Coffee culture has come to Bishkek! The Kyrgyz are becoming more discerning consumers and this can be seen in its developing food and beverage business. Below are a few of the best coffee shops in Bishkek that SRAS students have enjoyed and would like to tell you about!
Ever notice how when you go abroad, all of a sudden your eating habits change and you start craving things you never craved before? I do. For me, when I’m abroad, I crave carbonated water. Don’t know why, because when I’m in the States I rarely touch the stuff. But sure enough, now that I’m in Bishkek, I can’t get enough of it. Give me carbonated water that’s cold, at room temperature, or even salty and warm. I’ll take it.
Here is another thing that Bishkek is triggering in me: a desire for coffee. Again, rarely touch the stuff at home. But now that I am here, I need it everyday. What makes this craving even stranger is that I’m in a country where the coffee isn’t even that good. This is tea country. (I have an average of 7-10 cups of black tea everyday.) And yet that desire for strong, black, sweet coffee is insatiable.
So let me introduce to you my savior here in Bishkek that is helping soothe this inexplicable craving. Her name is Sierra. Sierra lives on Manas Street between Chui and Toktogul. She loves Ella Fitzgerald, old-school rock and roll, and Russian pop. For many people, Sierra is a shining light on a cold winter’s day, offering that perfect latte with a foam-shaped heart. Who is Sierra? Sierra is Bishkek’s best coffee roaster.
I was first introduced to Sierra by an American expat, whose claim that “It’s just like Starbucks!” piqued my interest. But having worked at Starbucks myself, I have to disagree. Sierra may be like Starbucks because it also offers free WiFi, gourmet coffee, and a safe and relaxing environment to plant oneself with a laptop the whole day. (And yes, I acknowledge that all three of those statements carry a lot more weight in Kyrgyzstan than in the States.) But Sierra gives much more to Bishkek than Starbucks chains back home.
Sierra Café is Starbucks with soul. It is not just a building with free WiFi and gourmet coffee. It’s like the American sitcom, Cheers!, where everybody knows your name. It’s the kind of place where it takes 15 minutes from the time you walk in to the time you sit down, because you have to first make the rounds, saying “Hi!” to all your different circles. Sierra could also be the Central Perks coffee shop from the sitcom, Friends, because it is familiar, comforting, and the setting of any given week’s juicy stories. I could go on. Sierra is Washington, DC on steroids. The amount of networking and the retelling of personal life stories within her walls could fill a tome longer than the Kyrgyz epic, Manas (and that book is three times the size of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined). Or, Sierra is that cozy, “first date”-kind-of-place in You’ve Got Mail, where Meg Ryan waits with a red rose to meet Tom Hanks for the first time — only at Sierra, first meetings and/or dates begin with a text or a phone call, saying, “I’m here!”, followed by, “Hiiii! Nice to meet you!”
To be sure, Sierra is famous here for many other reasons. It has the goods that other Bishkek coffee shops currently lack, namely, that magic combination of freshly roasted beans; wonderful customer service; a consistently delicious savory and sweet menu (my current favorites are the cheese steak sandwiches, oatmeal cookies, and chocolate muffins); and a sequestered smoking room. Indeed, Sierra is a game-changer in Bishkek, a business model so successful residents refer to times in Bishkek as being “Pre-Sierra” and “Post-Sierra.” But let me be clear that Sierra is special not because it’s like Starbucks, but because it’s not like Starbucks.
Come to Sierra alone, and you will leave with a friend. Meet that friend at Sierra next week, and you will leave with the contact information of her friend who happened to go to your alma mater. Meet that alma mater contact at Sierra the following week, and with her will be another friend whose husband works in an industry you’re trying to break into. Confused? Don’t be. Just know that soon you will be at the Bishkek Circus one weekend with about 10 people who are now your new best friends. Crazy, right?! But that’s Sierra.
So don’t wait for a coffee craving to kick in before visiting Sierra. Visit now and discover a coffee shop that is everything a coffee shop should be, and more. If you’re looking for a relaxing spot to chill for the weekend with your laptop, go to Sierra, plug in, and munch on their delicious cinnamon muffins. No one will disturb you, if you don’t want to be disturbed. If you’re looking to network, go to Sierra especially on Saturday mornings around 11:00am, where both foreigners and locals take over the main area and engage in casual conversation, introducing new faces to old faces. If you’re looking to practice your Russian, just go there and listen to the conversations around you. Russian and English waft through the air, as strong and as aromatic as the coffee that’s being served. Sierra attracts just as many locals as it does expats.
Or you can just come to Sierra for that cup of strong, black, sweet coffee — something that initially drove me there when my taste buds unexpectedly shifted gears. Just be prepared to leave Sierra with more than a drink and a receipt.
– Eirene Busa
19 Gorky St
Cave Coffee makes the top five for its relaxing ambiance, wide food selection, and close location to the London School. Cave Coffee has a wide drink selection of coffees ($2-$3), teas, and more, but also a ton of international food like sandwiches and quesadillas ($5) – food options that are great when you’re craving a taste of home. My favorite drink on their menu is the iced sea buckthorn (a local orange-colored berry) tea ($3). This is the best sea buckthorn drink out of any place I’ve tried. Cave Coffee overlooks a small book store and has a very peaceful upstairs section, making it a great retreat for a study session. It draws a mixed crowd of, again, mostly locals. It is slightly more expensive than its nearby rival, Traveler’s, but given its wider food selection, paying the little bit extra can be justified.
