NOVOSIBIRSK: While in the Siberian capital, I noticed coffee-to-go kiosks at many points in the center of town - perhaps more on a per-capita basis than in Moscow. Several years ago, it was hard to find coffee-to-go in Moscow, let alone in the regions, but the trend has expanded quickly right across the country. Lilia (right) and her friend wete walking around the center of Novosibirsk, holding cups of coffee. I asked Lilia, a university student, what changes she would like to make in her city. While her list was long, the first thing she highlighted was helping pensioners. Lilia said she would incease discounts on goods and services for the elderly, such as transportation and housing communal services. ''I would probably bankrupt the budget with my wishes,'' she joked.
ARKHANGELSK: "I served in the armed forces in Armenia and the smell of coffee is everywhere there. People there drink coffee in all situations. It was there that I learned understood what coffee is," said Alexander, 29, who was working the coffee-to-go kiosk he owns on the pedestrian street in Arkhangelsk. Such freshly-brewed coffee kiosks can now be found in most major Russian cities, but three years ago they basically did not exist. Since then, they have sprung up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, to use a popular Russian expression, from Vladivostok to Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Alexander opened his in Arkhangelsk three years ago. "I made a lot of mistakes - from the professionalism of the baristas to tge quality of the coffee," he said when I asked why he didn't yet expand. "You can't give up," he said. "He who gives up doesn't achieve anything."
NIZHNY NOVGOROD: ''Nothing else came to mind,'' said Konstantin, 26, when I asked him why he decided to go into the coffee-to-go business. Konstantin normally makes coffee on the streets of Moscow from the back of his truck, but he was making coffee for concert goers at a 3-day festival 400 kilometers from Moscow when I met him. Konstantin said that when he left his Moscow office job, the coffee idea came up in discussion with family and friends. He did the calculations and the idea seemed profitable. He said that on the best days in Moscow, he can sell as many as 160-170 cups of coffee. The downside to the business is the weather. ''I don't want to stand in -20c anymore,'' he said.
St. Petersburg: She would have fit in perfectly at a rockabilly concert with her red and white poker-dot skirt, a blue bandana in her hair and black converse sneakers. Instead, she was reading Machiavelli’s 'The Prince’ while making espresso’s from the back of a coffee car in one of the busiest spots near Nevsky. Just 21, Sasha said she already divorced and is now in her fourth city, having grown up in Murmansk and lived briefly in Krasnodar and Moscow. Her colorful style contrasted sharply with her mood, which is reflected in her facial expression in the photo. Even a surprise rose couldn’t cause a smile. She said people criticized her everyday and mentioned she didn’t have a high opinion of herself, adding she has a bad temper. She said she is hoping to find herself. I asked about Moscow. She responded she didn't like city probably because she worked at a funeral home.
ULAN-UDE, EAST SIBERIA: Maria was working the coffee machine in a small kiosk on Arbat Street in Ulan-Ude on a weekday afternoon. Maria, in her mid-20s, said she studied and worked in St. Petersburg as a lawyer. However, after two years, she said she got tired of working in an office and quit, moving back home to Ulan-Ude. ''I am doing what I love,'' she said from inside the kiosk. ''I go to work like I am going to a holiday celebration. I want to lift people's spirits.'' Maria says she works about a month, saves up her money and then goes snowboarding for a few days. She is now saving to go to China in the fall. ''It is an old dream of mine to go to China,'' she said.
”We believed we had a good idea,” Yana said from her coffee kiosk near a major metro station that opened at the end of October. ”The most difficult thing was to take the plunge and leave our comfortable jobs. Our business has now become our life. It occupies us 24 our a day, even when we sleep.”
Khabarovsk: I passed a kiosk in the center of Khabarovsk offering coffee and donuts and stopped to get a cup of java. Artyom, 25, opened the window to take my order. He had model-like features with pierced ears and tattooed arms. He said he also worked at a bar and is a drummer in a 'turborock' band called Fucknroll. When I asked which western group his music would be closest to, he mentioned Motley Crue and Black River, but added that his group's music is a mix of styles. I asked if his 4 year-old group would try to play in Moscow and St Pete. "We want to conquer the (Russian) Far East first," he said.
SAMARA: Boris, 26, recently opened Blaser Cafe, a small coffee shop in the center of Samara with a friend. I asked Boris why they decided to start the business. “People here travel to Europe, such as Italy, where they experience the coffee culture and they want the same quality in Samara. The coffee culture is starting to take off.”
Anya was sitting in a tiny cafe next to a bus station one early morning with her fellow classmate Angelina when I walked in. Anya, who has Polish roots like many Belarus citizens, said she wanted to study landscape design in St Petersburg, Russia but her mother didn't like the idea of her being far from home. Thus, she settled for web design in Minsk. Anya said she hopes to go to St Pete once she finishes her Web design degree. Her friend Angelina though wants to go to west to Poland to continue her studies. When I asked about work in Belarus, they said web designers could find jobs, but the salary may not be high - a comment I heard repeatedly during my stay.
Roman, a barista at a Minsk coffee shop, had a lighthouse tattooed on his neck. He said "a lighthouse is a symbol of hope to sailors" and for him it is a reminder to see hope around him 'and not to despair.' He said he studied medicine and then worked in physical therapy, but didn't stick with it as the pay was so low. I asked if he made more as a barista. He said as much as double.