Five coffee shops to visit in Georgia’s capital, five for next time, and a bookstore bonus
I would have considered my 6:30 a.m. flight from Yerevan to Tbilisi to be quite early, except as a matter of comparison: My dad had a different flight that morning scheduled to depart nearly two hours earlier. After a week traveling together in Armenia, it seemed only natural to accompany him to the airport — even if it meant both of us hailing a taxi from our hotel shortly after 2 a.m. By the time my flight eventually boarded and began its 30-minute hop up to the capital of Georgia, I was well in need of a cup of coffee.
But the hills and the river and the many layers of the city so immediately entranced me no sooner had I stepped off the bus from the airport that I found myself wanting to wander for hours before even giving thought to sitting down. Thankfully, a friend of a friend who recently moved to Tbilisi with her husband and their daughter had already asked around and suggested a cafe at which to get together that afternoon. I don’t think she could have chosen a better location: As I walked up a hill to our meeting point, a sudden opera set a soundtrack encompassing several streets, all thanks to an open window overhead at the Tbilisi State Conservatoire.
A painter had just put his finishing touches on the exterior wall at Erti Kava as I walked in. The shop felt a bit like an arts-and-crafts studio magically designed within a hand-stitched tea cushion. (Apparently, this is the second branch of a coffeeshop opened by a Ukrainian traveler in the town of Metsia in Georgia’s mountainous northwestern region of Svaneti.)
As well as a few tables at the front of the cafe, the back room featured a child’s play area and a handicraft shop featured works for sale by local artisans and artists. The baristas were immensely welcoming and prepared Ethiopian and Burundian roasts (from Bryou in Moscow) while I had the chance to get to know my friend’s friend and her baby. I would have returned again for the coffee, and to try the food, except as I paid the bill I picked up a free postcard on the counter recommending nine other “good places for coffee lovers in Tbilisi.” I had my work cut out for my taste buds for what amounted to only a few days.
(Ed. note: an earlier version of this post reported there was no changing table; however, we must have overlooked it hiding in the wooden box on the bathroom wall, as Erti Kava confirmed the cafe does indeed have one; so sorry for the oversight.)
I stumbled across Double B accidentally while walking the pedestrian-friendly streets just below Freedom or Liberty Square. If somebody hadn’t been sitting on the outdoor bench while sipping from a paper cup, I likely would have assumed it was a restaurant and walked on past. Instead, I had the chance to sit with a nicely made flat white while catching up on some reading. I planned to stop in again during the Tbilisi International Festival of Literature held nearby at the Writers’ House of Georgia, but somehow, as I found all too often in Tbilisi (and all too happily), my time slipped away.
Georgeous is currently the rare specialty coffee shop on the east side of the Kura River, all too easily overlooked amidst a row of more touristic and sceney restaurants and late-night bars or all too easily dismissed as a serious place for espresso based on its sweet concoctions. (A poster inside advertises ice-cream-like glasses brimming with pretzels and rainbow candies, though it’s unclear from the pictures whether these feature coffee too.) While all of the patrons who were there when I stopped in made a point of ordering crepes rather than coffees, Georgeous sources their beans from Georgia’s Coffee Lab and their barista served up a well-executed flat white on a small Sanremo espresso machine. The cafe is only a few tables in a small room, with a few seats out front too, and all of them make for a fine place to sit a while and watch the foot traffic pass outside.
If you’d like to sample a taste of Georgian wine after your coffee, this large, prominent, and beautifully done cafe specializes in both, next door to the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel. In such a central location and on such a busy thoroughfare as Rustaveli, it’s a prime spot for a takeaway in between museum visits and walking tours. But if you’re okay to sit a while, there’s ample reading material and an upstairs loft, which seemed to attract groups and laptop-wielders.
This bright and airy cafe has a retro flair with a mix of Soviet-era artwork and a Marshall amp on the window sill with a sound system keen on reggae. Its original location is up in the expat enclave, whereas this second spot is within walking distance from the popular sulphur baths. I misplaced the notes I took on the coffee, so can’t share more details other than to say I enjoyed it. But I remember the barista being particularly welcoming and conversational on a quiet morning.
I was particularly eager to try this small shop, which specializes only in pourovers and seemingly features a gallery as well, but each of the three times I stopped by during alleged working hours, the metal grating was pulled down and the lights were out. It’s tucked away and somewhat tricky to find, so I’m including photos of the main entrance (do you see the closed door hidden behind the open door below?) and the view through the window in hopes it helps you have better luck with getting a taste of their work.
As for the other “good places for coffee lovers in Tbilisi,” I sadly had to save my pilgrimages to Coffee Lab (Alexander Kazbegi 27), Lui Coffee (Ilia Chavchavadze 23), MEMO Coffee (Irakli Abashidze 49), Parsek 1 Comic Books & Coffee (Ekvtime Takaishvili 1A), and the original Pin Pon (Ilia Chavchavadze 22) until a future visit.
And, last but certainly not least, be sure to find your way to Prospero’s Books (Shota Rustaveli 34), a longstanding independent bookshop with a cafe where you can sit with your reading or writing out in the courtyard or in on a couch for hours. Its coffee is a staple rather than the main draw, yet of all the shops above, this is the one where I ended up spending the most time — the kind of place with a history and perspective that reminds you of how much more there always is to discover.