water and the moon rising over the houses opposite.

It does feel like a chain and I prefer the ambience of the quirky little one-off places, but I certainly can't fault them on their coffee.

Here's their website.


This is the ground floor coffee shop and restaurant in Harpa, Iceland's new concert hall. The concert hall is all glass and reflections, with lots of black. It's a big open space and the cafe feels like it's in a cavernous hall. It's very modern with tables and chairs in rows almost resembling a school canteen. There are also some high tables with bar stools. Behind the coffee area is a formal eating area. The cafe serves meals and has a bar as well as serving coffee and cake.

I had coffee and although it was refillable it was made on the machine. It was good coffee, but I wasn't tempted by anything else. This place is fine for coffee if you're already in Harpa, but isn't worth making a special trip for.

The website is here.

Don't know why this won't go the right way up!
Reykjavik City Hall Cafe

I'm not sure if this cafe has a name, but it's usually just referred to as the cafe or the coffee shop in City Hall. City Hall has been built at the northern end of Tjornin (the pond) and seems to be half on land and half in the water. The cafe juts out into the water which was frozen solid when I was there. I sat in on a comfy sofa by the window watching the geese slipping and sliding around as they strutted past.

The place is very cosy with sofas, colourful cushions and big candles. The wall onto the pond is all glass so summer or winter this would be a great place to sit and feel part of the view.

I just had a coffee here and as with everywhere in Reykjavik, it was good.

Here's some information on City Hall.


Babalu is a tiny place upstairs at Skólavörðustígur 22a. Sitting in Babalu is like a cross between sitting in someone's living and sitting in an Aladdin's cave. The walls are brightly coloured, there's a sofa under the eaves, and everything bit of available space is taken up with kitsch and what is basically junk. I loved it.

The coffee is refillable and they have nice cakes. This time, instead of cake, I had a bowl of really warming potato soup. There's a tiny roof terrace which I was able to sit out on the last time I was here and watch everybody on the street below. (It was Culture Night/Day and so there was a lot to watch). This time it was far too cold to sit outside and wasn't too warm inside either. There was quite a draught coming up the stairs from the open front door. But I love this place so much I stayed for a quite a while anyway.

Kaffi Mokka

I'll include Mokka here even though I didn't get to it this time. I did go last time and the only reason I didn't go back was that I was too busy trying out other places.

Mokka is one of the oldest coffee shops in Reykjavik and was the first to get an espresso machine back in the 1950s. Its decor doesn't seem to have changed since then. It's always been a bit of an arty place and now has photo exhibitions on its walls. This cafe serves what are said to be the best waffles in Reykjavik. I had one with my coffee the last time I was here and it was fresh and fluffy. All the locals seemed to be eating them too, which is always a good sign.

Kaffi Mokka can be found at Skólavörðustígur 3a and its website is here.

Follow up to a previous post: As I've just been looking up websites for coffee shops I thought I'd check Trip Advisor to see if my review was still the only one on there. It's not. There are loads. So I'm not famous after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment