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Coffee Culture Around the World

coffee culture around the world

Around the world, coffee beans are roasted, ground, and consumed in a variety of ways. We have been drinking coffee since at least the 15th century, but probably closer to the 9th century. After, perhaps, 1200 years, the only variable that has changed is how coffee is consumed. Cultures around the world have invented ways to consume coffee and these almost ritualistic methods have been passed down for generations. The global coffee economy produces more than $100 billion worth of business every year; making it the 2nd most sought after commodity in the world. Yes, we all want our caffeine rush. As you travel, you’ll encounter coffee culture around the world that varies from country to country. This is a true testament to the power and complexity of a simple bean.

This list will be limited to countries that we have actually visited. While Brazil, Ethiopia, and many other countries throughout South America and Africa are some of the greatest producers of coffee in the world, we will save those countries for version 2 of this blog after we have had a chance to visit. We have had the opportunity to visit and consume coffee in each of the countries below, giving us valuable insight into their coffee culture:

Italy

coffee culture around the world caffe liberta florence italy
Caffe Liberta has our favorite pastries in the world!

At the nucleus of the Italian coffee culture, is rich, strong, espresso and delicious pastries. Most of the beans you’ll find served in Italy are African or South American – but typically they have been imported to Italy and roasted by professionals who have perfected this craft over the last 600 or so years.

Almost invariably, you can either order your coffee to drink at the banco (bar – you’ll drink it standing) or al tavolo (at the table – where you may sit but might incur a coperta – €2-3 cover charge for service). The coffee culture of Italian bars and caffes is what is so unique and special. The caffe/bar is like the Italian watering hole where locals rendezvous; there is life, exuberance, people yelling things in Italian, and of course, lots of coffee!

coffee culture around the world how to order coffee in italy

Of the many ways to order coffee in Italy, we prefer to stick with the basics: espresso, doppio (double shot of espresso), caffe latte, cappuccino, etc. Remember that latte is the Italian word for milk, so if you go to a bar and order a latte, the barista will give you a weird look and serve you a cup of milk. Assuming you want what we call a “latte” in America, you have to say caffe latte.

Italians prefer drinks like this (caffe latte) and cappuccino in the morning. The milk in the drinks, accompanied by a cornetto (croissant) or some other pastry is typically all Italians require for the first meal of the day.

Throughout the day (and even after dinner) it is appropriate to order a coffee, but it’s less acceptable to order a coffee drink that has milk after the morning. After breakfast, stick with “un caffe” (an espresso), or “un doppio” (a double espresso). It isn’t uncommon for Italians to have 4, 5 , or even 6 shots of espresso throughout the day – but unlike Americans, they don’t get them all in one cup at 07:00…they space them out throughout the day, each experience almost ritualistic.

Other than specialty/modern caffes, you won’t really find cold brew or long drip coffees. Throughout Italy the espresso is king.

In Florence, our favorite places to drink coffee are Ditta Artigianale and Caffe Liberta.

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United States

It’s only appropriate to let the US follow Italy, because, while we have bastardized it, Italian coffee culture permeated through the States over the last 30 years thanks to the unprecedented expansion of Starbucks, the now $24.72 billion company (2018 revenues).

In the 1970s, Howard Schulz (CEO, Starbucks), took a trip to Milan, Italy. He was fascinated by the culture of the local caffes/bars and wanted to influence America. Prior to the 1970s, Americans had shitty mud for coffee at home, had 0 culture around coffee, and quite candidly, didn’t give 2 shits about taste or complexity. Coffee was simply a means to an end, almost a task, that one performed each morning before heading to work.

Starbucks spent a number of years simply as a bean roaster and reseller, but after Schulz’s epiphany in Milan, he realized America needed culture around coffee. We needed caffes where we could gather, work, read newspapers, consume espresso-based coffee drinks at the bar, etc.

