I remember when coffee came in two forms: black or white. I also remember the caffeine tidal wave that swept the world, with the success of the US TV sitcom Friends. Lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, espressos – your choice of coffee became a personality indicator.
My coffee consumption began with a long-term relationship with an Irish cream latte. I then moved on to a cappuccino, had a brief flirtation with a macchiato, before settling down with an espresso. Life was good. But having defined my coffee style, I was then faced with questions about the origin of my beans – Nicaraguan, Columbian, Ethiopian… would it ever stop?
Budapest, with its myriad cafés that ooze intellect, populated with a multilingual cohort of students, professionals, and retirees, is coffee heaven. But I longed for a place that would take the snobbery out of it all and not make me work for my espresso. I wanted a place that valued simplicity.
I heard about The Goat Herder, an espresso bar in Budapest’s seventh district that started grinding its beans for brewing in January this year. Within just two months of operation it had made it into the annals of Forbes. Rather than offer a global menu of beans, they choose one good one and change their choice according to the season. It’s taken me until now to go see for myself what the buzz was about.
Corinne and Dave Pruden have been coming to Budapest on and off for ten years. Their work in software sales took them around the world and as the glamour of the lofty heights of licensing palled, they found themselves increasingly complaining of boredom. Most of these conversations took place over good coffee in funky coffee houses around the world, from the UK, to Portugal, to Australia. And finally, they bit the bean.
A chance (!*?) encounter with a veterinary student in Budapest one day set them on course. About to graduate from Szent István University, he pointed out what had escaped the notice of other coffee entrepreneurs in the city. The Vet School and McDaniel College together boast a student body of 1400 students, 900 of whom are international all sharing a common language – English – and a common need – caffeine. And there wasn’t a coffee shop within frothing distance of either place. When it came to good coffee, this part of the VII district was a caffeine desert.
But it would take more than good coffee to keep those discerning caffeine-starved students coming through the doors. Where so many of Budapest’s cafés fall down is the food. Good coffee needs to be complemented by good food. Not pre-packaged sandwiches, thin soup, and plastic wraps. Good coffee deserves better.
It took the Prudens just four months to get The Goat Herder up and running. They complement each other beautifully. Corinne brings precision to the kitchen with her sweets and savouries while Dave adds the flair with his soups and pestos. Alongside their excellent coffee (currently Colombian, but soon to change to Ethiopian after the June harvest), the fare is simple, wholesome, and made with care and attention.
And there’s more.
When you are living in a foreign city, perhaps for the first time, battling with a language that is hard to understand, it’s nice to go somewhere where everyone behind the counter knows you by name. Somewhere conversations that happen today are picked up again tomorrow. Somewhere you feel at home. That’s far more nourishing that the tastiest bowl of soup, the crumbliest cookie, or the freshest cup of coffee. And when you get it all right, as the Prudens have done with their little oasis The Goat Herder, you definitely get my business.
The Goat Herder. Mon-Fri 07.30-18.30. 1078 Budapest, István utca 5
First published in the Budapest Times 22 May 2015
PS – Fab mural on the wall by a young Hungarian artist Athina