Illustration by Victoria Fernandez.
It’s no secret that the world is obsessed with coffee. It’s warm, comforting, energizing, and is full of tradition no matter where it’s prepared. Since we’ve already covered how to drink coffee in the coffee Mecca of the world, Italy, let’s explore how it’s prepared across the European continent.
If you order a simple cup of coffee while seated in a café in France, you’ll be greeted with diluted coffee served in a large cup. If you’re looking for something similar to the traditional, Italian espresso macchiato, order a noisette. And if you would prefer a bit of cream instead of milk, you should order a café-crème. The café au lait is typically ordered at breakfast time and is the closest French equivalent to the comforting cappuccino.
Next is Germany, one of the world’s top coffee importers. Around 1860, coffee was considered to be a revolutionary drink here due to its invigorating properties. Nowadays, Germans drink lots of it, especially the standard Milchkaffee (literally “milk coffee”). More daring individuals should try the Pharisäer, made with a quarter coffee, a sugar cube, two shots of rum and whipped cream. You can also try an Eiskaffee, but it’s not your standard “iced coffee.” It’s actually made from coffee, ice cream and fresh whipped cream (topped with chocolate sprinkles if you’re lucky).
Coming to Austria, did you know that the first coffee shop was opened in 1683 in Vienna to celebrate the end of the unsuccessful Ottoman siege of the city? In 1824, the Habsburg aristocrats met at Café Frauenhuber to listen to Beethoven’s and Mozart’s musical compositions. Among the most typical variants, there is the Schwarzer — black coffee without milk — and the Brauner, weaker coffee with a drop of milk foam. Fancy something longer? A Verlängerter is what you should order. Something richer? The Kapuziner is a good option, as it comes with whipped cream.
In Belgium, the Neapolitan “pending coffee” (called caffè sospeso in the original Italian) has become a popular choice, and in The Netherlands, it’s always the right time for a koffie verkeerd (literally “incorrect coffee”). The name comes from the fact that a generous (perhaps too generous) portion milk is always added to this European coffee.
In Spain, your hopes of drinking something similar to an espresso macchiato will be dashed if you order a café con leche. This version has far more milk than a standard macchiato. Those wanting something sweeter might opt for a café bombón, a Valencian specialty now widely available, made from equal parts condensed milk and coffee. Interestingly, the coffee and milk layers remain separate and visible when served in a glass. Meanwhile, the Spanish abuelas, or grandmothers, are likely to enjoy something similar to an Irish coffee (often with brandy or rum), which is called carajillo.
During the summer, why not try the café con hielo? This consists of a slightly longer shot of hot espresso, served with two-to-three ice cubes in a separate glass. In Valencia, this is called a café del tiempo and is served with a slice of lemon.
Portugal has a long-standing tradition with coffee, mostly due to Portuguese colonizers in Brazil at the beginning of the 19th century who helped circulate coffee worldwide. Two of the most well-known Portuguese variants are the cimbalino, a sort of elongated espresso, and the galão, a glass with three parts milk and one part espresso.
In England, it’s well known that tea is the hot drink of choice. When the English do drink coffee, it’s quite similar to the coffee Americans prefer: Drip style, with lots of cream and sugar, flavor syrups, or even in instant form, mixed with hot water in a mug. Not the most uniquely European coffee, but loved nonetheless.
There are several tales, and many versions, of the classic Irish Coffee: Irish whisky, a cup of coffee and brown sugar, finished off with cold, fresh whipped cream. This sweet blend was supposedly concocted by Joe Sheridan in 1943, chef at Foynes’ airport restaurant, and was served as a comforting drink for passengers embarking on transatlantic crossings. To those who asked if it was a Brazilian coffee, Sheridan’s response was: “No, it’s Irish coffee!”
Finland makes it onto the list as one the top coffee-consuming countries per capita (probably because cold, dark climates go hand-in-hand with drinking warm drinks). Coffee in Finland is usually consumed long and very strong. During and just after the Second World War, coffee was often “cut” and prepared with other substitutes (barley, rye, chicory, turnip and other root vegetables). The light, filtered coffee drink is called Kahvi, and is often taken with a drop of milk. It comes in a kuksa (wooden cup) and goes well with pulla, a sweet bread.
A Swedish morning is not complete without a hearty breakfast and a generous cup of coffee. Just like Finns, Swedes view coffee drinking as a drawn-out and enjoyable ritual, and will usually choose a large and strong cup with milk over an espresso. Speaking of enjoyment: Swedish uses the specific term fika to describe the activities of going to a café or taking a break from work to have a coffee (in this case: fikapaus). The word fika is believed to be a slangy inversion of the syllables in kaffi, an old Swedish word for coffee. Fika is a cherished time for many Swedes — to go to the bakeries (konditorier) and to enjoy a fikabröd (sweet bread) is a must.
Denmark is no exception when it comes to prolific coffee culture. Espresso is a popular choice, both in the cafés and to go. It should be noted that the Danes prefer a mild arabica coffee mixture, with a lighter roasting resulting in a longer coffee compared to the Italian standard (filtered and slightly acidic). Finally, a rather strange way of drinking coffee, called karsk, can be found in Norway. It’s consumed by farmers in the North, who place a coin at the bottom of a cup and pour coffee in until the coin is no longer visible. Then, liquor is poured on top until the coin can be seen again.
In Greece, it’s the way that coffee is prepared that sets it apart: The method comes from a Yemeni tradition, long before the filtration process came into use. Coffee is boiled straight away in a briki, a brass pot often decorated with motifs, in order to extract all the nutrients. On the surface, a foam (called kaimaki) forms, which makes the coffee creamy, and rounds off its strong taste. This is also how to gauge how good the coffee is: The more foam there is, the better. Once the foam spills over the top of the pot, the coffee is ready to be served.