– Mikaela Peters
87 Isanova Street
Bishkek is full of comfortable, wifi-equipped coffee shops, where you can spend hours with your work and a pot of tea without getting any dirty looks. Cafés are particularly pleasant this time of year, when most are decorated with snowflakes and ornaments and ёлки (New Year’s trees). Lately, I’ve been enjoying the holiday atmosphere at Adriano Coffee.
Adriano has three locations in Bishkek. The central location, and my favorite of the two I’ve visited, is on Isanova Street, barely more than a block from the very popular Sierra Coffee on Manas. Like Sierra, Adriano is a favorite spot for (mostly English-speaking) expats, and the wait staff speaks excellent English. It’s not quite as popular as Sierra, though, and is usually less crowded despite being much smaller.
There are a few things I particularly like about Adriano, the first being its tea selection. Like at Sierra, a pot of tea at Adriano goes for 100 som ($1.70), but there are more varieties to choose from. My favorite is green tea with ginger and orange. Other interesting flavors among the 20 or so offered are karkade (hibiscus), Golden Monkey, and green tea with jasmine.
Adriano also has extremely comfortable chairs, which is important for hours-long work sessions. The seats at the café’s smaller tables are firm but well-cushioned armchairs. Larger tables have couches on either side. The main seating area is non-smoking, and there is a second, glass-walled smoking room, making this café, like Sierra, a rare smoke-free environment in Bishkek. Adriano’s wifi is fast and reliable, and the cozy café is open 24 hours a day.
I usually go to Adriano for the tea and the atmosphere, but they have a full food menu to choose from, too. Vegetarian options include a very good vegetable omelet, tasty blini (pancakes), oatmeal, salads, pasta, and pizza. For meat-eaters, there are hamburgers, sandwiches, wraps, and soups. There are also a wide variety of pastries. I almost never drink coffee in Bishkek – I’m trying to use the constant flow of tea to break my coffee habit – but I tried Adriano’s Americano coffee, and I found it strong and delicious.
Adriano’s ambiance is peaceful and low-key, with plenty of light and cream-white walls decorated with delicate sketches. There are two small rooms off of the main room for more private studying or visiting, and in general I find the seating here, even in the main section, to have a private feel.
– Sophia Rhem
70 Baitik Baatyr St, etc.
There are several reasons to deem Traveler’s Coffee the number one coffee place in Bishkek. The first is its proximity to the London School. Literally a two-minute walk across the street from the school, Traveler’s is always available as a convenient, relatively peaceful place to get some extra classwork done. Open from 8 AM to 11 PM almost every day, Traveler’s is always accessible whether you just want a cup of coffee, a western-themed meal, or to sit in a quiet place and study into the evening. Despite its western flair, this coffee place definitely draws more of a local crowd. It has a smoking room for customers ordering hookah or just looking to smoke a cigarette while enjoying their meal. The majority of local customers seem to sit in there most of the time, leaving the primary space relatively peaceful and rarely overcrowded. Traveler’s also has surprisingly good customer service and I find the staff here very receptive and helpful when they aren’t busy helping other customers. The food and drinks are also great. Traveler’s has some of Bishkek’s best cappuccinos ($2.50), especially for the price. They have excellent cakes ($4), especially the caramel-chocolate cheesecake – a personal favorite. Also, Traveler’s has seasonal menus so you can keep trying new things. I particularly enjoyed the pumpkin soup ($3) and aquamarine blue matcha latte ($3) on their fall menu. Traveler’s offers a variety of international food, from eggs ($4) and salads to Thai tom yum ($4). Traveler’s will remain my favorite spot in town for its cozy, nearby, never overly-crowded aura and its tasty coffee, meals, and treats.
– Mikaela Peters
140 Toktogul Street
For ex-pat (homesick) food, I recommend Relax Coffee to anyone in Bishkek. Although it is the most expensive restaurant I’ve personally been to in Bishkek (with bills around around $10), Relax is worth every penny. It is like an Applebee’s or Chili’s, but honestly with better quality. The interior is very clean, well decorated, and you have the option to sit in a table made from the body of an old Cadillac. The menus are all iPads which is incredibly upscale for Bishkek, and the service is quick and friendly. There are English speakers in Relax both among the waiters and the costumers who are often ex-pats and other foreigners. I recommend the Chicken Caesar wrap ($6), which is the sole Chicken Caesar wrap I have found in the entire city. Although more expensive, Relax is a fantastic place to celebrate, eat upscale, or just relax.
– Cian Stryker
41 Gorky St, etc.
Куликовский is better known for its superb cakes and pastries than its coffee, but it does offer excellent cappuccinos ($2). Whole cakes run around $5 – $7 while cake slices can be had for roughly $2 . My favorite is the honey cake, but other good choices include sweet chocolate, caramel, and fruit cakes. The size of the café varies by location, but they are rarely overcrowded, mostly with a consistent, steady crowd of locals all times of day. In fact, I rarely see expats in these cafés. All locations have a similar purple theme – its signature color. Whether you decided to enjoy your coffee and cake at the café or to go, you will not be disappointed. This café chain has a ton of locations citywide, including one very close to the London School.
– Mikaela Peters
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This resource is part of the much larger SRAS Guide to Living in Bishkek.
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