Over more than a thousand years of coffee history, different countries and societies around the world have developed a wide range of varied coffee drinking customs. Sampling coffee as different cultures enjoys it can amount to a fascinating world tour, completely fueled by the fragrant brew.
In the Middle East and the easternmost countries of Mediterranean Europe, where coffee-drinking first flourished almost a millennium ago, coffee is still enjoyed in time-honored fashion, prepared in a style that has almost universally come to be known as Turkish coffee (except in Greece, where it is proudly called Greek coffee). Roasted coffee beans are very finely pulverized and combined with sugar and water, and sometimes sweet spices like cardamom, cloves, or cinnamon, in a long-handled brass pot called an ibrik, slightly narrower at its top than its bottom to facilitate building up a good head of foam. The mixture is brought to a boil three separate times; then, the thick, frothy brew is poured into small cups for sipping. The emptied cups may be inverted onto their saucers to let the sludgy grounds form patterns inside. Once settled, the patterns may be “read” imaginatively to predict each drinker’s fortune.
In Italy, intense small cups of espresso coffee are sipped all day long from coffee bars that throng the streets of big cities and small towns alike. French coffee drinking customs, by contrast, begin the day with big bowls of cafe au lait, combining strong “French roast” coffee with almost equal parts of hot milk, a drink ideal for dunking fresh-baked buttery croissants. Dutch and Scandinavians, too, favor milky morning coffee to accompany the pastries or pieces of bread with which they start their days.
Viennese coffeehouses are an integral part of that Austrian capital’s culture, with different locations favored by particular groups of people. Near the Burgtheater, the historic Cafe Landtmann is beloved by actors, and also enjoys fame for having been a popular hangout of Sigmund Freud. Cafe Hawelka attracts intellectuals and artists. Cafe Sacher, near the opera house, enjoys fame not only for its elegant appointments but for being the birthplace of one of the most decadent accompaniments imaginable for coffee: the Sachertorte, which combines layers of chocolate sponge cake, chocolate buttercream, apricot jam, and bittersweet chocolate icing. Neighboring Germans, meanwhile, enjoy rich, mellow cups of coffee during the morning or late-afternoon gatherings that they named after the beverage back in the 19th century, a name that has endured to describe any convivial, chat-filled get-together at which coffee is served: the Kaffeeklatsch.
The European love of coffee also spread to the New World and beyond. Brazilians wake up to cafe com Leite, the local coffee brewed to double strength and then diluted with an equal volume of hot milk. They then go on to drink up to forty small cups a day per capita of strong, black Cafezhino, ranking them among the world’s most prodigious coffee drinkers. Mexicans cafe de la olla is brewed in an earthenware jug with the molasses-rich raw sugar called piloncillo and cinnamon sticks. American coffee habits range from the good, mellow drip brews traditional served in diners and perpetually replenished by smart-talking waitresses; to the slightly bitter, chicory-laced New Orleans cafe au lait, often enjoyed with the deep-fried doughnuts known as beignets; to the sophisticated, sometimes elaborate Italian-style espresso drinks popularized by Starbucks and other modern coffeehouses.
Coffee drinking customs have even been adopted wholeheartedly by lands that traditionally favor tea. You’ll find the brew in southern India, which is also a coffee-growing country. And the passion for all things Western in contemporary Japan has led to widespread Japanese coffee drinking, both in its brewed form and in a wide variety of popular canned and bottled cold coffee beverages.