The good news? Coffee specialists can be found on every continent © thayra83 – Adobe Stock
October 1st is International Coffee Day, and an opportunity to take a trip around the world to taste the best coffee, on all continents and in cities as diverse as Vienna, Wellington, Dakar and Havana. Lovers of coffee and places where a whole culture is centred around this ancestral and invigorating – even magical – drink, here is your international and caffeinated guide!
Without its cafés, Vienna wouldn’t be Vienna, so much so that the pleasure of drinking coffee here has been listed as a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage site since 2011. The tradition goes back to the end of the 17th century when a Turkish spy in the pay of the Austrian court introduced coffee to Austria and founded the very first Viennese coffee house. The inhabitants of the Austrian capital are getting a taste for it. Viennese cafés became unique institutions in the world, meeting places for writers, artists and intellectuals. One of them, Peter Altenberg, even goes so far as to write the address of Café Central, his favourite, on his business cards. Grateful, the café erected a statue of him! The Kaffeehause – literally coffee houses – in Vienna are places where people read a lot, write, create and inevitably remake the world! Strauss, Mozart and Beethoven even present works there. Today, the tradition continues for the happiness of all, Viennese or not. Among the Kaffehause must-haves: Frauenhuber, Sperl, Hawelka and Demel. You will of course be able to taste in each of them excellent cakes and pastries or of course, pastries!
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Back to the source and origins of coffee. Legend has it that in 850 A.D., an Ethiopian shepherd noticed a peculiar restlessness in his goats after they nibbled on red coffee beans. He shares it with the Sufis, religious of the region, who hasten to make an infusion of the famous red seeds. The effect is conclusive. They stay awake while they pray. The drink spreads naturally, is exported to Yemen and becomes, little by little, the “official” drink of the Islamic world. The word “coffee” comes from “qahwah” which means “exciting” in Arabic. Today in Addis Ababa, there are plenty of coffee shops to suit all tastes. For a traditional and authentic experience, visit the local and unpretentious Harar Café or the To.mo.ca, inspired by Italian colonization, at the confluence of two coffee cultures! Outside of coffee shops, try attending a coffee ceremony, an event often reserved for the family circle. You will discover the rite of coffee preparation, from the beans roasted on the fire, ground by hand, to the tasting, accompanied by sugar or salt, and also some dishes. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to one of these ceremonies, it’s impolite to leave before you’ve had at least three cups…
From a few coffee shops opened by Australians and New Zealanders a decade ago, the British capital has recently seen the number of excellent coffee shops increase exponentially… Now you can even drink coffee in more and more pubs. That’s a good point. After starting in Soho, London’s coffee culture revolution spread east and north-east following the hipster migrations: Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Dalston and then all the other neighbourhoods to the outskirts of the British megalopolis. And the revolution is also on the move, thanks to the numerous coffee trucks that travel to and from key locations – subway stations or train stations, festivals, tourist attractions – at equally key moments… So you can no longer complain about not finding good coffee in London, on the contrary. You’ll fall for a flat white, a cappuccino or an espresso, the best-sellers from across the Channel. In Soho, taste the flat white of the café of the same name! In Brick Lane, choose the Market Coffee House and Monmouth Coffee in Covent Garden and Borough.
With about 35 coffee shops per 100,000 inhabitants, Seattle has become the unofficial coffee capital of the United States. In fact, in 1971, that’s where a tiny little company called Starbucks was founded… But forget the international giant and immerse yourself in the avant-garde coffee culture of this American city – also known for many other sub-cultures – where the particularly rainy climate encourages coffee consumption and hours spent in coffee shops. Most of them roast their own coffee and there is a real passion in the city for small brown beans. In fact, the town’s coffee shops regularly compete in national competitions and always come out on top. But beware: competition rhymes with camaraderie in Seattle. The idea is to improve the quality of products, service and know-how, not to put ourselves, among competitors of the coffee beans, in the wheels. In Seattle, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a quality coffee shop – and yes, the city is also full of self-employed people who make it their office and meeting place. Among the must-sees: the Victoria Coffee Roaster which has several branches, the Empire Expresso and the Seattle Coffee Works.
