Best Cities to Drink Coffee
Lists: Terry Ward takes a look at seven of the best cities in the world to sit and sip
03.12.09 | 10:33 AM ET
Coffee culture means different things to different drinkers. For some, it’s a quiet café for working where wireless internet and strong brew are always on tap. For others, coffee culture implies something more communal and less electronic, with espresso or cappuccino the engine grease for conversation.
Either way, the java itself—be it of the Ethiopian, Colombian or Javanese variety—must be high quality and rendered with pride. Those precious places on the map where all good coffee things meet, any aficionado will tell you, are where magic is made.
Read on for a shortlist of some of the world’s best cities for sitting and sipping.
Kaffeehauskultur in Vienna dates to the 17th century, when Turks seized the city. Today, enjoying kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake) in Vienna’s grand 19th-century cafes is a rite of passage for visitors and a ritual for locals, who usually do so with the company of a newspaper or friends. Just don’t order a mere “coffee.” Viennese coffee offerings are vast and include the Brauner (black coffee lightened to brown by adding milk), Einspanner (double espresso with whipped cream), Kaisermelange (large mocha sans milk, stirred instead with an egg yolk, honey and cognac or brandy), Melange (large cup of coffee with hot milk foam, similar to a cappuccino) and many more.
World Hum Tip: World Hum contributor Pam Mandel, who lived in Austria, says china espresso cups make a fitting souvenir for coffee fanatics. Shops along the Kaertnerstrasse, Vienna’s most elegant shopping boulevard, sell fancy chinaware. To piece together a more eclectic collection, she recommends hitting the Naschmarkt, Vienna’s legendary produce and flea market.
At home in Holland, tea is the most popular beverage. But the Dutch are very social people and enjoy meeting with friends for a gezellig cup of coffee (the omnipresent Dutch term is untranslatable in English, but gezellig implies coziness in a social setting). Since apartments are typically quite small in Amsterdam, the city’s denizens love to gather in Amsterdam’s iconic bruin (brown) cafes—wood-paneled coffee houses of the non-marijuana variety where gezelligheid is guaranteed and strong cups of espresso-based drinks are often served with a morsel of something sweet.
World Hum Tip: For an inexpensive souvenir, hit Albert Heijn, a Dutch supermarket chain found throughout the Netherlands, to pick up Douwe Egberts red label coffee. It’s Holland’s best-selling supermarket variety—dark, smooth and lekker (another favorite Dutch term, for “delicious.”)
Pasta feasts and papal patronages not withstanding, no ritual is more authentically Roman than visiting a bar for Italy’s best-loved flavor burst—a quick shot of espresso. Tourists lollygag at outdoor cafes with prime piazza views, but the real Roman coffee experience is a walk-through event in less obvious locales. Follow the lead of locals and stand at the bar (thus avoiding the service charge), order an espresso and down it in a sip or two before getting back to whatever the day’s business may be (and repeat the ritual as often as necessary throughout the day).
World Hum Tip: Curb your cappuccino cravings to before 10 a.m. Ordering the frothy drink any time later is sacrilege for Italians, who consider cappuccino solely a breakfast beverage.
Australia’s coffee capital owes much of its rich brewing tradition to an influx of Italian and Greek immigrants in the wake of World War II, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that Melbourne’s coffee culture really took off. Australians are fiercely independent when it comes to their java, and Melbourne’s residents even more so. Perhaps the best proof of Melbournian pride in the city’s independent coffee culture came in 2008, when Starbucks was forced to close 16 Melbourne outlets (and scores more throughout Australia) after failing to make robust enough inroads into Australia’s entrenched coffee culture. From an August 2008 article from The Age entitled American Coffee Culture Gets Roasted: “With its trademarked frappuccinos and smorgasbord of syrup flavours, the day Starbucks came to Lygon Street (Melbourne’s historically Italian main drag) was like Scientologists setting up in Vatican City. Sacrilegious.”
World Hum Tip: Brunswick Street in Fitzroy is Melbourne’s go-to destination for some of the city’s best coffee houses. The decor is straight from the ‘60s and the espressos straight from Italy at Mario’s (303 Brunswick St.), known for its all-day breakfast offerings.