Choosing a cup of coffee is about more than just milk or sugar. From the Ethiopian countryside where coffee was first discovered to the baroque cafes of imperial Europe to the high-tech streets of Tokyo, coffee has adapted to almost every culture—even infiltrating tea-loving strongholds such as India and Hong Kong. Here's your global guide to regional coffee styles: some that have caught on across the globe, some that represent a unique link to the area—and some that are just plain weird.
Description: The perfect cup should have a caramel-colored crema layer on top that is thick enough to support a spoonful of sugar for a few seconds before breaking.
Sip Tip: Espresso should be downed in one gulp while standing at the bar; if you sit at a table, that privilege will cost you up to four times more than standing.
Cafe: Experts claim you can find Rome's best espresso near the Pantheon, where water is sourced from springs by the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct built in 19 B.C. The most popular with locals is at Caffe Sant'Eustachio, where Romans have been stepping up to the stainless-steel bar since 1938 for their morning brew—always presweetened here. Piazza Sant'Eustachio 82, santeustachioilcaffe.it, espresso $1.50.
Description: The most popular drink in Viennese cafes, Austria's take on cappuccino combines espresso and steamed milk, topped with milk foam or sometimes whipped cream.
Sip Tip: Cafes usually serve a glass of water with coffee, meant to be drunk between sips to hydrate and cleanse the palate.
Cafe: With its elegant rococo interiors and elaborate sugar displays in the front window, it's no wonder that the Demel cafe once served as the official confectionary of the Hapsburg imperial court. Don't skip a slice of Vienna's signature dessert, Sacher torte (chocolate cake, apricot jam, and dark chocolate icing). Kohlmarkt 14, demel.at, melange $5.40.
Description: In the birthplace of coffee, the drink may be served with salt or butter instead of milk and sugar (and a side of popped sorghum kernels) in the countryside, but sugar has become increasingly popular since the 1930s Italian occupation.
Sip Tip: If invited into someone's home for the elaborate hours-long coffee ceremony, don't stop drinking until you've had cup number three (called bereka), which is considered a blessing.
Cafe: Addis Ababa's Habesha Restaurant brings Ethiopia's rural traditions to the heart of the capital city: The coffee ceremony is performed throughout the day in a thatched hut in its outdoor dining area. Bole Rd. (next to the Sabit Building), 011-251/11-551-8358.
Description: Traditionally drunk at all-night Mexican wakes, the spiced drink is brewed in an earthenware pot with cinnamon sticks.
Sip Tip: Don't add extra sugar—the drink comes presweetened with piloncillo (unrefined dark brown sugar).
Cafe: Mexico City's El Bajío is widely considered one of the top spots for home-style Mexican cooking in the world. The original location is a bit off the tourist path in the northern district of Azcapotzalco, but their Polanco branch sits squarely in the city's upscale boutique-and-gallery district. Alejandro Dumas 7, carnitaselbajio.com.mx, café de olla $1.50.
Description: A hallmark of Bedouin hospitality, the cardamom-infused drink is almost always offered with sweet dried dates, which counter the bitterness of the coffee.
Sip Tip: A younger person is always expected to pour coffee for his elders.
Cafe: Note that women are typically not welcome in Riyadh's traditional coffee and shisha (water pipe) shops. To get your caffeine fix as a Western tourist, you'll want to stick to the capital's more upscale hotels. At the Caravan Stop in the Hotel Al Khozama, you can sip coffee with traditional desserts like rosewater custard and almond puff pastry. Olaya Rd., al-khozama.com, desserts from $9.
Description: A remnant of Ottoman coffeehouse culture, this thick brew is made in a copper cezve (a long-handled pot) and often served after meals with chewy Turkish delight candy.
Sip Tip: Don't drink the thick layer of sludge on the bottom of the cup. You won't want to end up chewing on leftover grounds; besides, they can be used for a special form of fortune-telling called tasseography.