Wellington, New Zealand
Head for Wellington, the New Zealand capital. It is also undoubtedly the coffee capital of this charming country. The city owes its title to a tradition dating back to the 1930s when it was beautifully furnished with milk bars, establishments that became fashionable during the Prohibition era in the United States. Reinforced by the presence of American troops during the Second World War, the milk bar culture developed and milkshake shakers are much more popular than espresso machines! Then the trend changed in the 1950s, influenced by a large wave of European immigration. Coffee houses sprout, bloom and become meeting places for artists, writers and intellectuals. Plus, they’re open until the wee hours of the morning, which is a brand new phenomenon for New Zealanders. Then the fashion passes… before starting again of more beautiful in the Nineties with the arrival of new coffees which bet on the quality of their product. It’s a success. Flat white is almost becoming New Zealand’s national drink and a true religion! Some good addresses: the Flight Coffee Hangar, the Memphis Belle and the Lamason Brew Bar.
Impossible to talk about the places in the world where you can enjoy the best coffees without mentioning Italy and of course Rome! Coffee is a very serious business there, especially the famous espresso, which is most often swallowed in one go, at the counter, while exchanging a few words with the barista – barman -. As in Vienna, the first establishment serving coffee appeared in Rome at the end of the 17th century. Since then, the tradition of caffetries has continued like Caffé Greco in Rome, where you don’t just have an espresso at the bar: you sit down, settle down and soak up the atmosphere and the coffee culture the Roman way! A true fuel for the daily life of Italians and Romans, coffee is the fruit of a long tradition of local and family roasters who have developed a unique know-how, secretly guarded from generation to generation. This explains the particular and different flavors from one establishment to another. The Caffé Sant’Eustachio is an excellent address to enjoy coffee with a unique taste.
Cigars, rum and coffee… These are Cuba’s emblematic products. The last one on the list occupies a primordial place in Cuban culture. At the beginning of the 19th century, the country, under Spanish domination, became the world’s leading coffee producer for three decades. We’re talking about a coffee revolution. Indeed, the climate, the land, the mountains, east of Havana, but also on the side of Santiago de Cuba and the Sierra Mastre, are conducive to coffee growing. The massive arrival of slaves and immigrants of non-Spanish origin – mainly French – upset the demography and culture of the island! A culture that will never be able to do without coffee again. Cafe cubano or black cafecito is a kind of sweet espresso – made from Demerara Cuban sugar -. It’s drunk in small cups, tight, any time of day. It can also be “laid down” with milk. In this case, order a cortadito. You can find cafe cubano on every street corner in Havana. For a particularly refined taste, try Café El Escorial and Café de Las Infusiones.
Dakar and … Touba, Senegal
It is also in Senegal and Dakar that coffee lovers will enjoy themselves. The Touba café is indeed a real Senegalese institution… But what is its origin? The city of Touba as its name suggests and the exile to Gabon of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba at the end of the 20th century. The latter, at the head of the Mourides, a Sufi brotherhood in Touba, disturbs the French who send him into exile. In Gabon, the Sheikh notices the invigorating effect of coffee on the colonists and decides, on his return from exile, to bring it back to his community so that it can enjoy its benefits! The success of the Touba coffee quickly spread beyond the suburbs of the city and became a national or even sub-Saharan success. Roasted in an artisanal and basic way over a fire at a specific temperature and time, Touba coffee is flavoured with spices such as Guinea pepper or black pepper. It’s served just as sweet. Be careful though! According to some, Touba coffee has the virtues of a magic potion and addictive to the beliefs of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba… They can be found everywhere in Dakar and proportionally even more in Touba, sold by street vendors. Curiously, it is not very well developed in bars, cafés and restaurants.