Where a Startup War Is Brewing, Alongside Coffee and Craft Beer – OZY

“I’ll take a flat white with the veggie panini, please,” I say, in English. Within seconds, the espresso machine is making its deafening but oh-so-satisfying whir — loud enough to make a nearby student glance up over his MacBook Air. A tourist is reading his Lonely Planet guidebook, and a besuited man with a briefcase ducks in for an air-conditioned break. Unremarkable, right?

Wrong. I’m somewhere where this is no mindless everyday experience but a genuine symbol of economic transformation. Here in Kyrgyzstan, the poorest of all post-Soviet republics, the international-style coffee shop is the community’s chosen measure of progress — and a metric by which Kyrgyzstan has progressed a hell of a lot. Until 2012, there was no Western-style “coffee shop” to be found here (or Western-style anything, really); now, there are more than 40. They’re on “almost every street in the city,” says Aziza Ishmakhametova, a program manager at the Central Asia Free Market Institute. “They have changed our lifestyles.” You’d be forgiven for thinking that Bishkek is starting to turn a bit Brooklyn or Shoreditch, but the rise of the independent coffee shop is also a test case for just how open the economy truly is against the forces of corruption and poor governance that continue to plague the post-Soviet world.

“Everyone wants to open a coffee shop now,” says Chihoon Jeong, the owner of Chicken Star, a Korean chicken restaurant turned specialty coffee shop that opened in 2015. Anywhere else in the world, serving Korean chicken alongside artisanal hand-drip coffee would be a little, erm, incongruent, he admits, but Bishkek embraces its newfound globalism in a clumsy fashion — the sushi restaurants serve pizza, and the pizzerias serve sushi. And the trendy power of coffee is not lost on any of them: “Now, we

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