Cafe: Founded in 1923 in Istanbul's Kadıköy market, Fazıl Bey'in Türk Kahvesi offers its small cups of Turkish coffee in flavors like cardamom, vanilla, or mastic—an aromatic resin used in Mediterranean desserts. Serasker Cad.Tarihi Kadıköy Çarçısı 1a, fazilbey.com, Türk kahvesi $2.50.
Description: An East-meets-West mix of coffee and tea (and milk), this unlikely pair is named for the Mandarin duck—a species in which the male and female look totally different but mate for life.
Sip Tip: A proper cup should be made with Hong Kong–style milk tea, a strong blend of black tea filtered through a fabric bag that looks remarkably similar to pantyhose (in fact, it's sometimes nicknamed "silk stocking tea").
Cafe: The most popular places to find Hong Kong comfort food and milk tea are the 24-hour, retro-style diners called cha chaan tengs. Among the best is Tsui Wah, a spot known for its giant neon sign and its all-hours crowds. 15–19 Wellington St., tsuiwahrestaurant.com, yuanyang from $1.90.
Description: The ubiquitous foam-topped iced drink is made with Nescafé instant coffee, cold water, sugar, and evaporated (or regular) milk—and always served with a straw.
Sip Tip: Any self-respecting Greek knows a frappé should always be shaken, not stirred.
Cafe: A great place to sip the cool stuff is Thessaloniki, Greece's seaside Second City and the drink's hometown—it was reportedly invented here in 1957 at the Thessaloniki International Fair by a representative of the Nestle company. For the best views, stop by the stylish Kitchen Bar, which sits on the harbor overlooking the city's famous White Tower. B Port Depot, kitchenbar.com.gr, frappé $2.70.
Description: Brewed with chicory, this South Indian variety comes with a layer of foam formed during the cooling-down process: The server pours the coffee back and forth between two stainless-steel tumblers in long, sweeping arcs to aerate it.
Sip Tip: You might see this coffee referred to on menus as "meter coffee" or "coffee by the yard," a reference to the desired height from which the coffee should be poured between tumblers.
Cafe: Opened in the 1950s by a coffee workers' cooperative, the Indian Coffee House is a popular national chain, well-known for its extremely cheap eats. Perhaps the most famous of the branches is Kolkata's College Street location, which has attracted its fair share of students, intellectuals, and even revolutionaries, such as the founders of the Indian Communist Party. 15 Bankin Chatterjee St., indiancoffeehouse.com, kaapi 16¢.
Description: Made tableside by pouring hot water through a stainless-steel filter (phin) balanced over your glass, the coffee drips slowly onto a layer of sweetened condensed milk.
Sip Tip: If the beans are too finely ground, the coffee will drip through the filter too quickly, making for a weak brew.
Cafe: Hotel Continental's La Dolce Vita Cafe, with its whirring ceiling fans and wicker terrace chairs, will immediately call to mind colonial Saigon. 132–134 Dong Khoi St., continentalhotel.com.vn, ca phe sua da $3.
Description: This Italian-style espresso shot gets its unique taste from adding raw demerara sugar, resulting in a sweet brown foam on top called espumita.
Sip Tip: The best way to achieve the perfect espumita is by mixing the first few drops of coffee with the sugar—creating a sugary sludge—before adding the rest of the coffee.
Cafe: The coffee daiquiri on the menu may not be the most traditional, but everything else at Café el Escorial, which is housed in a colonial mansion overlooking Havana's Plaza Vieja, screams Old Cuba. Mercaderes No. 317, 011-53/868-3545, café cubano from 75¢.
Description: This infamous brew starts its trip to the cup by passing through the digestive tract of the civet, where enzymes are said to make the beans smoother, richer, and less bitter. The catlike mammal eats the ripest coffee berries and then excretes the undigested inner beans, which farmers harvest from their droppings. (This may not be any comfort, but the beans are then thoroughly washed!)
Sip Tip: The world's most expensive coffee (it's often sold for hundreds of dollars per pound) has spawned a slew of counterfeiters. Be wary if you see the coffee being sold at a deep discount—chances are no civets were used in the making of this bean.
