In Azerbaijan, and in the Caucasus region in general, chai has been the traditional drink for hundreds of years. Served in an armudu (a glass with a pinched waist) the tea stays hot at the bottom but has a cool surface. To drink like a local put a sugar cube in your mouth and sip the tea or add a syrup of cherries or a lemon wedge.

Cafes are a fairly recent phenomenon and my colleague Said introduced me to Cup Cup in Fountain Square and Café Giusto as well others such as Hazel Coffee ( which was started by a grower and exporter of hazel nuts and the Baku Book Centre (

The Hazel cafe I went to had only Turkish, Brazilian and Latin America coffee but 48 varieties of chai and fruit and herb teas. I was introduced to menengij, also called Kurdish coffee, that originated in the mountains of north-eastern Turkey where people couldn’t afford real coffee. It’s a pleasant, light frothy drink made from roasted pistachios in milk or water – but it’s not coffee.

My favorite coffee shop is in the Baku Book Centre located in a renovated, turn of the (20th) century building that has a magnificent split staircase leading to the second floor.  People can buy the books (many in the main European languages) or just sit and read as much as they want. Students and entrepreneurs study and run their business and young women curl up on fluffy cushions in the 2-metre-thick window niches.

Next trip – more coffee shops and Hazel’s newest shop which opened the day I was leaving.

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