Having coffee in Croatia or Idemo na kavu

The opening of the first Starbucks in Croatia has been delayed... INDEFINITELY! Wha? Huh? But, Croatians love coffee! Here’s some empirics. According to a 2009 survey on tportal.hr (a fantastic website by the way) Croatians annually drink 5 kg of coffee per person, that’s 22,500 tons of coffee per year, and they spend 2.25 million hours having coffee each year, that’s half an hour a day per person. Within a five minute walk from my apartment there are nine cafes, and I don’t even live in the center of the city. If I extend it to a 7-10 minute walk we balloon to 22 cafes (and that’s just counting off of the top of my head).

So why is Starbucks a bit apprehensive about opening a store in Croatia? To answer that question we return to our old friend culture. In this post I explore the cafe culture in Croatia and ... well... the TOTAL lack of it in America (sorry guys, but it's true. You’ll see).

Croatians love coffee, but more than that coffee in Croatia is where everything gets done. It's where friends meet, where deals are made, it's how favors are asked, it's how people are hired, fired, introduced, married, divorced, everything. Everything involves coffee. Even when it doesn’t. Invited to someone’s house for dinner? Bring coffee!!!

BUT, having coffee in Croatia is very different than in the US. As you might have guessed coffee in Croatia is a social function. In the US, coffee is less about being social than it is about having a boost to work harder. Let’s look at some examples.

This is your typical cafe in the heart of Zagreb. Notice all the tables are occupied by more than one person and they all look like they are talking to each other. Not just sitting and playing with their smart phones, but talking, conversing, sharing in the company of friends, hangin.’

Now let us turn to a picture of your typical American Starbucks.

Please notice that everyone, E-V-E-R-Y-ONE is ALONE. Don’t let that illusionary couple in the back fool you. If you look close you’ll see he is just sitting at a different table in front of her, and she is typing on a laptop. No one is talking. They’re all probably listening to their ipods. And they all seem engaged in some kind of work. (I’m sure my three Croatian readers are recoiling in horror! Thinking, you don’t go have coffee to work! You go to talk, meet, relax a little, but not to sit and listen to Arcade Fire on your “earbuds” while cramming for the final exam for your course “Intro to the formless forms of Postmodernism.” In Croatia that’s what libraries are for, duh!?!)

After living in Croatia for some time I’ve learned that coffee for Americans is about the same as gasoline for cars. We drink it so we can get going and keep going. Just look at the amounts it comes in. 12, 16, 20, 31 ounces (354 ml, 473 ml, .59 , and .91 liters! Almost a liter of coffee!!) We also like to put lids on our coffee so we can go back to work, walk or jog while drinking our coffee (Jog while drinking coffee? Yes).

Another reason for the varying sizes is that they serve as a status symbol (somewhat akin to the black BMW in Croatia). The bigger the cup, the more important you are. YOU ARE SO IMPORTANT YOU HAVE ONE BILLION THINGS TO DO AND YOU CAN ONLY DO THIS BY DRINKING ALL OF THIS COFFEE!!! AAAARGH!!! (When I was in grad school I thought a good way to set myself apart from the undergrads was to order the biggest coffee I could find and then shove a huge stack of thick books under my arm and walk around the campus with an air of rushed importance.)

Here some examples of Starbucks coffee sizes:

Now I will show you the largest cup of coffee in Croatia. Ready. No peeking.


No. This really is the biggest size you can get... anywhere. Now, to our American readers you might be laughing like Crocodile Dundee when he shows that punk kid a real knife. In your head you’re all like: That’s not a cup of coffee. This is a cup of coffee. But I should tell you that this cup actually has more coffee in it than it appears. Not really, it has a very, very small amount of coffee in it, but in the hands of a Croatia it's magic. Nearly endless. A Croatian can make this coffee last for two, maybe even, three hours. THAT’S HOW LONG PEOPLE HERE HAVE COFFEE! I drank my first coffee in Croatia in about 5 minutes. Then I looked around and saw everybody else had full cups and I thought: Oh boy, we are going to be here awhile. Remember having coffee is not actually about the coffee, it's about the socializing.

So you can see why Starbucks is reluctant to open a store in Croatia. It seems its entire business model is getting as many people to drink as much coffee as possible, as fast as possible. For all the people occupying their tables alone there are probably just as many people coming and going with huge amounts of coffee. They are probably not ready for the bulk of their Croatian customers to sit over AN espresso with milk for two hours. Here are some other things to consider as well. Few cafes in Croatia sell food (this could help or hinder Starbucks, since it's not normal to have a coffee and eat something). Another thing is that coffee and cigarettes go together in Croatia like peanut butter and chocolate in America. To open a strictly non-smoking cafe could also be a disadvantage to a company like Starbucks.

Having coffee in Croatia is one of those things that sets the country apart from everywhere else I’ve ever lived. It's also one of the most enjoyable aspects of living here. Not just having coffee yourself, but seeing people having coffee is even a pleasure. On a January evening the winter gloom is only illuminated by the bright lights of the city’s innumerable cafes. You pass them in the cold, but inside you see they are warm, inviting, filled with life, men and women, young and old, gathered two to four to a table talking, laughing; you feel that the city is alive, and walking past each bright cafe you long to be a part of it. And this feeling stays with you, tugging at you, tempting to pull you into the nearest cafe. Until finally a friend calls you and says: Idemo na kavu. And like it was the greatest thing in the world, you say Da.

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