21 of the world's best cities for coffee lovers
One of the keys to being a successful LazyTripper is making sure we have enough caffeine to get us through our adventures. Our favourite way to do that is with a strong cup of coffee. Drinking coffee in a foreign land is not only energizing, it's also a great way to sample the culture and to experience their daily life. After all, what's the point of travelling if you don't immerse yourself in the destination?
So, behold: our picks for the world's 21 best coffee cities (in no particular order). We've included a mix of traditionalists and innovators, purists and experimentalists, each with their own take on what makes coffee great. While they're all unique, there is one thing these places all share, and that is the idea that coffee creates community. We couldn't agree more.
1. Helsinki, Finland
Finland is the world leader when it comes to coffee consumption, with each Finn drinking an estimated 12kg of coffee - or "kahvi," in Finnish - every year (!!). That's more than double the amount that Italians drink. Blame it on the dark and dreary winters?
Historically it's been more about quantity than quality here, but a recent spate of third-wave coffee shop launches has officially put Helsinki on the specialty coffee map. Expect lots of cozy cafes built in that classic minimalist Scandi style, with groups of Finns dipping their pastries into hot cups of light-roasted coffee. Whether you're visiting the capital city Helsinki or a smaller town in the forest or on a lake, you're sure to find a cafe serving up high-quality java.
2. London, England
Thanks to the UK's long-standing infatuation (read: obsession) with tea, coffee culture was somewhat slow to catch on in London. But the past decade or so has seen a huge increase in cafes and coffee-drinking. This boom is due in part to the influence of American TV programmes like Seinfeld and Friends, but it's also a result of our increasingly digital lifestyle, which has turned cafes into workplaces for millions of freelancers.
London also supposedly introduced Europe to the Flat White, an espresso-based coffee drink made with steamed milk that's been popular in Australia and New Zealand for years. If you need any more proof of London's coffee fixation, join the 7,000-plus visitors and baristas who attend the massive London Coffee Festival each year.
3. Rome, Italy
The Italians take their coffee very seriously, especially in the capital Rome. That's why most of our coffee lingo (latte, macchiato, cappuccino) comes from Italy. But while the names for these drinks may sound familiar, the way Italians drink their coffee is unique and particular - one might even say ritualistic.
Case in point: when you're visiting Rome, never order your coffee to take away; there's pretty much no such thing there. Enjoying a cappuccino is perfectly fine - just never after lunch or on a full stomach. And don't expect to sit down while you drink; the most popular way to consume coffee is standing up at the cafe bar.
Got all that down? Good. Now head to the centro storico and get ready to sample some of the best and most painstakingly prepared brews you've ever had.
4. Sao Paulo, Brazil
Brazil is the largest grower and exporter of coffee in the whole world, so it's no surprise that coffee plays a huge role in life here. That couldn't be truer than in Sao Paulo, which is full to the brim with artisan coffee shops, outdoor terraces and streetside cafes serving up delicious cups of joe.
While fancy specialty drinks have caught on somewhat in Sao Paulo, the most popular coffee is still the classic Cafezinho, a tiny cup of very hot filtered coffee with an ample amount of sugar added in.
5. Oslo, Norway
It's no secret that Scandi countries positively adore coffee, and Norway is no different. In fact, Norway is the second most avid coffee-drinking country in the world after Finland. Oslo in particular appreciates a good cup of joe, with a preference for light roasts that bring out the coffee's natural aroma.
Daily coffee breaks are practically mandatory in Norway, but unlike cafes in London and New York, coffee shops in Oslo are a place for community rather than computers. Instead of freelancers blogging away while sipping at their lattes, you'll see Norwegians relaxing into sofas as they read the newspaper or talk with friends. Just check out Fuglen (also known as The Bird thanks to its distinctive emblem), an immensely popular coffee house that turns into a cocktail bar after hours.
6. Portland, Oregon
Most people would choose to include Seattle, the birthplace of Starbucks, on their list of coffee capitals, but we're foregoing it for the more diverse and (in our opinion) more creative Portland, Oregon. Known as a socially conscious city dominated by "yipsters" (yuppie-hipsters), Portland has a deeply ingrained coffee culture dominated by small-batch brews and sustainably sourced beans.
But it's not just the origins of coffee that matter to Portland - it's also the taste, the smell, and the overall feeling it creates. Visit one of the hundreds of independent coffee shops in the city centre to see what we mean (you can even go on a guided Third Wave Coffee Tour to all the favourite local hotspots).
7. Taipei, Taiwan
Bubble tea may come to mind more easily than coffee when you think of Taiwan, but there's a booming coffee scene in capital city Taipei that's definitely worth investigating. Ever since Japan introduced coffee to the region 50 or 60 years ago, throngs of indie cafes have opened up in Taipei, offering locals and visitors an eclectic selection of hot and cold brews. It's not uncommon for beans to be roasted onsite, and Taiwanese baristas are seen as some of the most skilled in the world.