Cafe: Located in Jakarta's Chinatown, the city's oldest coffee shop, Warung Tinggi, opened in 1878 and traces its history back to Indonesia's days as a Dutch colony. Bonus: Jakarta sits on the island of Java! Jl. Batu Jajar No. 35B, warungtinggi.com, kopi luwak $150 per pound.
Description: Introduced to the Perak region by 19th-century Chinese tin miners, this lighter brew—also called Ipoh white coffee after the town where it was developed—is made by roasting coffee beans in palm-oil margarine. Traditional Malaysian black coffee (kopi o) is roasted with both margarine and sugar, resulting in a darker roast.
Sip Tip: Unlike in most other countries, in Malaysia the term "white coffee" does not mean that milk is included—it simply refers to the lighter color of the roast. Nevertheless, like the rest of Southeast Asia, Malaysians will most often serve white coffee with condensed milk.
Cafe: With its stark tiled interiors and Coca-Cola sign over the door, Sin Yoon Loong in Old Town Ipoh is decidedly no-frills, but this is the original white coffee cafe. Try the specialty for breakfast with toast and homemade coconut jam. 15A Jalan Bandar Timah, 011-60/05-2414-5601, white coffee 45¢.
Description: Taking its name from the Spanish word for "cut," this drink is a simple espresso "cut" with a small splash of milk. The connection to Italian espresso is no coincidence—Buenos Aires is the Latin American city with perhaps the closest ties to Europe and its old-world cafe culture.
Sip Tip: If you like your coffee (much) milkier, order a lágrima ("tear" or "teardrop" in Spanish), which reverses the ratio: a lot of hot milk with a splash of coffee.
Cafe: Founded in 1858 by a French immigrant, Buenos Aires's Cafe Tortoni is the country's oldest cafe, offering nightly tango shows in its simple basement venue. Avenida de Mayo 825, cafetortoni.com.ar, cortado $2.50.
Australia/New Zealand: Flat White
Description: Though the Aussies and the Kiwis still feud over who invented the drink, they agree on one basic fact: It's not a latte! A flat white is coffee mixed with steamed milk, served in a ceramic cup with a handle; a latte also includes froth on top and should be served in a tall glass.
Sip Tip: A flat white shouldn't be made with just any milk—the recipe calls for micro-foam, the non-frothy steamed milk at the bottom of the vessel. (Macro-foam, or dry foam, comes from the top of the steaming pitcher, includes more bubbles, and is used in cappuccinos.)
Cafe: First they tackled wine. Now they're onto coffee. Both Australia and New Zealand have turned into countries of caffeine connoisseurs (snobs even!) and have followed by opening a slew of sleek, urban cafes. Campos Coffee, a tiny timber espresso bar in Sydney's Newtown neighborhood, is known for its crowds, the speed of its baristas (up to 200 coffees served per hour), and its quirky house blends: The Obama includes beans from both Kenya and the Americas (193 Missenden Rd., camposcoffee.com, flat white $3.55). In Auckland, Espresso Workshop ups the coffee-snob quotient with an on-site roastery, barista lessons, and coffee-appreciation classes (19 Falcon St., espressoworkshop.co.nz, flat white $4.15).
Description: This sweet combination of equal parts espresso and condensed milk originated in Valencia and has since become popular throughout the country.
Sip Tip: The drink is most often served in a small glass (similar to a shot glass) to show off the distinct layers of the black coffee and the off-white condensed milk. In order to keep the layers separate, the espresso must be poured into the glass very slowly, often over the back of a spoon.
Cafe: If you're in search of a café bombón, chances are you have a serious sweet tooth. Don't miss one of Madrid's famous churrerias, where you can dip sugary sticks of fried dough into insanely thick and rich hot chocolate. Locals prefer Chocolat, an unassuming churro spot tucked into a neighborhood side street a 10-minute walk from the Museo del Prado. Santa Maria 30, 011-34/914-294-565, café bombón $2.30.
