Coffee culture has come to Russia relatively recently – within the last few years – but has exploded within that time. Although there are now many chains and independent shops dotting Russian cities, covering kiosks, to-go windows, and sit-down shops, there are few chains that have managed to become truly “Russian” in that they were founded in Russia and now cover a great deal of Russia’s territory.
Below are profiles of five Russia-based chains that have managed to cover at least 10 Russian cities. In an upcoming update of this article, we will also cover Coffee Like, Bodryi Den, Coffee Way, and Traveler’s Coffee which also qualify for this honor.
Coffee shops are a booming industry in Russia. New chains are appearing all the time but analysts say that the market is still far from saturated, meaning that more growth and market consolidation are expected over the next few years. The market itself is also changing – successful coffee shops in Russia once relied heavily on food sales as most Russians expected to be able to sit with a meal as well as coffee for an extended experience. Particularly since about 2015 however, small, dedicated shops that rely almost exclusively off to-go drink sales are increasingly common.
Interestingly, Russia’s largest chains now include many that were not founded in Moscow or St. Petersburg and, in fact, do not focus on major cities for their expansion and increased profit. Russia’s retail supermarkets have experienced a similar shift. Russian coffee shops also face stiff competition in Russia from foreign brands – with McDonald’s / McKafe, Starbucks, and Coffeeshop (an Austrian brand) all figuring in the top five for popularity across Russia (although those three are far from the largest chains in terms of location numbers).
The following short introductions to some of the largest chains of Russian coffee shops was first created by Greg Tracey, an economics student who served as a Home and Abroad Scholar with SRAS in 2019. This guide is intended to introduce future students to the range of Russian coffee shops as well as to some of the economics and history that created them.
By Greg Tracey
Shokolodnitsa (Russian: Шоколадница) is Russia’s oldest coffee shop brand and was long its largest chain. It was dethroned in 2018 by the explosive newcomer Coffee Like. It remains a mainstay in Russia, however, with some 526 highly visible locations in many Russian cities from Saint Petersburg to the Russian Far East and some internationally as well. It continues to add locations every year.
In its early days, Shokolodnitsa represented a higher end café niche, as far as chained cafes go. The customer experience in most Shokolodnitsas is said to be comparable to an Italian atmosphere, with a comfortable and laid-back interior. Today, it is a market main-stay, with a larger menu, much more emphasis on its food, and often higher prices than many of its competitors, but is no longer thought of as higher-end – for that there is Starbucks and Kofemania. Shoko, as it is sometimes called, stands out instead for its sheer ubiquitousness.
The first Shokolodnitsa was founded in Moscow in 1964. The Kolobov family were patrons there. After the fall of the USSR the family became restraunteers and eventually bought the premises of that first Shokolodnitsa, turning it into today’s chain. Alexander Kolobov, the chain’s managing owner, says that he agonized over whether or not to change the name (translated as “Chocolate Girl”), but obviously it remained.
In 2000, the company began an effort to expand its operations and bring its experience more into line with other European cafes. One of the principles that Kolobov keeps in mind is that location is everything – and indeed, one of the chain’s main advantages is that its locations remain highly visible.
In 2014, its parent company, known as Gallery Alex, purchased fellow Russian café Kofe Khaus. At the time, Shokolodnitsa was Russia’s largest coffee chain and Kofe Khaus was in second place. This allowed Shokolodnitsa to optimize its locations and tower over the coffee industry in Russia. Shokolodnitsa remains, by far, one of Russia’s two largest coffee chains.
Shokolodnitsa’s reviews are decent, but some find it to be overpriced and wanting in quality and service. Either way, its prevalence makes it likely that one will find oneself there during a visit to almost any major Russian city.
Above: A short video about Shokolodnitsa.
by Greg Tracey
One Price Coffee is a fairly recent arrival on the Russian coffee scene. It has grown from about twenty-one locations in 2014, all based in Moscow, to 180 locations across about a dozen cities in western Russia. One Price entered the scene shortly after the 2014 financial crisis hit Russia. It was a time of falling retail space prices, which helped lead to an explosion of new coffee shops and other cafes. It was also a time when many Russians were anxiously watching the dollar/ruble exchange rate, which had entered a period of severe volatility. One Bucks attempted to capitalize on both trends, opening a chain that sold a cup of coffee for the equivalent of $1 – based on the current ruble exchange rate. They had a ticker behind the counter showing the current rate.
