The 9 best coffee pilgrimages in the world

Published on: Monday, March 23, 2015

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From the home of coffee to the grandest coffee houses of Europe, we round up the nine best coffee pilgrimages on the planet.

1) Ethiopia

Though coffee is likely to have originated from southern Sudan, Ethiopia is often lauded as the birthplace of the brew. The first domesticated coffee plants were harvested around Harar, an ancient walled city that still cultivates some incredibly diverse coffee flavours.

There are plenty of cafés serving coffee among Harar’s alleyways and brightly painted houses, many peddling the same beans that poetry’s enfant terrible, Arthur Rimbaud, exported during his wild, final years.

Visitors, though, should take part in an Ethiopian coffee ceremony where beans are roasted, passed around to draw in their aroma and ground with spices, before being brewed in a jebena (a traditional serving jug) and enjoyed.

What to drink
Try the Ethiopian-style macchiato which flips the Italian’s version by adding an espresso to a good drop of milk, rather than the other way round.

Where to drink it
Tomoca (Wawel Street, Addis Ababa) is Ethiopia’s longest standing coffee shop. Now with five branches across the city, seek out the original Wawel Street store, which is adorned with vintage Italian grinders.

2) Istanbul, Turkey

When the great Ottoman leader, Sultan Suleiman, was introduced to coffee in 1543, he became instantly hooked and ordered his servants to perfect the brewing method.

That refined process, which slowly boils beans in a cezve (pot) with sugar to taste, soon had a nation hooked when the first coffee house opened its doors in the Tahtakale district of Istanbul in 1515.

Wafts of Turkish coffee still fill Tahtakale’s web of walkways, which bustle and blare with browsers and biscuit sellers. Find a quiet coffeehouse corner, order a short coffee and a cube of Turkish delight, and partake in Turkey’s greatest coffee ritual: good conversation.

What to drink
A Turkish coffee, but only drink it from one side as your fortune can be told from the telve (the remaining coffee grounds).

Where to drink it
Humble little Mandabatmaz (Olivia Gecidi 1A, Beyoglu) claims to serve Turkish coffee so good that even a buffalo wouldn’t sink in the telve.

3) Melbourne, Australia

As Australia’s most arty and à la mode outpost, it’s little wonder that Melbourne was the first city to surf on coffee’s third-wave revolution: the specialist coffee shop.

Coffee heads can argue whether it was the initial artisan coffee city or merely a follower over a good cup of joe, but the capital of Victoria was certainly the first place to embrace single-origin beans, clued-up baristas and innovative brewing methods en mass.

With over 50 specialist coffee houses, the International Coffee Expo and name checks as far as Budapest and New York, Melbourne remains the caffeine capital.

What to drink
Grab yourself a flat white. Though New Zealand argues otherwise, the drink is said to been invented in Melbourne in the 1970s.

Where to drink it
Half of Melbourne serves beans from the Seven Seeds roastery, but the team’s original coffee shop at 114 Berkeley Street serves remarkable brews in their warehouse-like café. Try and drop in for a coffee cupping session.

4) Italy

Among the fluttering pigeons and posing tourists of St Mark’s Square in Venice sits a coffee institution: the exquisitely elegant Caffè Florian. Dating from 1720 (and last updated in 1859), this grandiose coffee house is the oldest in Italy and the home of the Italian espresso.

Start here before heading to Milan, where Italy hides its very best espresso bars. Coffee in Italy is all about tradition, so copy the locals and take your espresso at the bar. Torrefazione Vercelli (Via Francesco Cherubini 2) and Torrefazione Hodeidah (Via Piero della Francesca 8) serve some great brews.

What to drink
An espresso. Italians will usually start with a milky coffee over breakfast, but move onto espressos for the rest of the day.

Where to drink it
Mixing the old with the new, Taglio (Via Vigevano 10) can serve coffee the traditional way and via a siphon, Aeropress or a V60 coffee dripper.

5) Seattle, USA

Love it or hate it, Starbucks changed the way we drank coffee for a generation. Back in the 1970s and 80s, they moved American palates away from instant coffee and enticed them with specialty beans.

