"Coffee mania" floods Kiev

Kiev- Coffee shops have taken over Kiev, and it's all about variety.

Ukraine's capital has seen an explosion of coffee shops and cafes in recent years. The city centre, a place with real estate prices are on par with London and Tokyo, is crammed with establishments offering a cup of Joe as often as once every 30 metres apart.

Waiting for a seat is common nowadays, even at an average, never mind fashionable, Kiev coffee house in the early evening. Shops cater to dirt-poor students, comfortable housewives and their husbands' disposable incomes, coffee snobs, the filthy rich, the kopeck- pinchers, the sweet-toothed, and even a chap just wanting a proper feed, but not a restaurant.

"The word 'restaurant' has somewhat of a negative connotation in Ukraine. In Soviet days you only went for wedding receptions or graduation parties," said Andry Kovalenko, manager of the Efiopia coffee shop. "So if he wants a bite or a drink, just to sit down, the modern Kievite looks for a cafe."

"Prices are crazy, who can afford a meal out any more?" said office worker Marusia Shelest, a customer. "But even my girlfriends and I can manage the price of a cup of coffee, in a nice place like this."

The market leader is a company called Kofe Khouz (Coffee House) and operates 24 cafes in greater Kiev. The Moscow-headquartered chain offers a generous selection
(40+) of Italian coffees, to go or sipped in house in darkish spaces decorated with plenty of wood.

But the Kafe Khouz customer varies, depending as do most things in Kiev on the neighbourhood and the time of day. Some of the city's best people watching, for instance, can be had at the 24-hour Kafe Khauz shops near the National Opera or the Palace of Ukraine Concert Hall, after the show is over and musicians and performers mingle with the audience.

The Kafka cafe and tea house (4 cafes) proudly touts itself as "a thinking man's cafe" offering a biochemical buzz to a customer educated, or at least daring enough to appreciate it. More than 40 types of coffee are on sale, including the "Red and White" - a concoction of double espresso, tequila, rum, cherry liquor, milk, whipped cream and a cherry. Other delicacies include humble Turkish coffee brewed in heated sand, the signature entree salmon and champagne (10 dollars), and hookahs.

The Alfredo Cafe, on Druzhba Narodiv (Friendship of Peoples) Boulevard, is eclectic, with office workers rubbing shoulders with students, well-groomed couples, and professionals stopping for a bite or a drink on the way home. Alfredo's parking lot on a work night is testimony to cash in the pockets of working Kievites these days, with late-model Japanese SUVs and German sedans domninating. Latte is a market standard with a medium costing 2 dollars.

The Jules Verne Cafe, set in Kiev's once dilapidated but already somewhat funky Podil district, aims at the upwardly mobile, youthful set, drawing its customers from nearby universities, and couples promenading by the Dnipro River. Prices are modest and the ambiance is eclectic French, with stylish seating, strong-willed staff, and an ambitious menu offering entrees like beef fajitas and tuna steak in pear sauce.

Chaikov cafe, shares Prospekt Pobedy (Victory Prospect) Square the Kiev city circus, the middle-grade Libid (Swan) Hotel, and the high- end Ukrainsky Dom (Ukrainian House) shopping centre. Decked out in warm peaches and reds, is in contrast a spot favoured by a mostly feminine crowd for a menu dominated by fish and salads, plenty of pastries, 14 generally creamy coffees, and some of Kiev's lowest latte prices.

Which is not to say that, in a city of some 3 million inhabitants and an estimated 500 to 1,000 establishments calling themselves coffee houses, that every caffeine experience is a positive one.

A complaint sheet for the Double Cafe on Kiev's main Khreschatyk Street, a place increasingly thronged with tourists, warned of a 30 minute-wait just to speak to staff, never mind place an order, and Natalia the waitress, who awards herself a 20 per cent gratuity without asking.

And Starbucks? Not yet in Kiev. (dpa)