by Monica Starr
BELGRADE – In Belgrade’s historic Vracar district, on lively Njegoseva street, one can find Zrno, a local kafic, or modern coffee house. Zrno, meaning bean in Serbian, balances modern brass lamps with artful canvases made of industrial coffee bean bags. Small groups of people chat and smoke inside the cozy hole in the wall.
“Zrno is the best coffee in Vracar, hands down,” said local Belgrade student, Maja Ristić.
Serbian coffee culture is special. It is not just about consuming caffeine. If a Serb asks you to meet for coffee, expect to be sitting down for at least an hour. This is a social code, which means they want to catch up on life. People conduct business, catch up on life and even spread rumors over coffee.
“Asking someone to coffee often means that you want to gossip,” said local Zrno Kafeterija barista, Nevena.
Coffee in the region goes all the way back to the 15th century when Ottoman conquerors brought a tradition of making unfiltered coffee (now called domestic coffee in Serbia) in Kafana or traditional coffee houses. Domestic coffee remains popular as most shops serve it, but kafanas are outnumbered by modern kafic, which usually serve espresso and alcohol, like Zrno.
If Nevena the barista serves you, she will recommend an earthy Vietnamese blend. It arrives in a tiny cup and saucer, accompanied by sugar packets and a silver spoon, wearing a golden foamy crown, which later dissipates to reveal a rich, dark mahogany. Serbs are not into large quantities of coffee like in the U.S., so it should be savored and drunk with care.
However, for around 200 dinars or two USD, you can enjoy an acidic energy boost, surrounded by the sounds of whistling espresso machines, soft jazz music overhead and murmurings from neighboring patrons.