Where does the world’s best coffee come from? Maybe you think Italy for the espresso…. or Australia for its unique take… or Vietnam? Cuba? Greece, maybe?
Coffee culture around the world varies as much as the food does, and in this article you’re about to learn eight of the best… Along with some weird facts along the way. Like what the creator of Irish coffee hated about his invention. And why you should never order a “latte” in Italy!
Here are the eight then (in no particular order!)…
Signature drink: Turkish Coffee
Taste: Bitter, Full-bodied
My Rating: 5/5
- Cezve – copper goblet
- Lokum – Turkish Delight candy
Turkish coffee starts by grinding up the beans SUPER fine. Like, the grounds are finer than any other way of making coffee. In fact, the grinder sitting in your kitchen cupboard might not even have a setting that goes fine enough.
The turks use their own special Turkish hand grinders, or even the traditional way of pounding the coffee beans in a mortar!
Once the ground coffee is ready, it gets put in a cezve. It’s like a copper goblet. See the photo above. The coffee gets simmered with water just below boiling, and a little sugar gets added here. The art of making great Turkish coffee is in extracting the biggest amount of foam on top.
After a few minutes, the coffee is poured. And get this… No filter. Those coffee grounds end up in the cup. Not the best if you’re adverse to a little grit at the end of your drink!
The coffee that is served is small but the taste is thick and strong. A famous Turkish proverb states that coffee should be “as black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love.”
Turkish coffee can be quite bitter, too. That’s why sugar is used. It is also why it is often served with lokum (Turkish Delight), a lovely, chewy candy.
Turkish coffee started with the Ottomans back in the 16th century. It might be the oldest coffee culture on this list. And because it spread through the Ottoman empire, you have countries nearby like the Balkans that have their own spin on it. And yea, they don’t call it “Turkish” coffee – as I was frequently reminded when I visited Bosnia.
Coffee is so big here, that the Turkish word for “breakfast” is kahvalti which means “before coffee”. And the Turkish word for “brown” is kahverengi meaning “the color of coffee”!
Did you know… Before a couple gets married in Turkey, the bride-to-be must serve her new family Turkish coffee. The groom gets a special coffee though, one filled to the brim with salt. It is a test of his character if he can drink it without spitting or grimacing!
Signature drink: Ca phe Sua da
Taste: Very bitter
My Rating: 4/5
- Ca Phe – coffee
- Da – ice
- Sua – milk
Vietnamese coffee is brewed using a phin, like a small metal drip filter. This small, handy device can be used to brew in posh hotels and on busy sidewalks alike.
One popular way to serve Vietnamese coffee is what they call Ca Phe Sua Da. The translation is just coffee with milk and ice. It’s brewed using the phin filter with a medium grind and the dark roast that is common for Vietnamese coffee beans.
Once brewed, the coffee is poured over ice. Vietnam enjoys tropical heat year-round, so you can forgive the locals for taking their coffee on the colder side.
Sua, meaning milk, is added at this point. But the Vietnamese use sweetened condensed milk rather than fresh milk. A throwback to harder times where fresh cow’s milk would have been difficult to find in the country. But the Sua does an important job in balancing out the very bitter taste.
Vietnam’s definitely worth a visit, even if just to try the coffee. Order some Ca Phe on a sidewalk in Saigon. You’ll get a thin, tall glass, filled with ice and a long straw. Take a long sip and watch a million motorbikes whizz by.
Did you know… Vietnamese coffee was front and center of a huge news story in Indonesia a few years back. A wealthy businessman’s daughter went for Vietnamese iced coffee with a friend. She took one sip, remarked that it tasted awful, and was dead within two hours. It turned out the coffee was laced with cyanide.
Signature drinks: Flat White, Long Black
Taste: Bloody great, mate!
My rating: 5/5
- Strong – extra shot
- Short Black – another name for an espresso shot
If you need evidence of how good Australia does their coffee, you need look no further than this: Starbucks can’t get a foothold in the country. The company has tried and tried, but still only has less than 50 stores. (That’s compared to 12,000 stores in the States).
Australian coffee is built around the espresso machine, mostly thanks to a lot of immigrants from Italy after World War 2. But what’s really special about Australian coffee is its two signature drinks, the Flat White and the Long Black.
The Flat White is like the Latte’s little sister. You make it with two espresso shots (three if you order it “strong”) then top it up with steamed milk. Except for one thing…
The milk is a bit different to a normal Latte or Cappuccino. They call it “stretched milk” and it has loads less froth than what you’re used to.
The Long Black on the other hand is simpler. It’s just like an Americano, where you add hot water to your espresso, but with a Long Black the hot water goes in first.
Some will say this makes no difference. The Aussies will tell you it’s worlds apart. From what I’ve heard, with a Long Black the rich crema from the espresso stays in the drink.
It’s also worth pointing out that the phrase Short Black is also used, but that’s just another way of saying ‘espresso’ or ‘espresso shot’.
Did you know… We don’t know for sure who invented the Flat White. Both Australia and New Zealand claim it started in their country!
Signature drink: Irish coffee
Taste: Sweet, Nutty, Alcohol-y
My Rating: 4/5
Irish coffee is perhaps closer to a cocktail than a coffee drink. Its made using brewed coffee, Irish whiskey, fresh cream, and brown sugar.
The first step is to pour black coffee into a mug or glass. Then you add sugar and a little (or a lot!) of Whiskey. Stir it all up so it dissolves.
Finally, pour thick cream across the top. This is what gives Irish coffee its gorgeous-looking layered aesthetic. (And some sweetness to balance out the alcohol!)
