Photosynthesis

Honestly, if someone hadn’t arranged a meeting at the Photosynthesis café, I would have never known it existed. I always associate this place as a store for photography, but upstairs on the second floor is a beautiful gallery cum café.

The space is open and bright. Plenty of room to sit without bumping into your neighbor.

The walls are adorn with amazing photographs. I am not sure if it is a rotating exhibit or permanent installation. I was really taken with the beautiful and inspiring nature scenes.

They also have a menu for food. You can order a sandwich or other light bites. Judging from what my friend ordered the portions seem healthy and by healthy I mean sizable. 

Photosynthesis
57 Vasil Levski Blvd./бул. “Васил Левски” 57
Hours: Mon. – Fri. 09:30-20:30, Sat. 10:00-20:30, Sun. 10:00-19:00 
Tel: 02/980 73 71; 0888 024 999 
E-mail: center@photosynthesis.bg, photo@photosynthesis.bg
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Artnewscafe

Honestly, finding cool places to visit outside Sofia requires a bit more research. So, I found out about artnewscafe in Plovdiv through some events that they organized with Gaillot Chocolate, whose workshop is also located in Plovdiv. The cafe can be found at the end of the hip Otets Paisiy street.

The exterior uses the popular look of natural pine and glass, which is seen quite often in Sofia in designs by Funkt. The graffiti adds a nice touch.

The small interior houses a bar stocked with spirits and lots of books on shelfs, some design items for sale and other bric a brac…
To the right of the entrance is a small room with a few tables and chairs, plus more shelves with books.
From our hotel room at the Art Hotel Dali, which is also on Otets Paisiy, we could see this from our window. I figured it was some sort of public art installation, but it wasn’t till I saw that the artnewscafe was selling  PLOVEDIV tee shirts (15lv) and canvas tote bags (10lv) that the bartender told me about the “All We Need Is PLOVEDIV” campaign… I got a shirt for me and some Gaillot Chocolates for the girls.

Otets Paisiy 38, 
Plovdiv, Bulgaria 
Mon – Sat: 8:00 am – 12:00 pm
Sun: 10:30 am – 11:00 pm 
Phone 032 623 895 
e: news@artnewscafe.com 

Domani – Coffee Roasting Boutique

I have never been much of a coffee drinker. Yes, I like the occasional coffee house vanilla latte, but you won’t find me waking up with a steaming cup of joe. Last time I was in New York, I met up with a friend of mine in NYC that is a coffee buff. She knew that I like my coffee sweet, well because it is so bitter and astringent, but she took me to places where the milk was steamed to perfection, which brought out the natural sweetness in the milk, so I didn’t need to add sugar! One of the places that she took me to RBC has since closed, but a fantastic cup nonetheless. After I returned from the US, she responded to a question on EGL’s Facebook page about the next culinary trends in Bulgaria… her suggestion was coffee roasting boutiques. Well Aneta… you called it! Domani, located in Lozenetz opened a year and a half ago.

Dimitar and Veneta moved to New Zealand in 2003 and opened Veni Coffee, which they owned and operated till 2010. Dimitar speaks with reverence when he describes the coffee culture in Auckland and  NZ in general. Upon returning to Bulgaria, he hoped to recreated his success and started Domani: Coffee Roasting Boutique. When I asked him about Sofia and the coffee shops like Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Onda, he explained that the coffee culture in Europe is dominated by big brands like Lavazza and Illy, but they know nothing of the roast or the beans on the label.

There are two main varieties of coffees; Arabica and Robusta. These two species of coffee have different characteristics and qualities. Arabica, which originated in the mountains of Ethiopia is a prized coffee that has been cultivated for over a 1000 years. But not all Arabica beans are created equal. The better quality beans are grown at a higher altitude, which result in a harder bean, but also makes the harvest difficult and therefore increasing the price. Robusta is not without its own merits, despite being considered the lesser quality bean it has double the amount of caffeine as Arabica. Many Italian espresso blends include high-quality Robusta, which help to create the cream that forms on top of the espresso. The Robusta is easier to grow, so it is cheaper to produce and usually is found in low quality coffee.

