About the skies over Bishkek. And life on the ground.

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Bishkek’s Coffee Grounds (Coffee is Amazing)

It was one of the first things I was researching online when I decided to move to Bishkek for a year: the coffee situation in the capital city. Coffee: not to be taken lightly, though people in Kyrgyzstan prefer to take it light and sweet. My eyes are strangely conditioned to spot anything related to coffee and cafés. The mere written word that suggests a coffee connection attracts my attention, near and far:



Even in the partial sky of the skies over Bishkek, true to this blog’s name, I see the promise of coffee:


Depictions of coffee I like even more. My Bishkek favorite:


Kyrgyzstan is a tea-drinking country. Black or green, make your pick; tea is part of every meal. The most popular coffee drink: MacCoffee and Nescafe instant coffee, with the single-serve sachets available at the checkout of every food store: 3-in-1, cream and sugar included. For those who prefer to drink their coffee black and find a certain aesthetic in a plain cup of coffee: this is my favorite Bishkek coffee still life, taken at Johnny’s Pub. The sugar cube version of white cube, on a -yes, white- saucer. Not instant coffee, but instant coffee love:


I was lucky that Sierra had just opened a few months before I arrived in Bishkek in August 2012. Last summer, a second Sierra coffee shop opened at the other end of town, also on Manas. One of my first blog posts was -naturally- about Sierra. So now about the rest of Bishkek’s coffee universe. With the disclaimer that new coffee places have most likely opened since I left Bishkek last summer. Western-style coffee shops seem to be a rapidly growing market in Bishkek, popular especially among the young and affluent urbanites and expats. Like Café Nana, in the posh Bishkek Park shopping mall, which opened last spring:


Or Vanilla Sky, with its fancy glass terrace, which was also added in the spring of last year:


Sierra has opened several coffee kiosks, in front of the two Beta supermarkets and in shopping malls. Good for grabbing coffee, but for early risers with coffee cravings on the way to work -let’s say, if you teach an 8am class- no luck.


Coffee-to-go is obviously not popular in a predominantly tea-drinking country, but with the increase in coffee shops in Bishkek, it’s a practice that is also becoming more common. The downside: paper cups that are often not made for hot beverages, lids that don’t match the cups, and paper-thin napkins instead of sleeves (ouch). The upside: an endearing albeit impractical creativity. The favorite accessory for adding an artistic touch to a paper cup (or a Weizen beer glass) and a smile on the customer’s face: brightly colored twisted straws. This is the typical coffee-to-go, Bishkek-style:


The Coffee House on Manas scores with its interior decoration, especially the wall design and the cool chairs.


A fleeting thought of the Bauhaus at the Coffee House:



The delicious cakes are the highlight of the French Bakery, but the cozy place offers a table to sit down and coffee-to-go:


I found the perfect cup of coffee at At Bellagio’s Coffee&Pastry shop, right next to the restaurant. Tested and approved several times: consistently perfect.


A small, beautiful space, with matching perfect cakes. Makes for pleasant Sunday mornings or afternoons.


Chocolate pistachio cake&coffee happiness:


There is always something new and interesting to learn about coffee. Here is a Bishkek addition to the coffee fun fact sheet: a Kofenia coffee shop trivia about the curious aftereffects of a cup of coffee.


My point exactly: coffee is amazing.

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Coffee Bliss in Bishkek (Oh Sierra My Sierra)

First things first. The mission ahead, right after my arrival, was clear: find good coffee. And find it fast. The destination: Sierra Coffee, two magical words widely circulating in the expat community (I did my online coffee research long before I got here. I am very serious about coffee.). And, yes, I hereby officially endorse Sierra Coffee. On Manas.

And this is why. Great coffee. You can also buy it by the half pound. Excellent Espresso and Cappuccino. And the friendliest, nicest baristas. They are the heart and soul of Sierra.

Baked goods (brownies, cookies, and a variety of muffins), diverse breakfast and lunch items. And, a bilingual menu: great for learning Russian!

The setting:  nice and sunny space, a section with comfortable black leather chairs, outdoor seating under umbrellas, free wifi (which you find in practically all cafés here), in the background that certain coffee house music. So this is how it looks ROUND HERE, at Sierra. Which I had to throw in, just for fun, as they are playing the Counting Crows at this very moment.

And if all of this looks and sounds strangely (for some eerily) familiar to you, it’s because the furniture is imported from Seattle. Starbucks hardware gone Bishkek. Yes, the owner (himself from New Zealand) told me so. Sometimes, when you live in a foreign place faraway from your home(s) and feel yet unsettled, that very familiarity, the mere recognition of design and taste and sound, even though it may be grounded in generic corporate culture, can be quite nice and just what you want and need that moment. Don’t underestimate the sensation of tasting a banana nut muffin where you didn’t expect to find one.

Predictably lots of expatriates, from all corners of the world. It’s nice to hear so many different languages every morning. The world seems such a small place at Sierra. MacBook Pro Central. They also have a magazine rack: right now with Bon Appétit (merci), Sports Illustrated (come on), Woman’s Day (I live it every day—why read it), and Der Spiegel (na gut), among others. Granted, some are a bit outdated. You may want to skip the July 2006 copy of Shape, for example, as you clearly missed getting flat abs by August 1, as the cover promises. August six years ago, that was. Sorry. Maybe next year. And they have an English-language bookshelf. My picks of the day: As I Lay Dying, Russian Grammar, and Curious George Rides. In a nutshell: Sierra rocks. I will review the other coffee places over the next weeks. Let’s give them a fair chance.