5 Unique and Surprising Coffee Drinking Experiences
Think you know coffee? Think again. We explore 5 unique and surprising coffee drinking experiences from around the world.
Confession: I am from a tea-drinking nation. 3.22 kg per person per year to be exact. Nevertheless, I love putting my finger to the pulse of a society, and where better to take that pulse than in the social hubs where people gather together around a cup of coffee.
In this article we explore 5 of the most unique ways to drink coffee from around the world. They were selected not because they roast their own beans or source from a tiny plantation in Ethiopia, but because the very act of drinking coffee in these unique places is an experience in its own right.
Vietnam is a leading coffee producer: the second-largest in the world, in fact. Cafés are communal havens, offering a moment of stillness amid the clamouring commotion and dusty heat of the city. They come in all shapes and sizes, from a hip Starbucks equivalent, Trung Nguyen Coffee, to small, intimate cafés where the tiny plastic stools overflow onto the buzzing streets.
What is truly unique about the coffee experience here is the unusual and exotic flavour combinations you can try. Trung Nguyen sells coffee with unique names that sound like a promise in a cup, such as “Creative” and “The Instant Entertainer”.
The most commonly consumed coffee is a variety known as “ca phe sua da”: strong coffee served in a small cup and filter chamber called a “phin” which allows the coffee to drip slowly over ice into a cup quarter-filled with condensed milk.
For a more unusual experience you can try yoghurt in your coffee, but even that’s not quite as unique and adventurous as the egg coffee served in Giang Café, made with egg yolk, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese.
However, there is one surprising delicacy, “ca phe Chon”, which goes to even greater extremes for unique and unusual taste: this is coffee made from beans that have passed through the digestive system of a weasel-like mammal called a civet. At about $3 dollars a cup, the price may be high for Vietnam, but it certainly won’t blow the budget if you’re feeling adventurous.
Put the Viennese and Vietnamese speciality coffees side by side and the Austrian version may seem rather tame in comparison. A traditional “Wiener Melange” is an espresso shot topped with steamed milk and milk foam, or in some establishments, whipped cream. Sound like a regular cappuccino? It’s admittedly similar, but it’s the locality that makes Vienna such a unique place to experience the classic drink.
In 2011 Vienna had its coffee houses declared an “intangible heritage” by UNESCO. The Austrian inventory, which is a part of UNESCO, describes them as a place, “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill”. This is coffee drinking as it was in the 1900s, a place for socialites, intellectuals and stimulating conversation.
“Kaffee und Kuchen” (coffee and cake) is the classic combination, and your coffee drinking experience is best complemented by a Viennese pastry, including the infamous apple strudel or the decadent, original Sacher-Torte. With the plush, vintage, often opulent furnishings in unique historic buildings, you can imagine yourself transported back in time to the heyday of the Viennese Golden Age.
If a Greek asks you out for a coffee, you’re best to clear your appointments for the rest of the day...
Coffee is far from a stimulant or consumer product in Greece. Coffee here is a social experience. Society revolves around the humble kafenion, or coffee shop. Kafenia are everywhere, in the tiniest and most remote of villages. This is where the elders of the community come together to sip coffee, play cards and discuss the events of the day.
As a visitor, it’s the perfect place to experience local life, but don’t expect to leave as anonymously as you came. We stopped off at one kafenion in Crete for a cuppa, only to be shown around the local caves by the landlord.
Whilst we can’t guarantee that a private tour will result from every kafenion visit, the hospitality of some of the world’s friendliest people is sure to make for a unique and wonderful experience.
Traditional Greek coffee is taken strong and black. The coffee grounds are boiled in sugar and water with a choice of three degrees of sweetness, glyko (very sweet), metrio (medium sweet) and sketo (no sugar). For your first try, we recommend you order metrio and take it from there. Without sugar the coffee can have quite a bitter taste!
What’s more, traditional Greek coffee could be good for your heart. According to a study published in the Vascular Medicine journal a cup of Greek coffee every day may be reason for the longevity of people on the Greek island of Ikaria, who have one of the longest lifespans in the world.
The national coffee of Greece, however, isn’t the heart-healthy traditional version, but the modern Greek frappé, which was actually invented by accident by Dimitris Vakondios in 1957. He was presenting a new instant chocolate beverage made in a shaker for Nestlé at the International Trade Fair in Thessaloniki, but during a break he couldn’t find any hot water for his regular coffee, so he used the shaker to dissolve instant coffee powder in cold water.
Frappés are now served with milk, but they are still made with instant coffee powder. Coffee purists will be pleasantly surprised (or perhaps scandalised) at just how good instant can taste. The frappé is the ultimate cool drink to sip during the hot Greek summer. Enjoy it with different liqueurs, chocolate milk or even vanilla ice cream, and immerse yourself in this authentic experience of modern Greek culture.
Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Southern India
India may also be known as a nation of tea drinkers (after all, it’s the second-largest tea producing nation in the world) but in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, coffee has been enjoyed for generations. Known as “Kaapi”, coffee here is served at street-side bars.
The first indication that there’s something rather odd about Indian coffee is how it’s ordered – by the metre. The length doesn’t refer to the size of the cup, but how far apart the cups should be held when preparing the drink.
Indian “Kaapi” is always served with a good head of foam, and this is produced by pouring it from one stainless steel cup to another about one yard, or just short of a metre, apart. This aerates the coffee, producing its frothy head. It’s a spectacular sight, and a truly unique performance art that is demonstrated with gusto by your barista. India is certainly one place where you should have your camera at the ready when you order a coffee.
Watch out though, the coffee is brewed dangerously hot with chicory, giving it a strong, striking flavour. Drink with caution!
Traditional pubs, Ireland
What was that about a tea-drinking nation? Well, fundamentally we are. Depending on whose poll you follow, the second or third most cups of tea per capita in the world.
However, the Irish do have something to contribute to the coffee scene, and thanks to our own unique twist, drinking coffee here is an experience in its own right.
The first thing to be said about Irish coffee is that I’ve never had a good one outside of Ireland. Perhaps it’s the atmosphere that’s missing when you’re not enjoying it in a genuine Irish pub. Perhaps it’s because the Irish closely guard the secret of how to get the cream to float on top, or because other places add syrups or try to make it with American bourbons...
Whatever the reason, the one place to have a true Irish coffee is in Ireland, in an Irish pub, and preferably when they have live music playing. Like the kafenia in Greece, the pubs in Ireland are the social gathering place for the locals. A national heritage and an authentically unique cultural experience. There’s nothing more romantically Irish than sitting around an old, up-turned whiskey barrel, toes tapping to the sound of the fiddle as you sip your Irish coffee.
The coffee is best left for the end of the night and contains what Alex Levine calls the four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat. The alcohol is a simple Irish whiskey, usually Jameson or Bushmills is used, although many bars let you choose. The whiskey is then set alight, caramelising it by burning it with sugar. A nutty, slightly bitter coffee is then poured over, and the whole drink is topped off with a gloriously refreshing layer of thick Irish cream, very slightly whipped so that it floats on top.
As you sip, the three layers slide into one another and beautifully down the throat, combining the fire of the whiskey, the nutty bite of the coffee and the cool, soothing cream. A blissful end to an evening of great music, banter and craic.
A passionate traveller, linguist and writer, Sarah has visited over 20 countries around the globe. She loves immersing herself in new cultures, learning the language, and getting to know the local people.