Domani uses 100% high-quality Arabica. They roast single variety beans or create custom blends. All of the roasting is done onsite using a Diedrich roaster, which Dimitar ordered specially from Idaho. In the past 10 years, he has roasted 20,000 batches of beans, using over 30 different varieties of Arabica. Novice coffee roasters in Sofia have visited his shop to observe his techniques, which he will gladly share. The novice roaster was shocked at Dimitar’s methods… during the roasting process, he never looked at the beans to check the color or doneness… When he asked Dimitar why he didn’t look and then he explained that he didn’t need to it was something he could feel, he just knew when the beans were done. A chef doesn’t need to watch his food cook… they just know.

I had two coffees while I was there. I asked them to surprise me and give me something that I would like; I explained my shortcomings in regards to coffee. The first espresso was a special blend that was very complex and strong. The second one was a single variety, which was completely different. It was milder and less dynamic, but equally good. In the end, I think I preferred the first on.

Domani is not a coffee shop in the traditional sense. It is a place to enjoy and learn. Every customer is treated to individual attention and given a private tasting. They didn’t know that I am a blogger or that I would write about their shop, they just wanted to give me a great coffee experience. Dimitar’s wealth of knowledge on the subject of coffee is an asset to a beginner or experienced connoisseur.

I hope to organize a coffee tasting and roasting demonstration soon. Please check on EGL’s Facebook page for the event and forthcoming details.

Dimitar Hajikotzev St. 4B/ ул. Димитър Хаджикоцев 4Б
Lozentetz, Sofia 1421
Tel: 02 441 1250 Mob: 0884 167 984
Hours: Mon – Fri 9:00 – 19:00
Sat – 9:00 – 17:00, Sun – CLOSED

Paper Cake

Paper Cake, a bookshop and chocolatier situated on the bustling Rakovski street; this little shop is something unique because they don’t limit themselves to coffee and tea, but alcohol as well.

I was a little confused about the Chocolaterie aspect because all I saw offered were some small cakes, which seemed only marginally chocolatey. I was told that they normally have selection, but not the day of my visit.

The coffee is average, but they don’t claim to be a cafe or bar. The focus seems to be on the books and providing a space to brows and enjoy. They also have a limited selection of English language books.

Papercake is split level, so you can chill out upstairs in the loft, which has plenty of couches and nooks.

I liked the eclectic collection of furniture, like the wake board table supported by the legs of an ironing board and other decorative elements. Many places in Sofia are becoming rather homogenized by frequently utilizing a similar design style, this unpretentious and laid back environment is conducive to sipping a coffee and typing away on an iPhone writing a blog post.

122 Rakovski str.,
1000 Sofia, Bulgaria
Hours Mon – Sun: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Phone 088 922 6822


Elephant Bookstore at the Tea House

Every time I visit Чайна/Tea House (Чай във Фабриката), I discover somеthing new. This was my first trip to the Tea House since my return from the US and it was just as I remembered it; warm and cozy environment, fantastic artwork from talented artists adorning the walls, handmade ceramic by Efrat Green lining the shelves, the wafting odor of freshly brewed tea… and something new…  something alluring… ahhh… the intoxicating musty smell of recently loved books.