The ruble later stabilized to around 65 to the US dollar, and One Price abandoned the marketing ploy, pegging its base pricing to 60 rubles (about 80 US cents at 2021 exchange rates). One Price operates a range of locations – from tiny to-go windows to small sit-down locations that it markets as ideal places to work and meet with other people. Overall, the walk-in locations feel pretty similar to an American chain like Dunkin’ Donuts. It also advertises its commitment to quality by emphasizing its training facility for baristas in the center of Moscow.
One Price originally opened as “One Bucks.” However, it was initially refused a trade mark due to the “One Bucks” name being adjudged by the Russian authorities to be too similar to “Starbucks,” which had already entered the Russian market. One Bucks also used a similar font and deep green in its branding. The company switched the name to One Price but (kept the font and color scheme) about the same time that they switched their pricing to single ruble-demonated peg.
Today, One Bucks’ online reviews are a mixed bag but seems it to be making a successful run at holding its place in an increasingly competitive market.
Above – One Price (then still One Bucks) celebrates two years in Moscow by throwing a party for its employees.
by Kate Spencer
One of the Russia’s private coffee shops, Coffee Bean was founded in Moscow in 1996. It is described as a “mix of an Italian espresso bar and a coffee shop, but from a Russian perspective.” The company self-titles itself “the first Russian coffee shop” and has since expanded to 21 stores in 10 different cities in Russia. This self-title is interesting, as, although founded in Russia, Coffee Bean was started by an American.
Coffee in Russia looked very different in the 90’s. The Coffee Bean founder, Jerry Ruditser, noticed how each office in Russia had an “electric sandbox” that brewed Turkish-style coffee from usually low-quality beans and grinds. Instant coffee was also widely consumed. When Coffee Bean first opened, customers were completely lost among the many varieties of coffee to choose from. High quality, fresh ground coffee was a rarity and Coffee Bean was the pioneer in this market within Russia.
The chain has survived multiple economic meltdowns in Russia – in part by remaining focused on stability and providing a quality product with quality service. From the beginning, Ruditser stressed an emphasis on relations with customers, even when this was a rarity in Russia. Having employees warmly greet customers was unusual and surprising to locals. Ruditser says it was difficult to staff the store with employees willing to smile at and happily interact with customers their whole shift.
Today, each location has its own unique interior, described as generally cozy and friendly. Hospitality is still at the forefront of the brand’s mission, and this is reflected in customer reviews. Scoring between 4 and 5 stars across multiple locations on Tripadvisor, customers report friendly service, a nice atmosphere, and above all else good coffee.
Coffee Bean’s menu includes classic coffee and espresso drinks, along with frozen and non-coffee drinks, such as tea. Hearty sandwiches and a variety of desserts are also offered on the menu. However, the Coffee Bean chain is most famous for the invention of “Raf” or Раф-кофе, which is a drink that originated from an experience with a regular customer, Rafael Timerbaev.
Timerbaev decided that, instead of his usual, he wanted something completely different, but which would be “a good cup of coffee with milk.” The barista improvised, creating a drink from a shot of espresso, two tablespoons of sugar, and a splash of cream steamed in a cup. The result was an extraordinarily smooth, sweet coffee drink. Raf liked it, and before long, his friends began asking for “Raf coffee” as well. Its popularity increased until it was eventually officially added to the menu – and the menus of many competitors as well.
As coffee has gained popularity in Russia, so has the Raf, which is known internationally known as a “Russian coffee drink.” In part, this goes to show how far coffee in Russia has come in recent years – from pervasive consumption of instant to the growth of a truly modern coffee industry.
It is interesting to note that Coffee Bean has lagged behind other coffee shop competitors in its expansion across Russia. In 2007, the chain had plans to invest $100 million dollars to develop new coffee houses in different regions. These were likely stifled by the 2008 economic conditions. Today, despite the massive boom the coffee industry experienced in 2013-2015 and beyond, Coffee Bean lacks the location numbers or concentration of stores other brands have achieved.
