For today's edition of Knowledge Bites, RTL Today editor and long-term expat Mike Gordon looks at the issue of getting a good, international standard cup of (espresso-based) coffee in Luxembourg, and considers a bit of recent coffee history.
You can order a coffee nearly anywhere. Why is this even an issue?
People who have recently arrived in Luxembourg from North America or Britain often despair (usually on social media) at how difficult it is to find what they consider a good cup of a coffee here. And by that they mean an espresso-based coffee, not that vat-brewed stuff sold at places like Dunkin Donuts and in diners across North America.
If you had moved here in 2005, as I did, you'd have seen a far more dire situation. I found myself drinking what tasted to my North American big-city taste buds bitter, metallic-tasting, sour or just simply weak coffees in a wide variety of venues.
At the time, I had arrived here as someone determined not to be the sort of person who would only buy his coffee at Starbucks (even though there were none here at the time), so I was willing to try anywhere. But still it seemed to me that something was wrong. Did nobody clean their coffee machines here? Did the people making coffee know how to use them?
I only knew then of one place where one could even buy decent, reasonably freshly-roasted espresso coffee beans, not in a commercial bag in a grocery shop—Maison Santos, a little very old-fashioned place on Grand Rue that didn't even have space to sit down and drink a coffee (though now they do).
To get a "decent cup of coffee (espresso-based)" in Luxembourg, you might have ended up (as I did) spending nearly 2,000 euros on a high-end home machine and grinder.
So, can you get "good" coffee in Luxembourg?
The good news is "yes you can". The situation for coffee users has been getting significantly better.
The biggest change for me was finally discovering Knopes, a Belgium-based coffee chain. Since 2001 they had operated in one tiny location hidden away off Avenue de la Porte Neuve near what is now the former stock exchange, in an off-street open space dominated by the city centre Alima grocery shop.
After coming across the place, for the first time since I had arrived I was able to reliably get what I considered a very good cup of coffee. I could even buy their freshly-roasted coffee beans, and it seemed like they cared about quality in a way I was familiar with.
What's been happening?
As time goes by, it seems like there's been a slow awakening of coffee culture in Luxembourg. Sometimes, ordering a coffee after a meal, it's actually been a good coffee instead of the thin, nearly caffeine-free product I'd started to get used to. This was a wonderful development!
Knopes finally opened a second branch in Hollerich in 2015 in an absolutely amazing space in the Robin du Lac Concept Store, on the site of the famous Müller-Opel garage. At the time, I was working across the street and the arrival of the coffee shop brightened up my life immeasurably. It was almost like being back home in the big city from which I hail.
Around the same time, speaking subjectively, a large number of new options have opened (see list below), making it easy to forget that it was ever otherwise. There's even a former City of Luxembourg bureaucrat operating an espresso bike. For the Facebook page, see the links box below.
Why was it so long in coming?
There are probably several reasons, possibly to do with the size of the city as a business market. However, it was eventually possible for me to discover one much more important reason. Local tastes! After I tried to introduce several Luxembourgish colleagues (not 20-somethings) to Knopes coffee it emerged that many of them actually did not like the taste of it. They said they found the coffee far too strong and even difficult to digest.
It struck me as a stunning discovery. But it makes sense. It's reminds me about how it has been hard to find good spicy food until recently. Many Europeans, especially Luxembourgers, seem not to have the taste for truly spicy food.
So is it all good coffee now?
I wouldn't go so far. While there are a number of perfectly good purveyors of "good coffee", there are plenty who still serve what they always served because most of their clients like it.
At the same time, Luxembourg has also been attracting firms that model themselves on US chain Starbucks, which is not seen by purists as providing great coffee (and the way it's served here at its two Luxembourg locations is much weaker than how it's served in North America).
A prime example is Coffee Fellows, who have a what's possibly the best city-centre coffee venue in this city in their Place de Paris location, but whose coffee suffers from being over-priced, weak and bland at all their locations.
Some other places to get "good" coffee (in descending order of perceived quality):
- Ready, 35, Avenue du Bois L-1251 Luxembourg (in Limpertsberg)
- Bloom Coffee Shop, 101 Rue Adolphe Fischer, L-1521 Luxembourg (Gare)
- Interview, 21 Rue Aldringen, L-1118 Luxembourg (Centre)
- Golden Bean Coffee Experience, 23 Rue Chimay, L-1333 Luxembourg
- Konrad Café & Bar, 7 Rue du Nord, L-2229 Luxembourg
- Cereal Lovers, 11 Place du Théâtre, 2613 Luxembourg
- Maison Santos, 55 Grand-Rue, L-1661 Luxembourg
- Knopes Coffeeshop Luxembourg, Avenue de la Porte Neuve, L-2227 Luxembourg
- Knopes Torréfaction & Coffeeshop, 70 Route d’Esch, L-1470 Luxembourg-Hollerich
- Knopes at Store Bagatelle x Knopes, 18 Rue Dicks, L-1417 Luxembourg-Gare (near Place de Paris)
- Coffee Fellows Place de Paris, 4 Place de Paris, L-2314 Luxembourg
- Coffee Fellows Luxemburg Rue du Curé, 20 Rue du Curé, L-1368 Luxembourg
- Coffee Fellows Luxemburg JF Kennedy, 44 John F Kennedy, L-1855 Luxembourg
- Starbucks, Aéroport de Luxembourg, Findel, Luxembourg
- Starbucks, 46 Avenue John F. Kennedy, L-1855 Luxembourg (Auchan)
Any place mentioned is a place I know about and have frequented. You may think some have been left off the list. Your suggestions are welcome via Facebook or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org