Coffee Culture

Around the World

Coffee has its own unique characteristics in cities and countries across the world. Next time you travel, as well as admiring the scenery and history and experiencing a new culture, take a sip of the local coffee to savor your trip in a different way.


Coffee has been central to Turkish culture since the first coffeehouses appeared in the country in the 1500s. The Turkish word for breakfast, kahvaltı, means “before coffee”, giving some insight into when locals take their first cup of the day. Turkish coffee, which is served in small cups where the grounds settle at the bottom, is very thick, dark, strong and sweet. Plenty of sugar and sometimes spices like cardamom and chicory are added to produce a rich, dessert-like treat. One tradition that has been passed down through the generations is coffee fortune-telling. After a guest finishes his or her coffee, a host will turn the cup upside down, allow the grounds to cool and then tell a person’s fortune by reading the grounds.


In Italy, un caffé is a “shot” of espresso – an ounce of concentrated coffee. Although Italians drink caffé (espresso) all day long, two of the country’s national beverages, cappuccino and caffé latte, are traditionally only consumed in the morning. As travel writer Lee Marshall noted in his “10 commandments” of Italian coffee culture, drinks with milk are not usually taken after meals because “Italians cringe at the thought of all that hot milk hitting a full stomach”.


Similarly, many Brazilians drink espresso all day long. Brazil’s version, cafezinho, is made by mixing hot water, finely ground coffee and sugar, and then straining the mixture through a filter. Like Turkish coffee, cafezinho is dark, strong and sweet – but not nearly as thick – and served in small cups.


Japan has become famous for its iced coffee, which is made by brewing hot coffee and instantly chilling it. Coffee grounds are first put into a filter, which is placed over an ice-filled serving pot. Then boiling water is poured over the grounds, so that as the coffee drips, it immediately begins to cool. It locks in the aromatics, resulting in a sweeter and smoother cup of coffee.


The United Nations included “Viennese Coffee House Culture” in its National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage for Austria in 2012. It dates back to the 1600s after the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks. When the Turks were defeated and driven out, they were said to have left behind sacks of coffee beans. Today, Viennese coffeehouses, or kaffeehaüser, often stay open from 6am until midnight, welcoming customers to sit and relax for hours over a wiener mélange: coffee with steamed milk, topped with milk foam.


During the 19th century, when Vietnam was under French rule, fresh milk was difficult to store, so condensed milk took its place. A delightful indulgence, Vietnamese iced coffee, called cà phê sữa đá, is made by brewing concentrated coffee over condensed milk, stirring it up and pouring it over ice. On a hot, humid summer day, it is sweet perfection.

United States

Coffee has always been popular in the U.S.A., in large part because tea was heavily taxed by the British. Although drip coffee is ubiquitous throughout the States, the country is often associated with the Americano, which is espresso mixed with hot water. The drink is said to have evolved during World War Two, when American soldiers stationed in Italy discovered that “coffee” was just a shot of espresso. The story goes that in order to make the drink more like the regular coffee they knew, the soldiers added hot water.


Unlike most western brews, kopi is darker in color and is more concentrated. To enhance their flavor, the beans are roasted in a wok with butter or lard and sugar. This caramelizes the beans and gives them a unique aroma. The beans are then strained through a sock (a small cloth that acts as an infuser) and mixed with condensed milk. Pair this with kaya toast (kaya is a traditional jam made from coconut and eggs) and a half-boiled egg and you’ll have the perfect Singaporean breakfast.


Major coffee producer Kenya has long had its own unique way of drinking coffee. Kahawa chungu, or “bitter coffee”, is a traditional drink made in brass kettles over a charcoal stove and is typically enjoyed by men, according to Reuters. A far more recent phenomenon is the advent of the coffeehouse in major cities such as Nairobi. Unfortunately for Kenyans, most of the highest quality coffee produced in their country still gets exported to other parts of the world.


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