To any coffee obsessed traveler, there’s nothing more rewarding than sitting at a local café — in some far-flung corner of the globe — and enjoying a cup of coffee whilst people watching. There are some coffee experiences, all over the world, that are bona fide travel highlights in their own right. Keen to take your taste buds along for an unforgettable ride? Then you’d be well advised to add the following to your must-drink list.
From the smooth taste of an Italian ice cream coffee to the long and laborious Ethiopian coffee ceremony and some seriously questionable drops in Vietnam, Indonesia and Senegal, the world’s most unique coffee experiences are guaranteed to make you, and your taste buds, stand up to attention.
Italy is one of those countries where it’s literally impossible to have a bad coffee. You can order the wrong coffee, mind you (ordering a cappuccino after 11am is a cultural faux-pas bar none) but never a bad one. Long considered the world’s original and best coffee mecca, Italy boasts an extensive list of coffee options, including the ubiquitous short black (espresso), with a dash of liquor (caffé corretto) or with a splash of hot milk (macchiato). Our favorite coffee of all, however, would have to be the affogato, which is a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla gelato. On a hot summer’s day, and after spending hours on end wandering among millennia-old ruins, a sublimely creamy affogato is like a drink sent from the heavens.
In Ethiopia, drinking coffee it isn’t something you do in an absentminded hurry. This gorgeous African country — the birthplace of coffee — may indeed boast the most elaborate coffee ceremony in the world. Recognized as an intangible treasure of the local culture, the renowned Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a very social event, one that requires an audience and a lot of patience. The event can take hours from beginning to end and is preceded by a young woman dressed in traditional costume, who’ll wash the raw green coffee beans and roast them in a pan over an open fire, right in front of you. Once blackened, the beans are crushed by hand using a mortar and pestle, and the powder boiled with water in a heavy-based clay pot called a jebena. The resulting liquid is passed through a sieve several times before being finally served to expecting guests. Coffee is poured in small intricately hand-painted cups, and each participant is expected to drink three cups. Interestingly enough, coffee in Ethiopia is usually served alongside crunchy popcorn.
Cà Phê Trứng – Vietnam
Firmly in the ‘What the…?’ category of unique coffee experiences, the Vietnamese egg-coffee rates as one of the most unusual blends you could try in all of Southeast Asia. Cà Phê Trứng is a traditional coffee prepared with condensed milk, sugar, and beaten egg yolks, and although this may sound odd at first, you’ll be surprised just how deliciously smooth and rich the taste really is.
In the preparation of this coffee, the egg yolks are beaten vigorously with the condensed milk and sugar, creating a fluffy cream that’s not unlike custard. The cream is then dolloped in a glass and a shot of unsweetened coffee poured over it. Due to the density of the cream, the coffee tends to settle at the bottom, so every sip delivers a mouthful of silky cream mixed with strong coffee. As an after-meal drink, Cà Phê Trứng is simply superb, especially if you’re craving a sweet treat. Cà Phê Trứng was invented in Hanoi in the 1940s and although this variant is nowadays found all over Vietnam, it is still best enjoyed in the country’s capital where you’ll find quite a number of dedicated egg-coffee shops.
Mazagran – Portugal
Originally from northern Africa, Mazagran is a cold coffee and lemon drink that seems to be taking over most of Western Europe. Legend has it that members of the French Foreign Legion stationed at the Mazagran Fortress in Algeria in the 1840s brought home an impromptu coffee concoction they created, using lemon juice, sugar, ice cubes and rum. Not long after, a few Parisian cafés started serving the refreshingly unique beverage, minus the alcohol. Fast forward a century and a half and it’s next door, in Portugal, where you’ll find Mazagran served and marketed as an iced coffee lemonade, sometimes with the addition of sparkling iced water for added bubbles.
Café Touba – Senegal
Need a serious coffee hit to wake up in the morning? Then a shot of Senegalese café touba may be just the morning drink you need. Prepared with a generous serving of freshly ground Guinea black pepper, which is roasted alongside the coffee beans, café touba is swiftly becoming the drink of choice throughout all of Western Africa. It’s become so popular that Nestle reacted to a drastic decrease in the amount of Nescafe sold there by creating and marketing a ‘spiced coffee’ instant blend in the region.
To prepare a café touba, the coffee beans are roasted alongside a specific type of African black pepper (called djar). The powder mix is then boiled, sweetened, and filtered. In Dakar, you’ll come across a multitude of touba stands and although we urge you to try a cup of the intense, sweet and spicy brew, we also urge you to have a bottle of water at the ready. That first sip can be quite breathtaking! Said to have wonderful medicinal properties, touba is part and parcel of Senegalese culture nowadays and you just can’t visit without trying it at least once.
Kopi Luwak – Indonesia
Widely reputed to be the most expensive (and questionable) coffee in the world, kopi Luwak is made using coffee beans which have been eaten, digested and secreted by Asian civet cats, known as Luwaks in Indonesia.
The production of the world-renowned Luwak coffee started in Indonesia in the colonial 1800s when local Indonesians were forbidden from consuming the coffee beans they farmed because all had to be exported to Europe. In their coffee-withdrawal desperation (OK, we all get that!) local farmers resorted to collecting partially-digested coffee seeds which had been eaten and secreted by civets. Soon enough, the Dutch farmers came to taste and enjoy this special brew and the rest, as they say, is coffee history.
Civets love the pulpy flesh inside coffee beans and the seeds pass through their digestive system untouched. Proponents say the digestion process adds a unique taste to the coffee, yet critics say any roasting would surely rid the seeds of that. Instead, it is claimed that the smooth taste of a good cup of Luwak coffee is simply due to the civet’s propensity for only picking the best and juiciest coffee berries in the first place. In Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, Luwak coffee has a dubious reputation. The novelty factor alone would certainly make it worth a try, yet nowadays unscrupulous farming practices in the region – which see civets kept in deplorable caging conditions and force-fed coffee beans – make it difficult to pinpoint an authentic coffee made from beans collected in the wild. Still, as far as crazy coffee experiences go, a cup made from beans pooped out by a wild cat rates right up there among the most unique coffee experiences in the world.