Ziferblat: The ultimate pay-as-you-go coffee spot

‘Time is of the essence’ couldn’t be a more accurate sentiment for the modern day millennial. Time stalks its prey – aka us – constantly, ceaselessly, without compassion for our everyday affairs. We want to relax and have time for ourselves but when time catches up with us we inevitably realise that we are always running out of it. We are the prey engulfed by busyness; too many tasks need completing on a regular basis and there are never enough hours in the day to catch up with everything that needs doing. Life is not like a relay race where you will have someone you can pass the baton to after an accelerated laborious sprint – there is not relinquishment of the strain because, in adult life, we are always left to our own devices.

Finding a quiet place to collect our thoughts and reach a meditative state that permits relaxation or allows focused studious tranquillity can be the challenge in the bustling city we call home. The classic choice for withdrawal from the hectic chaos of daily task completion for an hour or two of much-needed study time has been Starbucks. It is the place brought to us from corporate America where we can plug in our minds as well as our Macs and indulge in the life force drug that is overpriced coffee. But even this mainstream spot is no safe haven as we are pressed to vacate tables to other desperate coffee consumers who want to pass the time with idle chatter and not have to mind annoying computer typers. Where then can we withdraw that has the peace and quiet for study, a comfortable space for immersive conversations and is aware of time but makes said awareness a fun experience as opposed to a drowning one? Think Ziferblat.

This café is like no other because everything inside is free, apart from the time you spend there. The going rate for the branch in Old Street is five pence-per-minute and the rest is up to you. The homelike casual café is the invention of Ivan Meetin who, back in 2011, founded Ziferblat as a ‘tree house’ for adults. The term itself comes from the Russian for ‘clockface.’ It began as a place for poets to be able to progress with their work in peace and quiet, but the establishment quickly evolved into a space for like-minded individuals. When it became too busy, Meetin began to expand and then came up with the pay-per-minute model. His focus is on the comfort of the individual: ‘Our mission is to create a place conducive to people feeling free, devoid of the pressures of modern living.’

The first few branches originated in Moscow, but now the fun time-aware café has expanded to 14 venues around the world – with three in England. The opening hours are convenient too: Mon-Fri 10 am-11 pm and Sat-Sun 12pm-11pm.

The décor does not have the formalised desk chair arrangement characterised by mood lighting with ostentatious indie music playing in the background that completes the allure of every Starbucks around. It is, instead, a very relaxed homely environment. The Old Street treasure sits on the first floor of a bar, so it can be a challenge to spot on the crowded Shoreditch hotspot for nightlife. Once you finally do locate the café at 388 Old Street, you try the door and are met with the realisation that its locked, a few seconds pass and it then dawns on you to navigate the buzzer system, ring, and hope to be admitted into the tenement-like space upstairs. You enter, climb a few flights of stairs and finally reach a room filled with mismatched charming stools, desk-chairs, couches and even the possible beanbag chair all dotted around the room accompanied by wooden tables. The furniture is clunky – but in a cute way – the room is not disorderly or uninviting, but the opposite. Artists from the area showcase their pieces on the walls and everyone comes with a price tag, so if you were to fall in love with one piece of mastery you could always take it home. The hosts in the establishment are friendly and informative telling you how the whole shebang works. Then you are guided to the kitchen; there is no waiter or frantic till-operator eager to take your order instead you make yourself at home and are in charge of fulfilling your own beverage and food cravings. Raid the fridge and you’ll find food galore so sneaking a cheeky chocolate éclair at 10 pm will not warrant any judging eyes. Check out the cabinets and you’ll find bread and any sandwich topping your heart desires – Nutella, delightful Sainsbury’s caramel spread, or the dreaded peanut butter concoction people seem to love so much. There is a wide selection of teas and even a cappuccino machine so if you’re feeling brave enough to try it with no prior barista experience, then you’re always welcome.

The charm of the place is topped off with a selection of games so if you don’t opt for the studying or socialising option, then trying your wits at Scrabble or torturing the brain cogs with Chess is worth trying. Time spent at Ziferblat is cheap, stress-free and enjoyable. Give it a go.

 Ziferblat can be located at 388 Old Street, Shoreditch, London, EC1V 9LT

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