The art of making Irish coffee is in getting the cream to sit on the surface. Don’t use enough sugar? The cream will sink and you’ll end up with an ugly (if delicious) mess.
A good Irish coffee should have a sweet, nutty taste and a fiery kick to it. Sadly, many establishments prefer to chuck a few ingredients in and hope for the best, so don’t be too surprised if you are served a poor tasting cocktail from a tired and busy bartender.
And if you are served Irish coffee with a layer of cream that’s green, just send it right back. Sure, it looks more Irish, but it’s food coloring and nothing more.
Even though it seems fitting that a nation with a reputation for heavy drinking has a signature coffee containing alcohol, funnily enough, it’s the Americans to blame. Irish coffee was invented in an airport bar in Ireland, not for the locals, but to warm the cold and tired US passengers on the way back home!
Did you know… The man who brought Irish coffee to the US grew tired of the creation. He said the problem with Irish coffee is that it ruins three good things: coffee, cream, and whiskey.
Signature Drink: Kaffeost
My Rating: 2/5
- Kaffeost – the act of serving coffee with cheese
- Leipajuusto – the cheese itself
Kaffeost translates in Swedish to “coffee cheese”. And that’s not a bad translation, it’s actually what you’re getting with this stuff.
It’s a traditional way of drinking from the Swedish and Finnish border and uses a special type of cheese: Leipajuusto which translates in Finnish to ‘bread cheese’.
The coffee is made like normal. Then small pieces of the Leipajuusto are put into the cup and coffee is poured over. The rest of the cheese is usually kept on a small saucer to the side and is eaten as it is, or sometimes with cloudberry jam.
Check the photo to see what it looks like. And yes, there are literally pieces of cheese in the coffee cup.
Did you know… The cheese can be made from cows, goats or even reindeer!
Signature drink: Caffe (espresso)
My Rating: 5/5
- Latte – milk
- Espresso – pressed
- Caffe – Espresso
Italian coffee is all about the espresso machine. And it’s why every drink available at your local coffee shop has an Italian name that ends in -esso or -ino.
The espresso machine was invented in Italy near the start of the 20th century. It was a revolution, because of how fast it was. Folks on their way to work could stop by an espresso bar and have a quick cup without even sitting down. In fact, in some coffee shops it was cheaper to stand.
This might sound weird, but it’s a tradition that goes on til this day. In Italy, it’s normal to see people shouting un caffe at a busy barista who isn’t even paying attention. The next time you look over, they’ve already paid and drank and left!
The Italians have strict guidelines on what coffee you can drink and when. Cappuccinos and other milky drinks are breakfast beverages and you will get a strange look if you ask for one after midday.
Throughout the day it is customary to drink caffe machiatto – an espresso shot with a drop of milk – and post-dinner is reserved for the drinking of straight espresso.
Did you know… The Latte was not invented in Italy despite its Italian sounding name. Order a Latte in Italy and you will get a glass of milk. Because that’s what you ordered. Latte translates to “milk”.
Signature Drink: Frappe
Taste: Sweet, Milky
My Rating: 2/5
Greek coffee is all about the Frappe, but in Greece, that word means something different to what you might expect.
The story goes that Nescafe was promoting a new children’s chocolate drink at a trade expo in 1957. One of their salesmen was minutes away from his break and looking forward to a big cup of Nescafe Classic.
But crisis hit as he couldn’t find hot water. So, thinking quickly, he picked up a child’s sippy cup from his display, poured his coffee in with cold water and shook it about.
The result was an ice cold coffee. And somehow, it went down a storm. The beverage caught on rapidly and within a decade was the national coffee drink of Greece.
The Greek Frappe is made with instant coffee, water, and sugar (to taste). The contents are poured into a cocktail shaker – or any other vessel that can be used for mixing – and shaken.
When you pour it out you get an insane amount of foam — because it’s made with instant coffee. And the taste isn’t exactly up to scratch — because it’s made with instant coffee.
Still, it’s a cold drink for a sunny day. Perfect for a hot country like Greece.
Did you know… The Greek Frappe was popular with sailors who did not have the correct equipment, so they just stirred it until it was ready which gave it its name κουταλάτος or spoon-made.
Signature Drink: Cafe Cubano
Taste: Strong and Sweet
- Cortadito – Cafe Cubano with steamed milk
Coffee in Cuba started long ago, pre-USA embargo, with the importing of espresso machines from Italy.
Cuba’s signature drink, the Cafe Cubano, is small and strong. It’s a shot of espresso that has been sweetened with demerara sugar. Sounds pretty basic?
Well, in Cuba, they add the sugar DURING the brewing process. Not after. This makes a big difference to the final taste.
A Cafe Cubano is a mid-afternoon staple. And true to form, the Cubans like to enjoy it with a cigar in hand. The drink has also found its way to Miami and other Cuban-influenced areas of Florida.
Another drink worth mentioning is the Cortadito. Similar to the Cortada which is popular in Latin American countries, this is an espresso shot made like a Cafe Cubano but then topped off with steamed milk.
Did you know… While most coffee grown in Cuba is exported, each citizen is given a ration of 2oz of beans every 15 days.
Coffee is a worldwide phenomenon. The world over, you’ll find locals enjoying a fresh brew in a way that’s all their own.
I found eight of my favorite coffee cultures here, but narrowing it down was hard. Maybe a part 2 is on the cards…? (Let me know in the comments what countries I’m an idiot for missing out on!)