Today, Starbucks is known for fru fru drinks like the frappuccino, but we must give Howard credit for at least influencing the coffee culture in the US and helping us move away from waking up with Folgers in our cups. In 2019, coffee culture in the US is simple – we love coffee and we love it in large quantities. That means 24 oz venti iced lattes (a 24 oz – 710 ml – iced beverage with 3+ shots of espresso and way too much milk and sugar. Fatten us up, baby! But seriously, look at the nutrition facts of any latte, frappuccino, etc. and you’ll start drinking espresso straight. Some of those drinks literally have 700 calories in them. Yes, 1/3 to 1/2 of your daily calorie allotment in one sugary drink.

As we have continued to evolve beyond Starbucks, Americans have at least acquired a taste for good coffee and began to appreciate micro-roasters and specialty coffees. We love espresso, but we also love cold brew, and of course, drip coffee (which usually is consumed in volumes between 8 – 20 ounces).

Oh, and since it’s fall, don’t forget about pumpkin spice lattes, bitch!

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coffee culture around the world milos greece greek coffee

Greece

They say that breakfast in Greece is a frappe and a cigarette. We personally prefer eggs with fetta cheese, tomatoes, fruit plates, and the sort, but to each his own. Greece is a special place for coffee because it is unique to the region. Almost as if she is in a tug of war between Italy and Turkey, Greece’s most popular coffee drinks are Greek coffee (with the grounds in the bottom like the Turkish tradition) and drinks like the cappuccino freddo (iced espresso, milk, and foam).

The first time you drink Greek coffee, you might get a smile full of coffee grounds. That is, if you’re unprepared like we were. Whoops. Greek coffee is a strong coffee with the grounds remaining at the bottom. This requires a finely ground bean and a special pot called a briki.

A frappe is an iced drink made with instant coffee, water, and sugar. It’s simple and not truly made with good coffee, but it’s damn good on a day when it’s hot and humid and you’ve been in the sun all day.

Like everything in Greece, a simple coffee break can take a long time. Don’t rush your server, the barista, etc. Don’t rush anyone. It’s Greece. Relax and enjoy. Live in the present. Show up late. Be on Greek time, where the only thing that matters is whatever you’re doing right now. Relish the moment. You can stress about deadlines when you get home.

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Turkey

Turkish coffee and Greek coffee are one in the same. Until 1974, Greek coffee was known by its rightful name – Turkish coffee. However, similar to when Americans started calling French fries, freedom fries (a weird phase that never stuck), Greeks have been referring to their coffee as Greek Coffee ever since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974. The only differences in the coffees, today, is how they’re prepared.

As you might expect, Turkish coffee is finely ground, and boiled in a briki (a cezve, or an ibrik), and served in small cups with the grounds at the bottom.

You might be a coffee lover and not actually enjoy Turkish/Greek coffee. If you’ve never had it before, be sure to order it while you’re in the region and sip slowly when the cup starts getting past the halfway point – you don’t want to end up with a smile full of grounds.

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Australia

We call it as we see it. Australia is NOT a good country for foodies. The food here is VERY mediocre and even the nicest restaurants serve average, overpriced, food. The coffee is a COMPLETELY different story.

In Perth, the 4th largest city (with a population of about 2 million people) on the continent, there is NO Starbucks. No Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. No Pete’s. There are VERY few chains, and typically the chains have 5 or fewer locations. In Perth (and the whole of Australia), great espresso bars are ubiquitous. Western Australia might be isolated, but Perth and the surrounding suburbs are quite similar in size to San Diego, CA.

Flat whites are the drink of choice here in Australia. A flat white is a coffee drink consisting of espresso with microfoam. Think of it like a caffe latte white a few differences: 1) less volume = higher proportion of coffee to milk, 2) the milk is more velvety, again allowing the espresso to dominate. As such, flat whites are made with a shorter, ristretto, shot of espresso to avoid harsh flavors.

Our favorite caffes and espresso bars here in Australia typically rotate various blends and single origin coffees from South and Central America as well as Africa.

There is one weird practice here in Western Australia that needs to stop – topping up. Topping up is effectively drowning a perfectly good espresso beverage in milk (or any derivation of milk). Ex: Someone will order a small latte in a medium cup and “top it up.” The small latte is drowned in milk to fill the rest of the empty volume in the cup, essentially creating a cup of milk that happens to have a little coffee in it.