When we walked in I noticed a sign for a bookstore, but I couldn’t see anything but a small shelf in the middle of the room, which was not exactly what I would call a shop, so I turned my focus back to having tea.
When my husband went to use the restroom, he came back he asked me if I knew about the English language bookstore in the back… they even have children’s books, he said! Hardly able to contain myself, I jumped up and headed toward the back through the swinging wooden doors.
The Elephant Bookstore! There was something celestial about the way the light shone through the window and the French doors opened their arms to invite you further into the book nook.
The space was teeming with tomes, they overflowed into the corridor and I hardly knew where to begin, until I noticed the words River Cottage in a bin outside the door. It was as if the bookshop was luring me in with a box filled with smart, natural cookbook titles, organic gardening guides and books to encourage kids to cook and garden… The selection of just this one box was amazing. Even better were the prices. These were gently used books from the UK priced between 5 – 12 lv. Even if you found such titles in the book shops in the mall or other places that are geared toward foreigners, you wouldn’t find such reasonable prices.
It turns out that Elephant Bookstore opened in December 2011. It is run by a British man and Bulgarian women. They are passionate about books and make selections that are interesting to read, not just “chick-lit”! This is the first outpost for Elephant Bookstore in Sofia. You can also order books online through their website, which is available in English and Bulgarian. The best part is that no matter how many books you order online the deliver price is just 3.95 lv through Bulgarian post. Faster delivery is available or you can also visit their main location about an hour outside Sofia. You can get updates from Elephant Bookstore through Facebook or visit their website for on-line shopping etc…
I can think of nothing more enjoyable than drinking tea and perusing books. It is a concept that I am familiar with in the US, but this is the first time I have seen such a combination in Bulgaria. Please visit Чайна/Tea House (Чай във Фабриката) and enjoy not only tea, but other beverages as well and  vegetarian cuisine. If you “Like”the Tea House’s Facebook page, you can find out their event schedule, which includes live music and weekend events for children and parents, like Efrat Green’s Play with Clay.

ul. Georgi Benkovski 11
Sofia, Bulgaria 1000
tel: +359 (0) 887051080
 Mon – Thu: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Fri: 10:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sat: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am – 8:00 pm Phone

Elephant Bookstore
at Чайна/Tea House (Чай във Фабриката)
+359 (0) 886420954
e-mail elephantbookshop@gmail.com
Tue – Fri: 12:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Sat – Sun: 11:00 am – 8:00 pm

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Take a Cake Bakery

I have long been a fan of cupcakes.  When I first moved to Bulgaria back in 2006, I was looking for some way to engage myself.  I found it difficult to find work in the film and television industry, so I suggested to my husband to be the first person to bring the American cupcake craze to Bulgaria.  I had been reading articles about cupcake bakeries in the Middle East and other spots around the globe. I love baking, but I am not a baker, plus the thought of living in Sofia was a drag, so my cupcake idea never materialized.

Fast forward to Jan 2011, the first dedicated cupcake bakery opens it doors in Sofia, Take a Cake.  Since I have been in the US for almost a year, I am a little behind the times on the comings and goings of food places in Sofia, but a few days after their 1 year anniversary, I made my way to the shop, which is located at 1 Tulovo Street (off Blvd Evlogi Georgiev, near Eagle’s Bridge) ул. Тулово 1, 1504 Sofia, Bulgaria.

The shop is small there is a counter/cupcake case that greets you as you enter, but very little room for sitting, although they have 2 small tables, which my friend and I sat at as we enjoyed a cupcake and latte.  If you are looking for a place to sit with more than two people, or if you need to write in a notebook, this might be a bit tight. 
I ended up start with the simple vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting, which was good. They had a nice and interesting selection of flavors that changed often.  I was very satisfied with the taste and texture, my only complaint was the size.  In my opinion, the cups are under filled.  Even after baking, the cake doesn’t peek above the paper wrapper.  Whether it is cupcakes or muffins (they do both) I want a nice cap on my cupcake and a sizable muffin top.  There is something to it that I don’t think has made it to Bulgaria yet, I mean they sell baking pans that are solely for producing the tops, it is part of the allure of these tiny baked treats.
The shop is a charming alternative to some of the other baker offering in Sofia. Maybe I am being a sentimental American that has a slight infatuation with cupcakes, but I would recommend stopping by Take a Cake for a breakfast muffin, afternoon cupcake or just an anytime of the day snack attack to eat in or take out.  They also have coffee options and I enjoyed my latte. For 3 cupcakes and 2 regular latte’s the bill was about 7.50 lv. As I left, they added a Cherry Coconut cupcake to the daily offering, which I greedily took to go.
You can find their page on Facebook, so you can get updates about the daily offerings.

Zlaty, is one of the cupcake bakers at Take a Cake.  She and I became aquatinted when she worked at My Organic Market.  I think it was because of her that I found out about the bakery.  So, thank you Zlaty.

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