In recent decades, coffee culture, in its many forms has spread across the planet.
It is almost impossible now, in many countries, to find a large city where major coffee shop chains are not well-represented.
However, uninspiring international clones aside, each country has adopted coffee culture in subtly – or not so subtly – different ways. Here we look at some of the cities with the most distinctive and vibrant coffee-drinking scenes in the world.
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#1 Vienna – Austria
Vienna is a city with one of the longest traditions of coffee shop culture to be found anywhere, stretching back hundreds of years. The Austrian capital may or may not be, as it claims, the coffee capital of the world, but coffee-drinking is such an integral part of local life that it was recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Heritage in 2011 (1).
Old-style coffee shops in the city are elegant, grandiose affairs where patrons can while away hours reading the newspaper and enjoying delicious cakes or pastries with their “Wiener Melange”, the local take on a cappuccino-style drink. Watch this video to see how to make one.
Alongside these centuries-old institutions, trendy modern cafés are now springing up, giving the style-conscious coffee aficionado a wealth of options for where to satisfy those caffeine cravings.
Perhaps the city’s most famous coffee shop is Café Central, established in 1876, the ideal spot to imbibe the atmosphere of the city’s coffee culture along with your brew (2).
#2 Rome – Italy
If one country in the world is synonymous with coffee culture, it is Italy, and in the nation’s capital, traditional coffee bars can be found on just about every corner (3).
For breakfast, enjoy a cappuccino in the land where this timeless classic was invented. Just don’t order one after about 11 am – it’s considered a bit strange to drink them later in the day.
If you simply order a coffee, un caffè in Italian, you will be served an espresso, and you can’t leave Rome without trying one. In Italy, serving world-class espresso is a source of national pride, and Rome is the perfect place to experience it.
Enjoy an outdoor coffee while drinking in the opulent surroundings of one of the city’s famous piazzas like Piazza Navona, one of the great pleasures of visiting this ancient city – until the waiter brings the bill (4).
#3 Melbourne – Australia
Melbourne is one of Australia’s most exciting and dynamic cities and is also known as a center for coffee-related experimentation (5). This is one of the cities that has a strong claim to having invented the current hipsters’ favorite, the flat white.
People in Melbourne take coffee-drinking seriously, and coffee culture is so ingrained in the way of life that the city now hosts an annual coffee expo and boasts its own publication devoted to the drink (6).
Melbourne’s cafés are an institution within the city. They are varied, creative places full of character that locals love to frequent and without which, Melbourne would just not be the same. Some would even go as far as to say that Melbourne has the best coffee shops in the world (7).
#4 Seattle – United States
First of all, forget about Starbucks. Seattle may be the city that gave us the world’s largest and most ubiquitous coffee chain, but that doesn’t mean the brand dominates the coffee shop landscape back in its hometown.
This city of serious coffee drinkers boasts a bewildering number of places to enjoy a brew, both homegrown chains such as Starbucks and Tully’s, and innumerable independents. In fact, there are so many to choose from that Seattle now boasts the second highest concentration of coffee shops per person in the entire US (8).
Seattle has always been at the forefront of innovation – it is perhaps no surprise that this is where Starbucks was born, after all – and this was one of the towns where latte art was first developed (9).
Seattle has a notoriously rainy climate, which could explain why locals are so devoted to their coffee. If you’re in town, at some point, you will probably find yourself sheltering from the weather in a stylish coffee shop and experiencing Seattle’s unique brand of coffee culture first-hand.
#5 Wellington – New Zealand
Australia may have Melbourne and the US may have Seattle, but New Zealand’s capital Wellington is a pioneering center for coffee culture that can be placed on the same exalted level.
There is still some debate over the origins of the flat white, but even if, as some claim, it originated in Sydney or Melbourne (there are many Kiwis who would beg to differ), it was the baristas of Wellington who took that drink and raised it to a new level of perfection.
Wellingtonians are proud of a coffee-drinking tradition that stretches back to the 1950s. With over a dozen roasteries found in the city, it is never hard to find a cup of the freshest coffee. Locals here just won’t accept bad coffee – making it one of the top cities in the world for a brew (10).
#6 Havana – Cuba
Havana is another city with its own unique coffee culture, based largely around the “café Cubano”, the rich, dark Cuban-style espresso, sweetened with demerara sugar as it is brewed, that accompanies just about every Cuban meal.
Coffee culture in Cuba is traditionally not about fancy beans or pretentious brewing techniques; in Cuba, coffee has tended to be a rustic drink that allows people to share a moment together (11).
That’s not to say they don’t know how to make a tasty brew in the city. One of the most famous cafés in Havana is El Escorial on Plaza Vieja. The beans used here are grown locally on the island and roasted on-site (12).
The menu includes all the familiar classics like cappuccinos and lattes, but there are others options – like coffee livened up with rum or tequila – that you’re unlikely to find in your local Starbucks!
Related Post: Best Cuban Coffee Brands – Top 5 Picks
#7 Hanoi – Vietnamese
Unless you’ve been there, you might be surprised to find the Vietnamese capital on a list of the world’s top coffee destinations. But for coffee-lovers who make their way to Hanoi, a distinct coffee culture and a surprisingly unique way of drinking the beverage exists.
