Drinks

The Lavender Raf Is Spring's Answer to the Pumpkin Spice Latte

It's about time New York discovers Kiev's specialty
Lavender Raf Coffee in Kiev
Photo: L'ADRESSE

Coffee was not on the to-do list for my trip to Kiev. Cathedrals, monasteries and museums were the primary focus areas in the 1,200-year-old Eastern European city. Shopping and exploring the underground? Sure, those too. But finding a café scene so hip it makes Brooklyn look like an 11-year-old wearing his older brother's vintage leather jacket was not on the agenda. Neither was falling in love with what should be the next big espresso drink in New York—that is, if it ever makes the jump to the U.S.

Kiev takes coffee seriously. From blow-up snail-shaped carts slinging espresso on park corners to gleaming marble- and gold-accented lounges, everywhere I went I stumbled into the stuff. While New York still embraces the converted-garage aesthetic for high coffee culture—concrete floors, metal shop stools, sparing touches of raw wood and Edison light bulbs—Kiev takes a much cozier approach. Instead of walking into a repurposed garage to perch on an icy metal shop stool to order a $5 beaker of coffee, you sink into the velvety hug of a well-loved chair.

 

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Take, for instance, The Blue Cup, a café tucked a bit below Pushkinska Street's cobblestoned sidewalk. Walking into the place jolted me to a post-modern Victorian alt-universe. Fairy-tale wallpaper scenes lined the walls, with friendly lynx in red hats and otters wearing necklaces. Velvet cushions in jewel tones lined the booths. A server settled me in and whisked away my January-in-Ukraine down coat to bring me a menu. 

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Imagine my delight when, after sampling the regular selection of lattes, teas and pour overs, I found a drink called the "Raf" or "Raf coffee." Hailing from Russia originally, according to Sprudge, a Raf is traditionally crafted by steaming sugar, espresso, cream and syrup either in a cup or a pitcher. The name comes from the customer, Rafael Timerbaev, who accidentally created the drink in the 90s.

I ordered the lavender one—a staple at most Kiev cafés—which is most famously from the Russian coffee chain Double B. This delightfully floral, sweet, steamed-milk drink looked like a normal latte but tasted like a wildflower field on a glacier that melted in a sunny puddle. Melodramatic? Yes. But the drink is inspiring. Botanically flavored, lightly sweetened and foamed to perfection, the Lavender Raf combines the appeal of caffeine plus sugar with a cleaner taste than a sticky-sweet pumpkin spice latte. Though the drink has spread across Eastern Europe, it hasn't quite hit the New York coffee scene—to my constant disappointment.

Supposedly, L'ADRESSE by Bryant Park offers a version of Raf coffee, described as "coffee with the taste and texture of melted ice cream." Sounds delicious, but the ones I had in Kiev weren't quite at ice cream sugar levels.

Fall is ruled by pumpkin spice; winter has eggnog, gingerbread and the whole peppermint spectrum. Yet somehow, spring fell through the cracks of seasonal espresso creations. I, for one, vote that the Lavender Raf finds a spot on stateside café menus for at least spring—but if I'm being honest, I'd drink it any time of the year.

Not in Eastern Europe? Learn how to make the drink with the video below.

Nina Semczuk is a New York-based writer, former military officer and yoga teacher. Give her a shout on Twitter.

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