Black, bitter, milky or sweet, coffee is the hot drink of choice! It dominates the morning hour in every time zone around the globe. This is especially the case in winter time . In many countries across Europe, café culture is an important part of the regional zeitgeist. In fact, you can learn a lot about the locals and their traditions by simply exploring the cafés! Let’s take a look at the interesting regional renditions of the world’s favorite warm beverage.
It is widely believed that no nation does coffee better than the Italians. In fact, it is safe to say that Italy is the European home of coffee. After all, this is where the modern espresso machine was invented! Order ‘un caffé’ and you will be handed a straight espresso (opt for a ‘caffè doppio’ if you want a double). It can be enjoyed any time of day, usually standing up at the bar counter and drunk in no more than three sips.
In Italy, cappuccinos are usually only served at breakfast time. They normally come hand-in-hand with sweet treats, like a croissant. Italians consider the milk in a cappuccino to be part of the meal. So, they avoid it at other times of day and stick to espresso after lunch, dinner or late in the evening.
While England is of course synonymous with tea, coffee also has a long tradition in Great Britain. The first café opened its doors in the 1600s! They also served tea, which at the time was a luxury imported from Ceylon, Jamaica and the Carolinas. Only the city’s most affluent citizens could afford tea. It was only later in the 1700s that taxes on tea were reduced and the beverage became popular with the middle- and working classes. Tea remains popular to this day, with morning tea rituals and afternoon high teas. However, coffee culture is also on the rise in Great Britain. A recent study showed that 70% of London’s wealthier respondents actually prefer coffee to tea!
Top Tip! If you want to sample some of the best coffee London has to offer, this website is a very handy resource.
Ireland is not a country that is normally associated with a coffee culture. But coffee houses have been part of the fabric of that country since they emerged in Dublin in the 17th century! In 2008, Stephen Morrissey won the coveted title of World Barista Champion. As a result, Ireland’s place as a coffee-consuming country was re-established. But aside from all this, Ireland is of course best known for Irish coffee. Is it really any wonder that the land of cheerful pubs and frosty nights is where coffee turned into something a wee bit naughty? Known as ‘caife Gaelach’ in the native Gaelic tongue. A proper Irish coffee consists of hot coffee, Irish whiskey, and sugar, topped with thick cream. The drink was first conceived by Joe Sheridan, a head chef in Foynes. He added whisky to the coffee he served to a group of miserably wet American visitors in the 1940s (we’re so grateful he did).
RELEVANT: Take a look at our top notch tours to UK & Ireland.
Inhabitants of the Levant, the area around the Middle East and near present day Turkey, have been drinking coffee since the Ottoman Empire! The great Ottoman leader, Sultan Suleiman, was introduced to the enchanting beverage in 1543. Turkish coffee is, according to a local proverb “black as hell, strong as death, and as sweet as love”. In Turkey, it is treated almost as a dessert. In order to be labeled Turkish coffee, Arabica beans are roasted, ground very fine and then slowly boiled in a cezve or ibrik (a small, long-handled copper pot). The resulting drink, known in the native tongue as ‘Türk kahvesi’, is strong, but not bitter. Although, it is usually sweetened with sugar. Because Turkish coffee is not filtered or strained, a dark, muddy sediment forms at the cup’s base. Please note, it is customary to have your fortune told from the telve (remaining grounds) as part of an everyday, communal fortune-telling called fal.
Coffee forms such an important part of the Austrian culture. The elegant Viennese kaffeehäuser (coffee houses) have been deemed an Intangible Cultural Heritage element by UNESCO! Visiting a Viennese coffee house, often referred to as the city’s public living rooms, is a unique experience. These coffee houses are described by local coffee connoisseurs as ‘places where time and space are consumed, but only coffee is found on the bill’. You will find yourself surrounded by Thonet chairs, marble-topped tables, arches and piano music. The most popular Austrian coffee options include ‘Grroßer Brauner’ (rich black coffee), ‘Melange’ (steamed coffee with frothed milk, similar to an Italian cappuccino) and ‘Einspänner’ (strong, black coffee with a dollop of whipped cream). See our blog on what to do in Vienna in under 24 hours for more great ideas to spend your time in this beautiful city.
The Dutch drink a lot of coffee. In fact, they drink a whopping 6kg per capita per year! Most people start the day off with a ‘koffie’ at home. Then, at around 10 or 11am they break for ‘koffietijd’ for an extra burst of energy. And of course, to spend some time socializing with their coworkers. They are also very fond of ‘koffie verkeerd’ which translates to ‘wrong coffee’. This refers to their version of a café au lait – half filter coffee, half warm milk. It is called ‘wrong’ because the traditional way to enjoy coffee in the Netherlands is with a ‘wolkje’, or small cloud of milk.
Top Tip! The Dutch draw an important distinction between a coffee house or ‘koffiehuis’ and a café. The latter also serves marijuana products. If you’re a tourist, cafés outside of Amsterdam might refuse you entry due to a new initiative to stave off ‘cannabis tourism’.
Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Iceland)
When it comes to coffee, the Nordic countries are among the top consumers in Europe. The average per person consumption lies at a whopping 10.2 kg per year! Although Scandinavians do not grow coffee, they import it from the world’s finest farms in Colombia, Guatemala and Brazil, and are experts at coffee roasting.
Café culture is a huge deal in Sweden and forms an important part of Swedish culture. Swedes are listed among the world’s heaviest coffee drinkers. They are known for their lengthy coffee breaks called ‘fika’. These lingering sessions nearly always include ‘Semla’ (a flour bun, filled with almond paste and whipped cream) or ‘fikabröd’, which translates to ‘coffee bread’ and is basically a sweet treat like biscuits, cinnamon buns, etc. Every Swede will have a ‘fika’ at least once per day, while others have up to four!
Norway’s per capita coffee consumption ranks among the highest in the world! The Finnish often give them a run for their money for first place. Norway has been one of the top consumers since the late 1700s! ‘Kokekaffe’, or ‘steeped coffee’ is the traditional Norwegian way of making coffee on a campfire. But, most Norwegians simply enjoy their ‘sort kaffe’ black, with a sweet treat like ‘solskinnsboiler’ or ‘sunshine bowls’, so named for the fresh blobs of custard that line the centre of these delicious cinnamon buns.
Icelandic ‘kaffi’ is made according to standard Italian techniques. You’ll be able to get a latté, cappuccino, macchiato and espresso at most coffee houses. Icelanders are particularly fond of the more milky varieties. This is probably because of the incredible quality of the country’s fresh milk. Iceland’s coffee history dates back to the early 1700s. At first, it was incredibly rare and mainly enjoyed by the clergy, but by 1850 it was firmly entrenched in the fabric of everyday Icelandic life. Today, there are a few excellent roasteries that supply the country’s burgeoning coffee-loving contingent with some superb java.
Fun fact! Coffee is such a big part of Icelandic hospitality that it is considered rude to refuse the offer of a cup. The best way to wiggle out of a lengthy sit-down if you’re short on time is to agree to Tíu dropar (‘ten drops’). This will get you a smaller cup without offending your hostess.