“My name is Marina,” laughs the girl in dungarees, standing behind a table covered with small jars containing spices. She switches back to Russian. “My friends and I were experimenting at home with different methods of making coffee and then we decided we needed more guests!”
Marina is a founding member of the collective behind Addis Coffee, a Saint Petersburg coffee workshop running on a pay-as-you-feel donation system. The workshop is ‘underground’ St Pete literally, being located in a series of rooms that were once a bomb shelter. Marina and the team have renovated the space, so it now feels very homely with blanket covered couches, board games and a guitar they welcome musical guests to use.
I ask Marina why they choose to run on a donation system. “When you’re at your friend’s house and she asks you if you fancy a coffee and you say ‘yes’, does she later say ‘that’ll be 100 rubles’?!!!” She answers. “We really wanted to avoid becoming a service. We didn’t want to make our ‘guests’ into ‘customers’. But now we do have rent to pay and supplies to buy to keep running. So we decided to ask our guests to chip in to help cover the costs.”
I might be getting her message through proxy of a translator, but Marina’s passion for coffee comes across strong as she shows us around Addis. The coffee workshop prides itself on making coffee by 5 different methods, none of which use a coffee machine. “We choose to make our coffees without use of a machine because everywhere you can find coffee coming from a machine!” She smiles, “We make our coffees by ways of methods that are starting to be forgotten because we believe they shouldn’t be forgotten.”
The first room homes a number of different tables, hosting different coffee-making techniques. Marina takes us on a journey through time and around the world as she moves us around the tables. “Ethiopia is a birth place of coffee,” She explains, “Tasting the coffee is a rich and tribal experience.” Marina and her friends have travelled to Ethiopia to learn the roots of their beloved drink. “I went because I wanted to learn the traditional coffee ceremony,” She says. The workshop takes its name from the resident cat ‘Addis’, who gets his name from the capital of Ethiopia.
The next table takes us to ‘The East’. An electric hot plate heats a pan of sand, onto which the bronze Arabic coffee pot is boiled. Guests can select the spices they’d like crushed and added to their coffee. We pick out cardamom and cinnamon.
A stainless steel coffee strainer is used for making a style of coffee we’ve been more familiar with over our travels: Vietnamese. I’m please to see this style will be complete with sweet and condensed milk poured from the can.
“Coffee spread from East to West into Europe,” Marina shows us to a table holding an instrument I’m more familiar with: the Italian percolator. She uses the word ‘geyser’ to describe the way espresso is produced (same word in Russian) and reveals the battery-powered stick milk frother, used for making lattes.
The final table holds a contraption that looks like it belongs in the laboratory. “This comes from Switzerland. It’s a 19th C coffee maker.” Marina walks us through the components: a spirit candle flame that heats the water to boiling, forcing it through to the coffee in the neighbouring glass container. When the candle heat is snuffed, the coffee naturally moves through the strainer back into the metal container side and china cups can be poured from the tap. “It makes a litre at a time,” She explains. “So we just use it when we’re busy enough.”
“We also have food.” Marina tells, though the workshop has no menu. We’re given a plate of fresh and hot waffles to go with our coffees. “The secret password is ‘anything edible?’”
Addis Coffee Workshop is just one of the amazing social projects that abound in St Petersburg and make leaving this city and country extremely hard. Hoping to get back for more chat over cups soon as I can!