Aside from this bastardization, coffee culture is alive and well in Australia. We might need a food Renaissance here in Australia, but the coffee culture is alive and well.

Here in Perth, our favorite spots are Mo Espresso, Smooth Operator, Voltage, and Cimbalino.

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Bali

Would you believe us if we told you that we had the most expensive coffee in the world in Bali? Now, would you believe us if we told you that these coffee beans are eaten and pooped out by lemurs before it is roasted and served? Kopi Luwak (directly, lemur coffee), is one of the most famous coffees of Bali. Yes, this is a real thing. Lemur poop coffee is the most expensive coffee in the world.

Indonesia’s volcanic soil is one of the most fertile coffee production locations in the world. In the US and abroad we even import quite a bit of coffee from Indo. Throughout Bali, you’ll find what they refer to, simply, as Bali coffee. Bali coffee is quite similar to Turkish and Greek coffee, where grounds are boiled and then the grounds remain at the bottom of the cup.

We had the chance to do a pretty awesome coffee tour while we were living in Bali a few years ago where we toured a coffee farm, tasted a number of coffees and teas (including Kopi Luwak) and even learned how to grind beans in a traditional fashion.

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Hawaii

Yes, Hawaii is in the US, but we wanted to dedicate an entire section to Hawaii because of the delicious Kona coffee. Sure, the mainland consumes a ton of coffee, but the Hawaiian islands produce a bunch of coffee! In fact, other than some areas along the California coastline, Hawaii is the only state in the US that even has the appropriate soil and climate for farming coffee. The rich, volcanic soil and hot/humid tropical climate are perfectly suitable for farming some of the best coffee in the world.

Kona coffee is a strong, dark, rich coffee that embodies the volcanic terroir. If you like lighter coffees, you might not be a fan of kona. It is an arabica bean and, similar to Kopi Luwak, is one of the most expensive coffees in the world. This makes it crucial to experience while you’re in Hawaii, where you can mitigate ancillary costs like shipping being added to your coffee. Typically you’ll enjoy Kona coffee as a filtered, drip coffee in larger quantities than the volume one expects for espresso drinks. We usually opt for 16 – 20 oz cups.

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Cuba

Cuba has been growing and producing coffee for almost 300 years. Before the Castro era, Cuban coffee was exported to the effect of 20,000 tons per year and it was seen as a luxury good around the world. Following the Cuban revolution and the dissolution of the farms, production slipped. Add on the US embargo and the collapse of the USSR and Cuban coffee production had taken a swift kick in the nuts. Still, today, Cuban coffee is exported around the world and production is beginning to increase as the government has made efforts over the last 10 years to take advantage of this sought after resource.

You’ll find that Cuba is a laidback, no worries, kind of island culture. Almost oxymoronically, there is also so much life in Cuba. You’ll find dance parties in the streets, packed bars and night clubs, and people just simply enjoying life. This requires coffee.

In Miami, where the majority of the diaspora of Cubans live, 3:05 PM (15:05) is known as cafecito (little coffee in Spanish – specifically a little Cuban espresso) and is a time to come together and drink coffee with family and/or friends. Typically, Cubans consume coffee in a few simple ways:

  • Café Cubano (cafecito) – espresso mixed with sugar
  • Cortadito – espresso and steamed milk (like a caffe latte)
  • Café con leche –coffee and hot milk (not steamed)

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Regardless of where you’re drinking it, coffee has always been a way to both invigorate an individual and a group. It’s a catalyst for relationships, it’s the impetus for social gatherings, and it’s the aid you can thank for getting your work/studies completed. We plan to do a volume 2.0 of this blog once we have visited many of the coffee-producing countries in Africa and South America! Sure, we could have included them and just done some research, but we prefer to post blogs ONLY about places we have actually been. Anyone can create some Buzzfeed article about the top 10 coffee cultures and list places they have never been to. We would rather include the only places where we have actually visited, indulged in the coffee culture, and provide our first-hand account of what it feels like to experience each respective culture.

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