Jan Ašenbryl is a charismatic cafe owner born from a home coffee geek. Jan opened the first specialty espresso bar in České Budějovice in the Czech Republic called Plachý Café. Currently, he also owns Urgent Espresso Bar.
Jan not only spreads his passion for quality coffee but also for outstanding hospitality. In line with the core principle that coffee is not just a beverage but a social thing. Together with coffee friends, Jan was the initiator of the first speciality coffee festival in České Budějovice.
Jan, what is your first memory with coffee?
My first memory is not very positive because it was something like instant 3in1 which discouraged me from drinking coffee until I was about 23 years old. Then I tasted better coffee from a local roaster, shortly after that I get a bag of specialty coffee and that’s where all the fun started.
Could you describe the moment or situation that made you decide to become a barista and a cafe owner? What was the reason behind your decision to open Plachý Café?
As I started discovering the world of specialty coffee, I became a home coffee geek. I enjoyed the technical side of making coffee and had a full coffee lab at home. But I never thought about owning a coffee shop or being a barista. One day I realized there is no espresso bar in České Budějovice and that we have an ideal space near the main square. So we opened Plachý Café in half a year. My great-grandfather ran a deli and wine bar in that house over a hundred years ago, so it has also a special meaning for me.
How has your life changed since you opened your own cafe and started to work behind your own bar?
My life has changed dramatically. Until then, I was doing business in e-commerce and did not meet many people in person. So opening an espresso bar was something completely different. Suddenly I was interacting with customers on a daily basis, listening to their personal stories, sorrows and joys and making new friendships, because a small espresso bar is all about contact with guests. We still call it ‘the confessional’.
What is the funniest thing that you have experienced behind the bar? Can you recall any embarrassing moments?
I have some amusing stories, but they’re so absurd and weird that they don’t deserve to be published. But during the covid crisis, we served customers between the doors with masks and gloves. I joked that we were like coffee surgeons. That was pretty funny and embarrassing at the same time. But otherwise, something fun happens every day, a lot of interesting and inspiring people come to us, and you always learn something interesting.
Do you have an unusual habit or hobby that you love?
I’ve been playing the drums since I was 13 and recently started studying fine art. Drums and artwork are completely opposite, but they complement each other beautifully and are unusually like high-calorie food for spirits.
Are there any bad recommendations you hear often in your profession? What is your piece of advice for anybody starting a career in coffee?
My advice is not to focus only on the coffee, but to remember that you are making the coffee for someone. Learn as much as you can about coffee, but be in the cafe for the people you are making coffee for, be kind, natural and human. Today, preparing great coffee at home is no longer a problem. But drinking coffee is a social thing, and people don’t just come to you for a great cup of coffee.
What’s the most common question you get asked behind the bar? How do you answer it?
It’s definitely “How much coffee do you drink a day?” Previously my answer was 5 times double espresso. Now I’m more likely to answer “I’m on coffee rehab, 1-2 singles”.
What’s the one coffee recipe that everybody should try? Why?
I really like the combination of coffee and tonka bean, so this summer we made our coffee liqueur with tonka served on iced milk. Every winter we also make a cappuccino with homemade eggnog with lots of vanilla and good rum. There is beauty in simplicity, and this one also has a touch of Christmas.
What has been the best experience you have had in the speciality coffee industry so far?
The first year after Plachý Café opened, my coffee friends and I decided to organize the first specialty coffee festival in the city. It was in a narrow street in front of a cafe. The original idea was a small festival for coffee enthusiasts, friends and geeks, but in the end, so many people came that the street was completely clogged. That’s a good memory, it had great energy.
How has Plachý Café changed since the moment you opened it?
Technology has changed several times. From the original roastery Square Mile, we switched to the Barn Coffee Roasters due to Brexit. The outdoor seating gradually grew, but no major changes took place. Plachý Café is still a small, charismatic espresso bar with a big soul.
Quick Fire Questions for Jan Ašenbryl:
Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?