Description: A delicious by-product of Morocco's spice markets, this brew can incorporate a number of flavors depending on the whims of the cafe owner, including ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper, cinnamon, sesame, cumin, and cloves.
Sip Tip: The sweetness of your cup of coffee is often dictated by the occasion, with sweet coffee served symbolically at happy occasions like weddings and bitter, black coffee served at funerals.
Cafe: Aside from the spiced coffee—hence the name Café des Épices—this cafe in the Marrakech medina offers mint tea, fresh-squeezed orange juice, flatbread sandwiches, and rooftop seating from which to gaze out over the buzzing market. 75 Lakdima Rahba, cafedesepices.net, café des epices, $1.80.
Description: This quintessential morning drink made with hot (but not steamed) milk is often served in a wide-mouthed bowl to accommodate the dunking of baguettes or croissants. A similar drink you may see on menus is café crème; many say the drinks are nearly identical, but crème is more often ordered in the afternoon.
Sip Tip: If you'd like only a little milk in your coffee, do as the locals do and ask for café noisette (hazelnut coffee)—it has nothing to do with hazelnut flavoring, but instead takes its name from the toasty, nutty color imparted by the dash of milk.
Cafe: Situated in the 6th arrondisement on Paris's Left Bank, the Café de Flore looks much the same as it did when Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir argued about existentialism here during World War II, with its famous red-leather booths, mahogany paneling, and mirrored walls. 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, cafedeflore.fr, café crème $7.
Description: Especially popular among the local Sami population in the eastern region of Kainuu, this dish/drink is made by submerging chunks of leipäjuusto (a cow- or reindeer-milk cheese curd with a caramelized crust that makes it look like bread) into a cup of black coffee, fishing them out, and then drinking what's left.
Sip Tip: If you're looking to make the treat yourself, the distinctive cheese is sold under a number of different names: leipäjuusto (bread cheese), juustoleipa (cheese bread), and narskujuusto (which refers to the squeaky sound the curds make on your teeth).
Cafe: This rural treat is more often made at home rather than purchased at a cafe, especially in cosmopolitan Helsinki. You can pick up leipäjuusto at most markets and dunk it yourself. Or head to Zetor, a Finnish-countryside-themed restaurant that is decorated with tractors and milk jugs and serves classic dishes like reindeer and leipäjuusto with cloudberry jam. Mannerheimintie 3–5, ravintolazetor.fi, cheese $10.75.
Ireland: Irish Coffee
Description: Served in a stemmed whiskey goblet with a heaping dollop of whipped cream, this warming drink—more classic cocktail than morning pick-me-up—is made with hot coffee, sugar, and Irish whiskey and was reportedly invented by Chef Joseph Sheridan in 1942 to warm up arriving passengers at what is now Shannon Airport.
Sip Tip: Don't stir the cream into your coffee! The hot coffee is meant to be drunk through the cold whipped cream.
Cafe: Though the Irish coffee may be a relatively recent addition to the centuries-old pub scene, the drink has become all but ubiquitous across the Emerald Isle. In Dublin, sipping an Irish coffee is all about the atmosphere, and it doesn't come much more authentic than the Brazen Head. Established in 1198, the pub claims to be the country's oldest—although the present building dates back to the still-impressive 17th century. Plus it's only a 10-minute walk to the Irish whiskey motherlode: the Jameson Distillery. 20 Lower Bridge St., brazenhead.com, Irish coffee $8.
United States: Frappuccino
Description: Starbucks has become synonymous with American cafe culture, and this milkshake-coffee hybrid has become the ultimate symbol of the brand: a ubiquitous, endlessly customizable, massive seller tailored to the country's sweet tooth. Taking into account the bottled version sold in supermarkets and convenience stores, annual Frappuccino sales have exceeded the $1 billion mark.
Sip Tip: Looking for an extra boost? Frappuccinos can be ordered "affogato-style," which means they come topped with a shot of espresso. But you won't see this drink listed on any menus. In addition to the 87,000 combinations advertised by the brand in the past, the truest Starbucks connoisseurs speak in a language of off-menu secret specialties (a "Short," for example, is a third smaller than a Tall and comes at a cheaper price). Remember that, though relatively common, these drink orders are not official, so don't get too mad if your barista doesn't know what you're talking about!
