Coffee Culture Around the World
A deep dive into understanding the coffee culture around the world can open our minds to how this complex yet simple beverage has become a part of ritual-like ceremonies, intriguing traditions, and a symbol of communal gathering.
In this edition, we will explore coffee cultures from 4 countries, starting with:
There is an old Turkish proverb that truly reflects the intense passion people have for Turkish coffee – “Coffee should be as black as hell, strong as death and sweet as love”. This undying love for Turkish coffee spanning over five centuries has led to its recognition by UNESCO in 2013 as an intangible part of the world’s cultural heritage.
To prepare an authentic cup of Turkish coffee, cold water is first poured into a cezve (a heavy-base coffee pot with a handle), followed by adding pre-ground coffee and placing the cezve on burning charcoal to brew slowly. Frequent checks on water level and making sure the coffee doesn’t sink to the bottom is crucial as the froth layer brims to the top. Sugar is optional and milk is not.
Turkish coffee is drunk as is with a glass of water on the side to refresh one’s palette before the first sip. It’s important to let the coffee rest once poured; allowing the sediment to settle at the bottom. There should be a thick layer of froth at the top, allowing for a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. Finally, as the coffee flavor is intense, it is customary to pair it with something sweet – like Turkish delight or baklava.
Today Scandinavian countries are among those that consume the most coffee in the world. While there are many reasons for this, one of them is due to the rise in alcohol taxes in the mid-1800s resulting larger coffee production and lower coffee costs. At the time churches would serve coffee with a slice of cake after every service. Since then coffee has been part of traditional Scandinavian gatherings; both formal and informal.
In Sweden, they have a tradition of setting aside quality time for drinking a cup of coffee slowly called ‘Fika’. The idea is to ‘press pause’ on life and stress while enjoying the moment. A Fika could be had outside among nature, at a coffee shop or at home; but it always involves something sweet (like a cinnamon bun) and sometimes a friend to talk to. Workplaces, universities, and other establishments have set Fika breaks to help encourage self-care and restoration.
As for the coffee itself, it’s bold and strong featuring ground Arabica beans brewed in a drip machine and is drank black or with a touch of milk. The average Swede drinks 4 cups of coffee a day, which may also be one of the reasons why the Scandinavian countries have a significant percentage of happy people.
Centuries ago, Vietnam was ruled by the French who introduced coffee into the country in order to cater to their love and demand for the crop. Today Vietnam produces about 40% of the world’s Robusta supply owing to its weather and soil conditions which are perfect for Robusta cultivation.
Vietnamese coffee is made with signature dark-roasted Robusta beans in a very slow drip press. The strong and bold flavor of the coffee is beautifully balanced with the sweet, rich flavor of condensed milk.
Why condensed milk? Well, the French traditionally used fresh milk in their coffee. However, in the 19th century, it was difficult to get a steady supply of fresh milk in Vietnam. Therefore they decided to use milk that had a longer shelf-life. Condensed milk has since become a signature part of Vietnamese coffee whether you drink it hot or cold.
For those who don’t like sweet coffee, it’s worth pointing out that Vietnamese coffee is so intense and flavorful that it can endure this sweetness without losing its bold coffee flavor.
Considered the birthplace of the coffee plant, this country, and its people have a much deeper, sometimes spiritual relationship and affinity for coffee unlike any other community in the world. Legend has it that many centuries ago Kaldi a goat herder was herding his goats near a monastery one day when he noticed his goats behaving strangely after eating red berries from a shrub. The goats had so much energy that they were practically dancing on their hind legs. A bewildered Kaldi tried the berries himself and felt energized.
He had to share the news of the ‘heaven sent’ berries with the monks at the monastery who ridiculed him, through the berries in the fire saying they were ‘devil’s work’. The aroma from the roasting beans forced the monks to take the beans out, crush the glowing embers and pour hot water to preserve them. The monks smelled the brewed coffee eventually and began to try it out. They realized it kept them awake during their prayers and spiritual devotions and vowed to consume it during their daily rituals.
Much like ‘high tea’ in England or the Japanese tea ceremony, Ethiopia has its own celebrated coffee ceremony that spans hours and happens up to three times a day. The ceremony is a part of daily life and involves family, friends, and guests coming over for conversation and company. Performed usually by women, the ceremony begins with the hostess ‘setting the stage’ with grass and flowers while burning incense. She then proceeds to roast the coffee beans over an open fire while the guests are invited to come close and smell the rich aroma. This is followed by grinding the beans with a pestle and mortar and adding the grounds to a jebena (Ethiopian coffee pot) containing boiling water. Once brewed to her satisfaction, the coffee is poured from high the air gracefully into serving cups for the guests so that the grounds remain in the pot. The coffee is served with sugar or salt in certain regions, along with added flavors like cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves.
The ceremony ends with the guests complimenting the hostess on her coffee-making skills, on the coffee itself, and lingering around for some more conversation.
Stay tuned for more interesting stories and articles!
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