While the pioneer brand made a name for itself initially, as more competition entered the previously non-existent coffee market, Coffee Bean faded to the background, but is apparently still focused on stability and delivering a quality product with quality service. So, while no longer at the forefront of industry, Coffee Bean looks set to remain a part of Russia’s coffee scene for a long time to come.
by Kate Spencer
Surf Coffee is a unique experience for coffee goers in Belarus and Russia. Its beachy and warm atmosphere is available to customers in 26 different cities with over 90 locations and is rapidly expanding.
Each location is listed on their website with photos of the individual store, its specials and the store’s history. In 2010, the first location of Surf Coffee was established in Obninsk, an industrial city of about 100,000 people located in the Kaluga Region. However, before its permanent location, its creators were selling their coffee from a painted Volkswagen van.
Their stores are donned with surfboards, skateboards, palm trees, and neon lights, giving them a tropical aesthetic and California vibe. The stores feel almost out of place in their larger Russian cities, giving the experience of buying a coffee the feel of an almost mini-holiday. This is particularly effective for Russians, however, as Russians strongly associate visiting the sea or ocean with the ideal vacation.
Surf’s menu includes popular drinks such as the double Hawaiian, which is a cappuccino with two shots of espresso and coconut syrup. Each shop has other espresso and coffee drinks as well as lemonades, teas, milkshakes and smoothies. Surf Coffee also offers an assortment of baked goods, vegan food, and toasts.
The business aspect of the brand is very unique compared to other franchises. The owners of the Surf Coffee project tend to stay behind the scenes, and there is no hierarchy within the company. The team must approve of people who share their same business approach and active, “surfer” lifestyle to open a new shop. Information on new stores often includes pictures of the new owners running marathons, visiting beaches, or, yes, even surfing.
Surf’s founders charge no entry fee for starting a franchise (most likely the business model is geared to make money from selling product or via monthly fees). The lack of a large payment to enter the franchise as well as the rapid growth of the retail coffee industry in Russia in general are likely what is driving Surf’s current rapid expansion.
A Surf Coffee representative explains that they are a place “where people come to make new friends or work in a coworking space.” Surf Coffee also participates in different brand collaborations for products and events. The company sells many retail items through the site Blue Hawaii, which is also the much-touted and particularly tasty coffee roast served at Surf locations. such as clothing, cosmetics, coffee beans, and coffee-making equipment.
Their loyalty program is known as the “Surfer License,” which on can register for online. Customers can accumulate points to pay for purchases in any of Surf Coffee’s locations. They also grant license holders access to private Surf Coffee events around the world.
Surf Coffee often refers to itself as a global brand, despite only being located in Belarus and Russia. They seem eager and open to more expansion across the globe, as long as the new owners share their core surfer philosophy. Surf Coffee is an organization focused on community above everything else. Its slogan “surfing never alone” shows the brand’s emphasis in uniting likeminded individuals through their coffee.
(owned by Shokolodnitsa now)
by Greg Tracey
Kofe Khaus (Russian: Кофе Хауз) was once the second largest chain of coffee shops in Russia. Founded in 1999 and based in Moscow it once had over 200 locations, including in Saint Petersburg, Bryansk, Voronezh, and some locations abroad, such as in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Kofe Khaus features an American-style experience that attempted to appeal to a younger clientele. However, as competition exploded in the early 2010s, the chain struggled. It underwent a merger in 2014 with Gallery Alex, the parent company of Shokolodnitsa, then Russia’s largest chain.
Under the merger, many Kofe Khaus locations were to remain in operation under its own branding. Further, the chain was undergo investment and differentiation into smaller, self-service, and automated locations – which represented much of the new competition that caused Kofe Khaus to originally falter. The new format, which has been unvieled in a few locations in Moscow, features donuts that appear similar to those found at Dunkin Donuts and breakfast sandwhiches that appear similar to those found at McDonalds. Prices on many items have been substantially lowered as well.
However, the new formats have not been successful. Most Kofe Khaus locations have instead been converted to Shokolodnitsa or Burger King outlets. Gallery Alex also owns the Russian franchise for Burger King. There are now only a couple dozen total “classic” and “new” Kofe Khaus locations in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
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