Presentation is key here, and you can expect to see animals and smiley faces adorning your coffee in the form of intricate latte foam art. And if you're in the mood for cuddles, head to the Shilin District to seek out Cafe Dogs and Cats, the world's first-ever cat cafe.
8. Vienna, Austria
Coffee houses are to Vienna what pubs are to England: an institution that's inextricably linked to the locals' way of life. If you're spending a few days in Vienna, these are the best places to get a feel for the culture. The first Viennese Coffeehouse (or Kaffeehaus) opened way back in the 1680s, paving the way for the hundreds of establishments that dot the city today. Back then, these grand old cafes were reserved for esteemed gentlemen and politicians who'd play chess and philosophise over a cup of joe. But today, they're open to any and all people in Vienna.
That's not to say Viennese coffee houses haven't retained their leisurely, unhurried vibe. According to the Austrian inventory of the National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a Viennese coffeehouse is a place "where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill." Indeed.
9. Hanoi, Vietnam
Much of the world's coffee is grown in Vietnam (it's the second biggest producer after Brazil), but you may not know that the Vietnamese have a strong coffee consuming culture, too. The capital city of Hanoi is home to an appealing mix of modern cafes and traditional streetside joints serving up freshly brewed java.
While you'll see everyday Americanos and Lattes on the menus here, you'll also find that the Vietnamese get very creative with their coffee drinks, flavouring them with everything from egg yolks to yogurt and even bananas and avocados!
Our favourite version, though, is the traditional Vietnamese iced coffee, finished off with a healthy dose of sweetened condensed milk. To find one, have a wander down Trieu Viet Vuong street in Hanoi, a stretch known as "Coffee Street" thanks to the high number of cafes per block.
10. Penang, Malaysia
Like many countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia has jumped on the specialty coffee bandwagon recently, championing innovative brewing techniques and single-origin beans. Yet the traditional methods of preparing and drinking coffee still hold strong in Penang, where the thick and aromatic Kopi O coffee reigns supreme.
Coffee beans in Malaysia are typically roasted with sugar, butter and oil, giving the drink a thick consistency and a rich, somewhat salty, taste. It's generally served with lashings of condensed milk, turning the drink into a veritable sugar-and-caffeine double whammy. Yee-haw!
11. Istanbul, Turkey
Just like the city itself, the coffee scene in Istanbul is a luscious mix of European, Greek and Armenian cultures. Traditional Turkish coffee is ground very finely, boiled with water (and sometimes sugar, depending on your preference) and served in a small copper pot called a cezve. To give you an idea of how people like their coffee here, a popular Turkish proverb states: "Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love."
In Turkey, coffee isn't just for socialising and getting your caffeine kick; it also plays a large role in ceremonial rituals. According to traditional Turkish pre-wedding customs, the groom's parents pay a visit to the bride's family to ask them for their blessings. During the meeting, the bride-to-be is in charge of making Turkish coffee for everyone, preparing it with sugar for everyone apart from the groom. His is served with a spoonful of salt. Gross, right? But the theory goes, if he gulps it down without a grimace, it's proof of his manliness, patience and suitability as a husband.
Coffee cups are also used for fortune telling in Turkey. Once the cup is empty, it's turned upside down onto the saucer and lifted up so the grounds run down the side of the cup. A fortune teller will then look at the patterns made by the grounds to determine the coffee drinker's fortune.
12. Reykjavik, Iceland
For a small capital city, Reykjavik has a surprisingly large number of cafes and coffee shops. But one thing you'll notice here is a sheer lack of chains and big brands. Don't expect to see any Starbucks or Costa Coffees in Reykjavik - it's all about independently owned and family-run institutions. Hallelujah!
Like many Nordic countries, Iceland's bond with coffee is deep-rooted; each Icelander drinks 9kg of the stuff on average per year. They also have special words designated for coffees consumed at various times of the day (morgunkaffi is a coffee had in the morning, while kvoldkaffi is one enjoyed at night). Thanks to the small community of baristas in Reykjavik who compete with each other over the quality of their coffees, you can expect a high standard in each and every cafe. Many of them also offer free refills!
One type of coffee you're not likely to see much of in Reykjavik though? Decaf.
13. Melbourne, Australia
If you consider yourself a coffee aficionado, you might be aware of the massive feud between Australia and New Zealand over who actually invented the Flat White. We won't weigh in on that one… but we will say that the coffee scene in Melbourne is one of the best in the world and that they really love their coffee. A lot.
Melburnians are some of the world leaders in specialty coffee, having mastered buzzworthy techniques like batch brews and pour-overs. More importantly, though, there are literally countless independent cafes all around the city, all of which are graced by a friendly atmosphere and that mouth-watering aroma we all know and love.