Cafe: Whether or not you're a Starbucks skeptic, you can't miss Seattle's Pike Place Market location. The first link in the ever-expanding global chain opened here in 1971. 1912 Pike Pl., starbucks.com, Tall from $2.95.
Description: Literally translating to "cup of comfort," the Dutch bakkie troost usually comes black and served alongside a single spice cookie (you may also commonly see the drink simply referred to as kaffe). If you want a latte, you'll have to order koffie verkeerd, or "coffee wrong."
Sip Tip: Know your terminology! A bruine kroeg (brown cafe) is a tobacco-stained, pub-like bar, known for its untranslatable sense of gezelligheid (similar to coziness); a koffieshop (or simply "coffee shop") is the infamous Amsterdam shop that sells marijuana products; a koffiehuis will sell coffee and light meals; and a cafe is similar to a restaurant with a bar. You can find a good cup of coffee in any of them, but you should know what you're getting yourself into before going inside.
Cafe: Amsterdam is a city of coffeehouses, from less than savory to gleaming and grand. Often, the most rewarding spots are those steeped in centuries of history. Situated in one of Amsterdam's oldest wooden houses, Cafe In 't Aepjen (literally "In the Monkeys") gets its odd name from the tavern's storied history as a sailor's haunt. Reportedly, men returning from Asia in the 16th century sometimes paid out their tabs with monkeys they had picked up in their travels. Zeedijk 1, cafeintaepjen.nl, kaffe $3.17.
Description: The diminutive name of this drink (meaning "a little coffee" in Portuguese) belies a big fact about Brazil's coffee economy—the country produces almost a third of all the world's coffee beans. The national coffee is filtered through a cloth strainer and often served in tiny plastic or china cups, and comes very sweet and very strong.
Sip Tip: A cafezinho often comes free at the end of a meal in a restaurant.
Cafe: Skip the European-style grand cafes and head to one of Rio de Janeiro's botequins (neighborhood bars) like Café Gaúcho. At this popular sidewalk spot, guests must follow a few steps to fit in like a local: Pass coins to the cashier, get a small receipt, bring it to the man behind the circular counter, and receive your distinctly bitter cup of coffee. Rua São José 86, 011-55/25-339-285, cafezinho 50¢.
Description: Also called kawa naturalna, this traditional Polish-style coffee is made by simply mixing ground coffee beans and boiling water directly in a glass with no filter.
Sip Tip: If you want to steep your coffee the traditional way, look on the label for drobno mielona, which is an extra-fine, Turkish-style ground. If the label just reads mielona, these beans have been ground and are suitable for a regular drip coffee pot or an espresso machine.
Cafe: Finding traditional Polish coffee is becoming increasingly difficult in the country's major cities, but it's simple to make the drink yourself once you buy the correct grounds. Though the coffee may come out of a copper pot rather than brewed in your individual glass in the traditional manner, Warsaw's Cafe Blikle serves up one of the most classic Polish cafe experiences. While most of the capital was damaged or destroyed during the two world wars, this spot has been going strong since 1869, thanks in no small part to its world-famous pączki (doughnuts). Nowy Świat 35, 011-48/022-826-0569, kawa $2.75.
Description: Introduced by the Ueshima Coffee Co. in 1969, canned coffee (which became kan kohi through Japan's system of adapting foreign phrases) is found in most grocery stores and vending machines, from which it is dispensed hot in the winter and cold in the summer.
Sip Tip: Though canned coffee is perfectly portable, that doesn't mean you should bring it everywhere. Eating or drinking on Japanese subways, for instance, is generally considered rude.
Cafe: Searching for the best place to find canned coffee in Japan is akin to searching for the best place to buy Coca-Cola in the United States—it's everywhere. The country operates an estimated 6 million vending machines (that's about one for every 23 people).
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