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the cultural relevance of coffee around the globe

Few beverages are as versatile as the much-beloved cup of coffee. From the ritualistic, fresh-brew at dawn, to a quick catch-up with friends or co-workers, coffee has become something of a staple for many of us.

Part of its appeal is the ability to customize how we take our coffee, with many choosing a classic hot coffee with cream and sugar, others adding ice, and some baking it into desserts. These are just some of the countless methods we are used to, but did you know that culture plays a significant role in how people around the world consume coffee? Let’s a take a look at some of these interesting cultural coffee habits!

Cuba

Cuban coffee culture has had a significant impact on the economic growth of the country, with the first Cuban coffee plantations being designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Coffee has become part and parcel of the Cuban identity. It is a social medium, commanding more than quickly grabbing a cup from your local café and heading to your next location. It is shared among friends, family and neighbours as a way to take pause and spend time with one another.

Café Cubano, a popular term outside of Cuba, is not recognized among Cubans. Rather, this is simply known as a traditional espresso, which has been long woven into the fabric of Cuban culture. This dark-roast drink brewed with demerara sugar is enjoyed by both Cubans at home and abroad, especially in Miami, U.S. It is also the base for many other Cuban caffeine favorites, such as Cortadito (espresso and steamed milk), café con leche (coffee and steamed milk) and colado (made in larger batches for sharing.)

Greece

Coffee’s presence in Greece dates back as far as the Ottoman empire and is still an integral part of daily Greek life today. One’s cup of coffee has become as ritualistic as brushing your teeth in the morning for the average Greek. There are two key types of café frequented in Greece, a kafeteria (modern, trendy spots, sometimes becoming bars after hours) and kafeneio (traditional cafés designed as meeting spots for older generations).

A traditional Greek coffee, known as ellinikόs usually served in kafeneio resemble the same served in Turkey and several Arabic countries. This type is boiled in an ibrik (a tin pot) with sugar sometimes added before boiling, and served in a demitasse cup.

The Greek frappe has become a popular choice in recent years. Invented in the 1950s as rival to the ellinikόs, a frappe is blended instant coffee and water, with optional milk and sugar. This is typically served over ice, and is a beloved staple by the carefree Greek coffee addict.

Ethiopia

As Africa’s largest exporter of coffee, as well as being the 5th largest producer in the world, it is no surprise that coffee has become a cultural significance in Ethiopia. In fact, coffee is held in such high esteem that Ethiopians part-take in a traditional coffee ceremony, known as Buna tetu, literally translating to ‘come drink coffee.’ The tradition is shared by families, neighbours, and friends, who gather to bond over a traditional cup of specially prepared coffee.

The preparation of coffee in Ethiopia is handled with care, usually taking upwards of an hour. The person designated to prepare the beans is dressed in traditional clothing known as habesaha semis. The sensory experience of the process is key, with guests inhaling the aromas of the beans during the roasting process. The beans are then brewed and steeped in a jebena, a traditional Ethiopian coffee pot filled with boiling water. The first pour of the coffee is usually reserved to ensure all coffee grind has been eliminated, allowing every guest to part-take in their own cup. The coffee then is served with incense, such as Frankincense and Myrrh, alongside seasonings, such as salt and sugar. The etiquette of the ritual is that guests generally consume three or more cups before the concluding the ceremony.

Vietnam

Coffee lovers will be blown away by the strength of a classic Vietnamese coffee. This method has become more in vogue in recent years, with many Western coffee shops offering it as an option to intrigued customers. This is because Vietnamese coffee is a departure from familiar foamy cappuccinos.

During a 1946 milk shortage, Vietnamese coffee-lovers turned to condensed milk as a substitute. This method has sustained itself as a Vietnamese classic. Bitter robusta coffee is typically prepared in a phin, or a filter, which sits above a glass containing a spoon of condensed milk. This brewing method is known to prepare an especially strong cup of coffee, intended to be sipped and enjoyed over time, rather than tossed back before running to beat rush-hour.

Some interesting additions include egg yolk with condensed milk, creating a tiramisu-like dessert drink. Others that are less available in classic cafés consist of yoghurt, avocado, jelly and Taiwanese-inspired bubble coffee!

Italy

Are the terms Americano, Cappuccino, or Macchiato familiar to you? You can thank Italian coffee culture for that!

Italians are known for their passionate coffee culture. In fact, coffee experts in Italy have mastered the art of coffee to the point where many of their methods are staples on café menus across the world. With the invention of espresso in 1901 by Milanese inventor, Luigi Bezzera, came many of the drinks we are familiar with today. Italy is now recognized as the ‘coffee capital of the world,’ a legacy Italians are exceptionally are proud of with most families owning a Moka pot to prepare strong black coffee from the comfort of their kitchens.

Coffee-addicts who visit Italy will be spoiled for choice with incredible coffee ‘bars’ serving fine Italian coffee made by highly-trained, well respected baristas. However, try to reserve milk-based coffee, such as caffè lattes and cappuccinos for morning times. These drinks are considered ‘too heavy’ to be consumed around lunch and dinner times. Otherwise, Italians enjoy black coffee and espresso around the clock.

Mexico

Mexico is one of the largest organic coffee suppliers worldwide, exporting close to 2.6 million 60kg bags in 2019, sourced mostly from the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. Following its introduction to the country in the 18th century, investment into coffee from smaller independent farmers took some time to work itself into Mexican culture. Today, it has become a beloved staple across all generations.

Coffee orders vary widely based on individual taste, with common methods involving a mixture of espresso and liqueur, or cinnamon and sugar. A carajillo, also popular in Spain and Colombia, is enjoyed with liqueur, such as sweet vanilla Licor 43, served over ice in a short glass. Mexicans usually enjoy a carajillo following a large meal to aid with digestion.

Another popular drink is known as Café de Olla, traditionally prepared in a clay pot for flavor enhancement with a cinnamon stick and piloncillo, a form of raw cane sugar. Some choose to elevate the aromatics with star anise, citrus, and clove.

Ireland

The origin of Irish Coffee is debated among historians. One popular belief is that it was invented in 1942, when chef Joe Sheridan was working at a restaurant at Foynes Port in Limerick, serving as a major civilian airport during the Second World War. One cold, rainy evening, Sheridan experimented with a warming caffeinated concoction of hot coffee and Irish whiskey to give to disgruntled passengers whose flight had been disrupted.

Today, Irish Coffee has become synonymous with special occasions on the Irish calendar, such as Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day. It is available in restaurants and pubs alike, but is less likely to be found in casual Irish cafes. Additionally, restaurants and bars in many countries offer some version of Irish coffee as part of their menu, with the traditional recipe including Irish whiskey, hot coffee or espresso, a spoon or two of sugar, and a topping of cream.

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