Today, it’s an empire with over 6,000 stores across 30 countries, lighting up the world with Frappuccinos, caramel macchiatos and trademark disputes.

While the original store has disappeared, pilgrims make their way to 1912 Pike Place Market, Seattle, which is touted as the ‘first’ Starbucks outlet. Expect coffee sacks hanging from the walls, retro lettering and long queues.

What to drink
A Frappuccino (frozen, flavoured coffee topped with whipped cream), which was invented by Starbucks.

Where to drink it
At the ‘first’ Starbucks (1912 Pike Place Market) coffee house.

6) Vienna, Austria

In 1683, Turkish invaders fleeing Vienna left sacks of coffee behind at the city gates, and a soldier used them to open the city’s first coffee house – or so the tale goes.

Vienna’s elegant kaffeehäuser (coffee houses) grew into the beating heart of the city’s social life as venues for chatting, reading newspapers and enjoying several melanges (an espresso topped with whipped cream).

Writers such as Stefan Zweig and Karl Kraus would scribble upon marble worktops and relax on Thornet chairs, while Mozart and Beethoven would play in the evening. Many great coffee houses still survive today, including Café Central, Café Landtmann and Leon Trotsky’s favourite Café Griensteidl.

What to drink
Slowly sip a melange, an espresso topped with whipped cream, which will be served by an attentive and well-presented waiter.

Where to drink it
Once a haven for great thinkers like Sigmund Freud, Café Central (Herrengasse 14) still holds its majesty with marble pillars, wonderful pastries and a statue of the writer Peter Altenberg.

7) Paris, France

How many cafés au lait (coffees with milk) does it take to fuel a literary legend? To find out, look no further than Paris, where you can caffeinate in the footsteps of Camus, Hemingway and Sartre at Café les Deux Magots and its great rival, de Flore.

Have coffee at the capital’s oldest café, Le Procope, the stylish café that played host to the likes of Rousseau, Voltaire and Robespierre in its heyday. It also lays claim to being the birthplace of the encyclopedia.

If the old-world wonders wear thin, Paris also has a host of excellent third-wave cafés too, including Coutume Café which has a huge collection of coffee contraptions to admire.

What to drink
Un café, a small but strong black coffee, which locals usually take at the bar.

Where to drink it
Try and get an outside seat at Café les Deux Magots (6 place Saint-Germain des Prés), where there is shade beneath trees, parasols and the heavy weight of literature history.

8) The Coffee Triangle, Colombia

Left out in the fridge for far too long, the coffee revolution in Colombia is now starting to brew rather nicely. As one of highest quality coffee producers in the world, it’s a travesty that the country has been exporting its best beans, leaving locals to drink watery, over-sweetened coffee known as tinto.

But that is slowly starting to change and trips to the ‘Coffee Triangle’ (the prolific coffee-growing areas of Caldas, Quindío and Risaralda) come with an opportunity to try some incredible brews directly from the source.

Visitors can roast their own beans at Sazagua Hotel Boutique in Risaralda or learn about traditional harvesting and brewing techniques at the Colombian National Coffee Park.

What to drink
Fresh, black coffee.

Where to drink it
Café Jesús Martín (Carrera 6A No 6-14) in Salento is more than a coffee shop. This chic café, with colonial design touches, is the best for miles and it also organises coffee tours.

9) Cuba

Despite producing some of the finest Arabica beans in the world, trade embargos and nationalisation have stunted Cuban coffee production for decades.

Cuban beans were still so sought after in the US that blends were created to mimic their flavour, but a trade embargo meant that any ‘Cuban Coffee’ found on the menu is very unlikely to have ever come from the island.

Now, with travel restrictions loosened, coffee aficionados are slowly enjoying the best nectar the island has to offer – particularly in its Cortadito and Café Cubano form.

What to drink
Similar to an Italian espresso, the Café Cubano has sugar added to it during the brewing process.

Where to drink it
Dulceria Bianchini (Calle Sol 12) is a tiny red café that excels in excellent coffee and truly wonderful homemade cakes.