When I wrote my Top 10 London Coffee Shops post I little thought I’d be writing a similar one on the best spots to get your latte fix in the Nepalese Himalayas! Setting off on my trek to Everest Base Camp, I thought it’d be instant coffee all the way. And most of the time, it was. Presented with flasks of hot water and sachets of coffee with powdered milk and sugar pre-added, my coffee snobbery usually meant I stuck to locally grown black tea, although I have to admit that when you’re shivering cold and low on energy, the former sometimes hit the spot! Yet to my surprise there were also a few coffee high points – they didn’t quite hit the altitude of the peaks, but in such a remote area they offered an unexpected treat and a lift that went well beyond the caffeine.
1) Cafe de 8848, Namche
It wasn’t unexpected to find plenty of cafes in Namche Bazaar. Indeed, the guidebooks had already trailed the delights of the German bakery. Namche is a proper town, its streets a bustling hive of outdoor shops. If you’re not fully kitted out for your trek, this place is a life saver, as you can get everything you need here. If you’re already fully equipped, the temptations to buy more taunt you from every vibrant corner. I eventually succumbed to a pair of down-filled booties, which I have to confess, didn’t get much wear … With the walker’s every other need met, it makes sense that their coffee and cake cravings are catered for in this mountain settlement as well.
The Xtreme Everest team favoured and were holding an ongoing debate about the merits of the apple pie (Kay) versus the chocolate cake (most of the male researchers, with Nelson being a particular fan). In the interests of research – after all, I was part of a scientific investigation – I made two separate visits so I could try both. I must say, the jury’s still out on the cake, but the coffee was damn good and the view of the snow-loaded peaks from the outside terrace (when it’s warm enough to sit out there) is stupendous.
2) Bakery in Thyanboche
More unexpected is the large, comfortable cafe after a long, steep climb up from Namche, next to the colourful monastery of Thyangboche. Maybe those monks can’t do without their apple strudel! Again, we made two visits, once on the ascent, then again on the way back. The latte was a little weak for my taste, but perfectly acceptable – and when you’re on a mountain in the middle of nowhere, who’s complaining?! If I went again (and I very much doubt I will), I’d go for a black coffee with hot milk. On the way up, I had a cinnamon danish, which was slightly dry; on the way back I had a slice of coffee mocha sponge cake, a far superior choice.
3) Mama’s in Dengboche
The most perfectly timed pitstop for the subgroup of Trek Epic that had walked across the hills from Pheriche for an acclimatisation outing was Mama’s bakery in the tiny farming village of Dengboche. On a hike the previous morning we’d seen the word ‘BAKERY’ etched out in bold white capitals on an otherwise indistinguishable green corrugated roof. The next day, we made it down into the village to sample its wares. These are proclaimed on an extensive menu board outside. The coffee, freshly ground and served in proper cafetieres (although one was what you might call a terrible pourer!) was amazing. ‘Mama’ turned out to be a Tibetan man: he came in laden with armfuls of fresh pineapple loaf and chocolate cake just as we were demolishing a few slabs of carrot cake. In the spirit of the double visit (see above), we vowed to return on our descent, but unfortunately we arrived late at night and left early the next morning, so we missed out on the opportunity to taste more of Mama’s treats. For me this was the best coffee of the trip.
4) Herman’s Bakery, near Shomare (I think! – definitely between Tsuro and Pangboche)
On the way up I’d had a slight sulk as we whisked past this building with a glass counter and a welcoming dark wood floor. Retracing our steps on the descent, there was no way I could be headed off. The day was sunny, so we sat in the garden and sipped coffees (mine a perfectly decent latte) in our sunglasses, for all the world looking, if you could ignore the filthy fleeces, the unwashed hair, and the haggard wrinkles of exhaustion around our eyes, as if we were on a relaxed European city break. While the coffee was fine, the backdrop was world class, with Everest plumped just behind, a stream of fluffy cloud propped to the right of its summit. Yet it speaks to the deprivations we’d endured that the highlight of Herman’s wasn’t the coffee, or the cakes (which we didn’t actually sample, as we were heading for our second visit to the Thyangboche bakery later) or even the marvellous view. It was Herman’s flushing toilet, housed in a small garden shed, and the cause of rapturous exclamations of joy, particularly from the girls.
5) Pumpernickel, Kathmandu
It’s not strictly in the Himalayas, but I can’t miss out this beautiful laid back stopping point, a tranquil haven in the vibrantly busy district of Thamel in Kathmandu. On our first visit we sat at a table on the sunny secluded terrace at the back, and I had the pleasure of seeing my trekking ‘fantasy dish’ of green salad with balsamic vinegar dressing materialise at my table. Later in the day we reconvened to try the coffee (pretty good) and the cakes – my yoghurt cake was excellent and the banana pancakes come highly recommended. The staff are delightful, though the service can be slow – a place to go to relax, not for a quick coffee fix.
So, I don’t have enough venues for a full top 10, but I hope you’ll agree that 5 isn’t bad, given that all of these places, apart from Pumpernickel, are several days walk away from the nearest airport – and that walking is the only way to get there! And if anyone has more to add to the list, I’d love to hear from you.
If you liked this, you might like:
- This blog on the owner of Cafe de 8848
- My blog post on coffee shops in Buenos Aires
- My Top 10 London coffee shops blog post
- My Cambridge coffee shops blog post
My other blog posts on my Everest Base Camp Trek:
- Reaching Base Camp
- Natural High
- Take the High Road
- Flying into the Roof of the World
- Xtreme research
The Xtreme Everest website for more info on the scientific research behind the trek
Blogs by my trekking companions: