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Travel: Ordering Your Coffee Around the World

From its humble discovery by a goat herder in Kaffa, Ethiopia, to its popularization in Yemen, where it got its start as a brewed beverage, coffee has become the most celebrated social drink on the planet. Whether you prefer a simple cup of strong black coffee, a diary-infused local specialty, or a spiced creation, coffee drinkers around the world have their own favorite way of indulging in this ancient caffeinated beverage. So, if you want to fit in like a local on your next trip abroad, here are some great tips on how to order your coffee around the world.

Ethiopia – Bunna

If you are sitting at a café on Bole Road in Addis Ababa, you may be asked to participate in a centuries-old ritual — the Ethiopian coffee ceremony that nearly every village practices. Bunna is an Amharic word for coffee and the ritual to honor this celebrated beverage takes on an almost religious aura. It involves roasting coffee beans and preparing boiled coffee in a vessel called a jebena and sharing it with a group of friends. Your host will feel honored to prepare you a cup of traditional Ethiopian coffee. We hope you have a sweet tooth because copious amounts of sugar are included.

Italy – Espresso

Even though espresso (a small but strong shot of black coffee) is the drink of choice for many Italians, the time of day defines the type of coffee that many Italians choose. If you’re out for breakfast in Milan, order a cappuccino (equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk) and you will fit right in. If you need a pick-me-up after a day of shopping in Rome, relax with a caffè macchiato (an espresso “marked” with a splash of frothy milk). After dinner in Venice, you will likely end your day with an espresso. If you really want to blend in, don’t ask for a to-go cup or order a cappuccino after 11 in the morning. Coffee in Italy is also a regional thing. Try to do some research or discretely listen to locals as they order their coffee at the café.

France – Café au lait

French bistros serve up some of the world’s best coffee. To get in on their secret, make sure you know what to order while standing in line at a trendy café in Paris. Their beverage of choice is a mellow offering known as café au lait—equal parts steamed milk and strong hot coffee. Like the Italians, the French link their coffee choices to the time of day. They will take a café au lait at breakfast, but not after lunch or dinner. Those times are reserved for un café (small cup of strong black coffee with nothing added, brewed like an espresso). Where should you drink your coffee while in France? If you’re in a hurry, order your café au lait at the bar with the locals. If you want a leisurely stay at a café, you will pay for it. Prices are much higher for table service but may be worth it if you want to take in the sights and sounds of the street-life of France.

Mexico – Cafe de Olla

Café de Olla (literally means a pot of coffee) is the traditional coffee drink of Mexico. The distinct flavor of this coffee comes from brewing café de olla in a traditional earthen clay pot. In Mexico, this special drink is made with ground coffee, cinnamon, and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar). Sometimes, clove and orange peel are included, based on where you happen to be drinking the coffee. You can find it on the menu in Mexico City, but locals usually drink this type of coffee in cold climates and in rural areas.

Cuba – Caf Cubano

If you get a chance to visit Havana, make sure to order caf Cubano after dinner. Don’t get too comfortable and think you are going to savor the coffee, because, Cubans drink caf Cubano like they drink their tequila—by the shot. This local version is extremely strong and is not meant to be sipped. So, after you’ve enjoyed your meal of ropa vieja and lit your Bolivar Cuban cigar, enjoy a couple of shots of caf Cubano, served in a tacita (small cup).

Turkey – Kahvesi

They say that there is a Turkish proverb that says coffee should be “black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.” Turkish coffee is very finely ground (almost like cocoa powder) and brewed in little pots called cezves. The aroma will take your breath away because Turkish coffee is usually spiced with cardamom, chicory or coriander. Don’t ask for milk or you will be spotted as a tourist right away. It is ok to ask for a little extra sugar, but you may not need it—the coffee is brewed sweetened.


Elizabeth Delphin
Elizabeth Delphin loves a good time! A fun concert, a good dinner out with friends, those weird artsy-fartsy festivals. If she's not at the office or at home, she's likely walking her dog Milo at Runyon Canyon (seriously, sometimes she goes 2-3 times a day).
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