14. Seoul, South Korea
Bet you weren't expecting this one! Seoul may not have a reputation as of one of the world's coffee capitals, but it definitely deserves a spot on our list, for several reasons. First of all, the capital of South Korea has the highest number of Q graders (people who are certified to say whether a coffee is specialty or non-specialty) of anywhere. Second, Seoul is home to so many cafes, it's hard to keep count (Seoul has more coffee shops per capita than Seattle or San Francisco), with many of them trying out innovative brewing methods and flavours you won't find anywhere else.
Unlike the US and UK, Seoul cafes tend to open up in the late morning or early afternoon, keeping their doors open until the evening. Venture to the hip Yeonnam-dong neighbourhood to find the city's best quirky cafes and indie markets.
15. Lisbon, Portugal
Back in the day, the Portuguese played a vital role in coffee's expansion and distribution around the world, with the Portuguese colonists bringing the coffee bean to Brazil in the 18th century. These days, there's no better way to wash down a sweet pastel de nata than with a hot cup of freshly brewed joe.
In the morning, locals tend to start off with a galão (espresso with steamed milk), before moving onto a garoto (espresso with milk foam), and then a bica straight-up espresso) after lunch.
To get the authentic experience in Lisbon, sidle up to one of the many vintage-looking quiosques (kiosks) around the city and enjoy your coffee al fresco.
16. New York City, USA
According to some estimates, there are more cafes than parking spaces in downtown Manhattan. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that they serve good coffee... But the prominent coffee culture in New York is indeed undeniable. Maybe it's the rapid pace of life here that requires that extra caffeine buzz to keep it up. Or maybe it was the Italian immigrants who brought their homegrown coffee culture to the States.
However it came to be, New York City's coffee culture is part of the social fabric. Popular drinks tend to vary according to the season, probably because the city has such extreme temperature changes. In summer, expect to see legions of commuters toting iced coffees around the city. And autumn is the official season of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (or PSL for those in the know), a sickly sweet drink sold in Starbucks and other coffee shops. If you ask us, we prefer a good old-fashioned Americano.
17. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopia is (arguably) the ancient birthplace of Arabic and Robusta coffee, so obviously there's no shortage of the stuff in the capital city of Addis Ababa. In many cafes, like the mega popular TO.MO.CA, aka Tomoca, chain, you'll be able to take home a fresh bag of beans along with your cuppa.
Coffee in Addis Ababa is typically roasted by hand and brewed in a traditional jebena clay pot. You'll find tonnes of hole-in-the-wall vendors along the city streets serving up coffee for a very low price (we're talking about 20p per cup).
18. Havana, Cuba
Coffee farms in eastern Cuba's Sierra Maestre Mountains produce some of the finest Arabica in the world, so if you need yet another reason to visit Havana before it becomes overrun by international tourism, go for the coffee. The people who live in Cuba's capital are immensely proud of their vibrant coffee culture and happy to share it with visitors.
Expect to see traditional brewing techniques throughout Havana, with coffee made from beans roasted onsite. And if you visit Cubans at home, you'll see that families celebrate important life events with coffee brewed in their Moka Pot.
19. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Sometimes called the "Venice of the North," Amsterdam certainly lives up to its Italian counterpart when it comes to the coffee culture - and no, we're not talking about those coffee shops.
In Amsterdam, big pots of filter coffee are brewed at home, and locals enjoy black coffee throughout the day - usually alongside some kind of sweet treat. Many of the newer cafes are inspired by Aussie coffee culture, with flat whites becoming ever more popular. Head to Scandinavian Embassy on Sarphatipark for delicious brews and home-made treats. They also offer barista classes where you can learn espresso brewing and manual brewing.
20. Stockholm, Sweden
Coffee is so integral to life in Sweden that the concept of a coffee break has its own special word: Fika (pronounced "fee-kah"), which can be used as both a noun and a verb. Fika is something like the English concept of afternoon tea, and similarly, it's often accompanied by treats or snacks. Unlike its British counterpart, however, fika is a (practically) mandatory break taken by Swedish companies and residents twice daily.
As in so many countries with a strong coffee culture, the coffee break in Sweden is not just about loading up on caffeine; it's about community and taking the opportunity to spend time with colleagues and loved ones. It's also about food… specifically, sweet food. According to some estimates, Swedes consume the equivalent of 316 cinnamon buns per year. No wonder they're so sweet-ish! (Couldn't help ourselves).
21. Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington prides itself on being artsy and independent, qualities that are most certainly reflected in its coffee culture. Hundreds of quirky, independently owned cafes and roasteries compete to make the finest (read: strongest) brew in this city, with special attention paid to the sourcing and sustainability of the coffee beans. When we say the coffee's strong, we mean it: drinks are normally double-shot and you'll have to specify if you want just a single.
As we said before, there's a fierce debate going on over whether New Zealand or Australia first pioneered the flat white… Of course, Kiwis will staunchly maintain it was them! Competitions aside, though, you definitely won't struggle to find a delicious cup of java in Wellington. But leave the laptop at home - free wifi is not usually offered in cafes here.
Did we forget an important city? Or have you got a bone to pick with our choices? Feel free to get in touch - we'd love to hear from you!