Travel Jitters – Coffee Culture Around the Globe

Food Lovers — By Amy Widdowson on September 7, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Asking someone about the best place to get a cup of coffee while traveling can be a perilous venture. For every coffee lover, which a great deal of people consider themselves to be, there are a thousand stories of coffee abroad, from intimate Parisian cafes to grabbing a cup ‘o joe before riding the A Train uptown. Seattle, Bangkok, Rome, and Amsterdam are all famous coffee centers, known for their dedication to elevating the art of steeping or running hot water over roasted and ground bush berries and creating a beverage loved worldwide.

Now synonymous with mass-marketed chain products, Starbucks began as a coffee bean roaster in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Soon after its founding, Starbucks shifted its focus and became one of the first North American purveyors of European coffee, importing the style, strength, and creativity of French and Italian Cafes into the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada, opening locations in Portland and Vancouver. While Starbucks no longer has the cultural cache it once had, a visit to the original Pike Place Starbucks is an entre to a simpler, less coffee-soaked, time.

Getting a café to go in Bangkok isn’t difficult, and an iced Thai coffee can be the perfect accompaniment to a lengthy Saturday perusal of the street food offerings at the Suan Lum Night Baazar. Coffee in Thailand is traditionally iced and served in a paper cup, but according to Xander at Primitive Culture, you’re just as likely to find vendors serving this beverage of strong brew and sweetened condensed milk in a little plastic bag with a handle – perfect java to go!

The author pounds an espresso before she is late for dinner in Rome

The author pounds an espresso before she is late for dinner in Rome

Going to Rome and not having an espresso is practically a sin – the Italians take their coffee culture very seriously, and though it may not seem like it, there’s a certain art to drinking it in the first place. A warning to those used to the watery North American interpretation of this caffeinated beverage:  Italian coffee comes in a small cup but packs a huge punch. The most Italian way to enjoy your espresso is to stand with it at the bar, chat with your neighbors, let it cool until you notice you’re late, slam it back and leave in a hurry. For those who prefer milk in their coffee, be aware of what time of the day it is. Cappuccinos are perfectly acceptable with breakfast, but ordering one past 10 AM instantly screams ‘tourist!’ – grab one in the morning before traipsing about Trastevere.

In Amsterdam, going to a Café has different connotations than in other places. While you’re able to order a beverage in most of the “Coffee Shops” of Amsterdam, be aware that they don’t only have donuts with their lattes, if you catch my drift. A pungent smell unlike any roast you’ve ever ingested may greet you at the door… a sure sign you’re not in Kansas any more. If a caffeine fix is all you’re in the market for, best to order alongside a Dutch pancake at Pannenkoeken Upstairs.

Where’s your favorite coffee destination? Have a fond coffee-fueled travel memory? Leave ’em in the comments!

[Photos: Espresso by udn / Creative Commons; Cafe by Amy Widdowson]

Tags: Amsterdam, Bangkok, cappuccino, coffee, espresso, Rome, Seattle, Starbucks


  • Louise says:

    MId-winter…northern Sweden…1973. Boiled coffee filtered through the sugar cube (rectangular actually) in my mouth.

  • Rob says:

    Further to Louise’s post, coffee at my Swedish grandmothers house served the same way but with an actual cube, along with fresh baking…….

  • Heather says:

    hey this is good .- i’ll put a link to this on my coffee page in my blog.

    nz has agreat coffee culture .. long before starbucks arrived ( and most kiwis who think they know great coffee shun those chains stores and find local barista hwo is faboulus and follow him or her!)

    I live five mins walk from where the first coffee shop was in my city ( Christchurch NZ) in the 1840s.

    BacK to my home brewed “short blacK’ before I go get my breakfast, Ciao

  • Scribetrotter says:

    How could you possibly leave out Istanbul and Turkish coffee, boiled three times and swirled thickly into your tiny cup?

  • Amy Widdowson says:

    Heather and Scribetrotter, great catches! I swear, there is so much great coffee out there it may merit a sequel post!

  • Laura says:

    Yes, Rome is good, but coffee in Italy doesn’t get any better than in Naples. Head south … there are so many wonders to discover!

  • mel says:

    You gave a notiable mention to Portland due to starbucks but you should really check out Portland for Stumptown. By far the best coffee I have ever tasted. They have a few cafes under the name and other local spots sell their beans. Being from Vancouver BC Im just waiting for the day they go international and we get thieir beans up here… i dont have to stock up everytime i visit the city.



    The greatness of Colombian coffee starts in a natural environmental fixed to the rural population’s job. All aspects are needed to determinate the high quality of our coffee. It is more than a plantation for Colombian people; Coffee means a country life style and growers (men and women) have a very important role promoting love for farming culture and coffee signifies music, history, architecture, traditions and development. Each one who concerns about coffee loves it. There are thousands of small farmers dedicated to intensive cultivation and it reveals the real importance in the economy of Colombia and rural society.


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