Coffee is one of those things we can be really passionate about. Like for wine or chocolate, there are places around the world where coffee lovers can find history, tradition and a brew beyond compare. If you want to go on a pilgrimage in homage to a cup of Joe, here’s where to go:
Legend has it that Sultan Suleiman, the notorious Ottoman leader, was instantly hooked when he sipped his first cup of coffee in 1543. He ordered his servants to perfect the brewing process. Thus, Turkey invented the slowly boiled coffee bean in a cezve (pot), which is still served up with plenty of sugar to this day (Suleiman had a sweet tooth, apparently). Before long, the entire nation was addicted and the first coffee house opened its doors in Istanbul's Tahtakale district. The scent of freshly brewed coffee still dominates this neighborhood today, thanks to numerous coffee houses where locals like to sit and chat over a short coffee and a cube of sickly-sweet Turkish delight. Istanbul might not rank high on the list of pilgrimages for coffee lovers, but its place in coffee's history should make it a port of call for all avid coffee fans.
Coffee historians believe the all important bean originated in southern Sudan, but Ethiopia continues to claim the credit for inventing the brew. The first domesticated coffee plants were harvested around the ancient walled city of Harar. The city still cultivates a diverse range of coffee flavors to this day, offering plenty of scope for coffee-drinking pilgrimages among its narrow alleyways, where numerous cafés sell the same coffee beans poet and good-time boy Arthur Rimbaud used to export in his troubled final years. Local custom has it that beans must be first roasted then passed around to draw in their aroma, then ground with spices, before finally being allowed to brew in a jebena, a traditional serving jug. Enjoy an Ethiopian style macchiato, where an espresso is added to a quantity of milk, rather than the other way round as the Italian's serve it.
Any pilgrimages coffee lovers make should include the superior Caffè Florian, which has overlooked the naughty comings and goings of St Mark's Square residents in Venice since 1720. Last renovated in 1859, this is Italy's oldest coffee house, the actual and spiritual home of the Italian espresso. Milan may have the best espresso bars, but for a real slice of tradition you'll have to experience your first Italian espresso at the Florian, where Casanova sat and dreamed of women, while numerous 18th century artists argued over the price of paint.
Serving as Australia's artiest, trendiest city, Melbourne was the first Aussie place to launch the specialist coffee shop. The capital of Victoria was the first place to follow the single-origin-bean fad, hiring highly skilled baristas and introducing creative brewing methods to astonished Melbournites. The city now has more than 50 specialist coffee houses, hosts the International Coffee Expo and has world-renowned coffee credentials that include the Flat White, even if New Zealand disputes that the invention of the brew took place in 1970s Melbourne.
According to legend, Turkish invaders fleeing Vienna in 1683 left several sacks of coffee behind. A soldier found them, opened the city's first coffee house and thousands of gallons later, Vienna's elegant Kaffeehäuser (coffee houses) became central to the city's social and artistic life. Here composers like Mozart and Beethoven would play in the evening, writers like Stefan Zweig and Karl Kraus would tear their hair out over marble worktops and complain bitterly about writer's block while stuffing their faces with Apfelstrudel. For a taste of old Vienna, try Melanges, an espresso topped with whipped cream at Café Landtmann or Leon Trotsky’s favorite Café Griensteidl.
No self-respecting planner of pilgrimages for coffee lovers would dream of leaving out Paris, the City of Lights, Lovers and Literature, not to mention inevitable offers of cafés au lait, those giant cups of milky coffee the French guzzle in the morning with their croissants. Follow the caffeine-soaked footsteps of literary giants like Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway and Jean-Paul Sartre and you'll arrive at the Café les Deux Magots or its eternal rival, Café de Flore. For some real historic and literary ambience, go to the French capital's oldest café, Le Procope, where Rousseau, Voltaire and Robespierre helped shape modern Europe and many enlightened ideas coffee-sipping gals take for granted these days.
Many people have strong feelings about Starbucks – they either love or hate it. Whatever your personal opinion, it can’t be denied that the company changed the way we drink coffee. Starbucks started a coffee revolution, both in how we want to drink our coffee (move over instant) and where (enter coffee cafes). They lit up the world with their specialty roasts, new drinks like frappuccino and started introducing us to added flavorings (I’m still a sucker for the gingerbread latte in the winter!). Sadly, the original Starbucks no longer exists, but no self-respecting coffee lover should pass up the opportunity to visit the flagship store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
Let’s talk coffee: how do you take yours?