Coffee was brought to Vietnam by French colonists, and the country is now the second largest producer of coffee in the world after Brazil – and the world’s largest producer of robusta beans.
Vietnamese coffee is made using a drip method, and the result is an extremely thick, dark coffee that is commonly sweetened using condensed milk. In a city with such a hot climate year-round, it is unsurprising that Vietnamese coffee is also commonly enjoyed over ice.
Hanoi has some upmarket, trendy cafés to pick from – but part of the pleasure of drinking coffee in Vietnam is to frequent some of the more unassuming establishments where you can enjoy your brew surrounded by friendly locals (13).
A local specialty is cà phê trúng, egg coffee – don’t forget to try it while you’re there.
#8 Addis Ababa – Ethiopia
Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee and, unusually for coffee-producing nations, the consumption of the beverage is deeply rooted in Ethiopian culture and society (14).
Coffee is often taken up to three times a day, and preparation traditionally takes place in a coffee ritual, whereby coffee beans are roasted, ground, brewed and finally served by hand. It is a time for the family or village to come together to socialize and chat, strengthening bonds (15).
The most famous coffee shops in Addis Ababa include Tomaca, a small, old-style café with no seating and an institution in the city, and Mokarar; Kaldi’s is a local chain. If you find yourself in Ethiopia’s capital, sampling some of the country’s age-old coffee culture, along with a cup of the black stuff, is a must.
#9 Vancouver – Canada
Canada is another country that loves its coffee, and Vancouver is arguably the nation’s coffee capital. Vancouver was the city where Starbucks decided to open their first branch outside of the US, but there’s a lot more to this town than just an overabundance of chains.
Vancouver has always offered favorable conditions for independents to spring up and a willing clientele who ensure the best ones remain successful. This is a city that claims a number of award-winning baristas and a vibrant coffee shop scene (16).
Some places worthy of a detour include Elysian Coffee, who now have four branches in the city and roast their own beans, Kafka’s, and Milano Coffee, who have three branches in Vancouver, for a more European feel.
#10 Taipei – China
Chinese culture is known for its tradition of tea-drinking, but the island of Taiwan is making a name for itself as one of East Asia’s hottest coffee destinations, nowhere more so than in the Taiwanese of Taipei (17).
Taiwan is a melting pot of coffee cultures. For many years, the island was mainly influenced by the coffee-drinking habits of Japan. More recently, with the arrival of American-style chains (yes, Starbucks!), local baristas began to incorporate novel ideas and the latest techniques into local practices.
The result has been a mix which has given rise to something fresh and exciting which is uniquely Taiwanese. Some places to check out are Rufous Coffee, a perennial student favorite, and Fong Da Coffee, one of the oldest coffee shops in the city, established in 1956 (18).
#11 Paris – French
The French capital is synonymous with café culture; even the word “café” comes to English from the French language. There is no experience more quintessentially Parisian than sitting outside one of the city’s many charismatic establishments with a café noir and watching the world go by.
However, you may be surprised to hear that, for a country so fiercely proud of its culinary tradition, French coffee is generally not highly rated among coffee connoisseurs. For historical reasons, robusta beans proliferate in France; the coffee is generally bitter and taken with lots of sugar (19).
However, things are changing. Specialist coffee shops are opening that emphasize sourcing the highest-quality beans and using the best roasting techniques and a new wave of baristas is emerging with knowledge of modern techniques of brewing optimum coffees (20).
So now it is possible to soak in the ambiance of Parisian life – without the need to make do with mediocre coffee.
#12 New York City – United States
New York is a coffee lover’s heaven simply because whichever type of coffee you desire, be it an Americano, a cappuccino or something far more specialist and obscure, you are sure to be able to find it in the Big Apple.
For a place nicknamed “the city that never sleeps”, it should come as no surprise that New York is a city whose inhabitants consume, on average, over six times as much coffee as those from almost any other city in the US (21).
Perhaps in the past, the fast-paced New York lifestyle dictated that people were more concerned with the caffeine hit than the actual coffee, but the scene has matured. With new coffee shops and specialist roasters popping up all over the city, now is a great time to be a coffee-loving New Yorker (22, 23).
#13 Tokyo – Japan
Japan is another country with a long tradition of tea-drinking, but since the first coffee shops began to appear in Tokyo from the 19th century, Japan has gone on to become one of the world’s major coffee consumers (24, 25).
Japan has developed its own characteristic style of coffee culture, and two types of Japanese coffee shop can be found in Tokyo: 1980s-style establishments preferred by older generations and the trendy new coffee bars, frequented by Japan’s hyper-cool younger generation (26).
In Tokyo, you can expect to find some distinctive Japanese coffees like Japanese-style iced coffee or coffee with “gomme syrup”, something you are unlikely to be served elsewhere, as well as some exuberantly decorated locations (27).
Tokyo is an overwhelming juxtaposition of the deeply traditional and the ultra-modern – and also probably the best place in the country to discover Japan’s particular take on coffee.
Something that brings us all together
One of the most important parts of traveling is gaining a deeper understanding of other cultures through experiencing local traditions and sampling local cuisine. Now you can now also interact with the people in the countries you visit by sharing something else that brings us all together: coffee.
Have you visited any of these places? Which city has the best coffee culture, in your opinion? Please let us know as we always love hearing from you. And if you enjoyed the article, please don’t forget to share!