Monday, January 28, 2013

How To Avoid Coffee Life

Let's talk coffee shops!

If you've spent much time in Ukraine's urban areas, you've undoubtedly stumbled across one (or ten or twenty) Coffee Life coffee shops. Coffee Life is to Ukraine what Starbucks is to the rest of the world. "There's coffee in our blood!" proclaims the back of the baristas' t-shirts. And in fact, there may be; last year Kyiv Post reported Ukraine as having the highest growth rate of coffee-drinking in the world.
look familiar, anyone?
 All foreigners end up at the Coffee Life chain sooner or later. It's a beacon of familiarity amongst the jumble of pawn shops, babushkas, and marshrutkas. Take a look at this page and tell me- how could you not get hooked? First off, there's the English prevalence: English menus, English logo and branding, even weekly Mafia games in English (free for native speakers). Then there's the free wifi, book exchange, drink specials, croissants, fancy desserts, lounge music, and 36 locations across the country. It's a franchise, so you can even open your own branch for around 1 million uah.

Going back to that question- how could you not love this place? By playing Scrabble there every week for 17 months, that's how!
I loved Coffee Life in the beginning- so upscale, so calming, so convenient- but eventually the monotony and the high prices got to me. Last week I dropped 33 uah on a mulled wine (original price around 25 uah but extra for a cinnamon stick and honey... but, uh, aren't those integral parts of mulled wine?) which, after they forgot my order and I had to wait ages for, tasted like a fish had just finished swimming in it. Luckily, there are plenty of other places to get a cup of tea here in Kharkov.

Кофейня Венская

One favorite is Coffee Shop Vienna, not far from the Kharkov Opera House. I love coming to this tiny coffee house for its coziness and quiet atmosphere. The staff is very polite and they offer English menus if you need one.

 Address: Chenrishevskogo 15, behind the Mirror Stream Fountain




Кофейня Кофея

This little place (literally, Coffee Shop "Coffee") is hidden away just off Sumskaya Street, next to the AVEC gallery. Prices equal those of Coffee Life but there's a full bar and way more variety in food and drink options, even waffles! The interior is trendy, everything done up in either grey and purple. Fresh flowers adorn every table. Large and colorful pictures of famous European landmarks are spaced around the room.

I ordered the какао класический, or classic hot chocolate for 23 uah. It was delicious and more importantly- real hot chocolate, not the commonly-served thicker version (a melted chocolate bar in a cup that must be eaten with a spoon and is served with a small glass of water). Open from 8 AM to 11 PM, wifi.


Кофе Тайм

"Coffee Time" is another nationwide chain. The branch just off Independence Square in Kiev is actually the first coffee shop I visited in Ukraine and I didn't manage to return until last November. This time I visited the location on the second floor of the Karavan mall and enjoyed tasty french fries and blini.

Кофейня Шоколадка

Coffee Shop "Chocolate" appeared in Kharkov 3 years ago and, according to their website, boasts over 80 coffee drinks as well as chocolate fondue! For locations and hours, look here. I'd walked past the windows of the Pushkin street location a million times before finally getting the chance to go in for a cup of tea with a friend.

One unusual menu offering: chocolate artwork. You can buy anything from a chocolate cell phone (about 70 uah) to a colorful chocolate painting complete with chocolate frame (800 uah). I gave D a grinning chocolate cat for his birthday. Other chocolate items for sale include butterflies, lions, a mini-Porsche, shot glasses, and cameras. The only catch: while there's a lot on the menu, they only sell what they have in stock at the moment.

Meanwhile, the food is divine... and also freakishly expensive! We paid over 200 uah for a Coke, a hot chocolate, one salad, one small plate of pasta, and these unusual blini.


KoKAWA is my most recent find, courtesy of the fashionista friend who went with me to the previous cafe. It's a "book" coffee shop / restaurant and can seat up to 50 people. There's even a weekly board game night downstairs!

So if you've fallen into the Coffee Life rut, I encourage you to get out and try one of these other places. Kharkov is a city sprinkled with coffee shops and these 5 are just a small sample of what's available! Local readers- have you tried another coffee shop in town that you'd recommend?

PS: Nothing against Coffee Life. After all, despite these complaints we're still meeting there weekly for Scrabble and managing to have a good time :p If you want to try a Kharkov Coffee Life for the first time, I'd suggest the branch near the train station. It still has that "new" sheen to it, while others look more rundown but still charge 16 uah for a cup of hot water and a packet of black tea.
Train Station Coffee Life in Kharkov


  1. I loved this post! It had no idea that coffee shops were gaining ground in the Ukraine--it was fun to read about all of your suggestions of places to visit :)

    1. Hola Cassandra! Who knows, maybe you'll visit Ukraine one of these days and we could meet up for a drink : ) How cool would that be?!

  2. That would be so cool! Haha, don't tempt me, I've been looking up destinations for Semana Santa with no luck. Too bad we don't have a low-budget airline which flies from here to there!!

  3. When I finally make it to Kharkov, you and I are meeting at the Viennese cafe :)

  4. I read your post! Very interesting!
    I also dislike Coffee Life.
    And I'd like to propose you some other coffee cafes: Kofein ( There are a lot of cafes all over Ukraine. Most of all I like one on Petrovskogo Street 30/32. Their cappuccino is awesome.
    Also visit "Golden Ducat" ('s not far from coffee shop "Chocolate" (to be more precise in the same building) Chervonopraporna Street 6
    Good luck!

    1. Daniel, thank you for the suggestions! : ) I've been meaning to try Kofein for a long time now. Never heard of Golden Ducat- will have to go there soon. Thanks again!

  5. You need to do the same thing here in Kyiv! We have the same Coffee Life chain along with a myriad of others but most serve very well prepared, over-priced stale coffee. There is a lot of it, though, and the winter is long....

    1. Would love to check the Kyiv coffee shops out someday : ) even though Kyiv is sometimes a very intimidating city!

      I like your new blog design, btw

  6. “Coffee Life is to Ukraine what Starbucks is to the rest of the world.” – I became curious of the taste of Coffee Life's coffee after reading this statement. Well, it has 30+ franchises across Ukraine. That proves how great this coffee shop is. It's no surprise if more franchises would open in other countries too! :)

    1. Yes, you can always count on finding something to enjoy at Coffee Life : ) Thanks for dropping by, Clint!