Coffee Talk: How to Order Coffee Around the World

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Yelena Bryksenkova)

Wherever in the world you’re traveling, cafés — old, majestic ones that illuminate nostalgic interiors and minimalist Fair Trade shrines where baristas explain the differences between their Kenyan and Rwandan roasts — are the backbone of a great trip. Prime people-watching is always a draw, but so is the chance to delve deeper into a country’s culture by savoring the coffee specialties (and irresistible desserts) beloved by locals.

Here’s what a coffee break looks like in 18 different countries around the world.

Australia and New Zealand

What to order: Flat white

This Down Under phenomenon has become so intertwined with café culture since its circa-1970s or ’80s origins that it now even graces the menu of Starbucks. But what exactly is this not-quite-a-cappuccino, not-quite-a-latte beverage?

A clear-cut description invites abundant quibbling (as does the question of whether it was invented in Australia or New Zealand), although many would agree that a flat white entails the following: steamed milk folded into a double shot of espresso (caffeine junkies, rejoice) and capped off with a thin, velvety, barely-can-tell-it’s-a-layer of micro-foam.

Less creamy than its more familiar cousins, it’s the ideal companion to that other a.m. Aussie sensation: avocado toast.


What to order: Einspänner

If you find yourself sitting in a gilded Viennese café, there are numerous coffee concoctions to wash down that slice of must-do Sacher torte. One of the most popular, no matter the time of day, is the Wiener Melange. Served in a large cup, it pairs a shot of espresso — Julius Meinl is one of the country’s most well-known brands — with steamed milk and a light blanket of foam.

But might I suggest something slightly more decadent? If you’re too full for yet another slab of apfelstrudel, the hot-and-cold Einspänner is a fitting liquid alternative to dessert. Named for the one-horse carriage that glided through the streets of 19th-century Vienna, this double espresso is stretched with water, topped with whipped cream, and elegantly sipped from a glass with a handle.


What to order: Cafezinho

Brazil’s single-origin beans are known for eliciting big flavor: Think full-bodied brews with sweet, chocolate notes. In other words, a little goes a long way — which is why you’ll notice locals holding tiny cups filled with an intense but sweet shot of coffee.

This is the cafezinho — which translates to “little coffee” — and it’s common practice for friends and colleagues to gather in a café for a late-afternoon chat over a round of them. Try one with a brigadeiro, Brazil’s famous chocolate truffle-like confection.


What to order: Cafe Cubano

In addition to rum and cigars, coffee is a vital part of life in this corner of the Caribbean (just as it is in the boisterous hangouts of Miami’s Little Havana). The Café Cubano, a sweet riff on the classic espresso, and a direct effect of the country importing Italian machines, is a dark roast spiked with sugar as it brews. When this potent espumita-topped shot flaunts sugar, it’s a cafecito; with milk, a cortadito.

The best place to relish one is at the lively counter of a no-frills cafe where springing for the socially inspired colada, a big Styrofoam vessel of espresso shots accompanied by plastic cups, encourages making new friends.


What to order: Café crème

Ordering an oversized bowl of café au lait and plunking your croissant into that smooth union of filtered coffee and milk is a dead giveaway that you’re an American living out your French fantasies in Paris. So what to order if you don’t want your coffee order to scream touriste? The café crème. This go-to espresso-based drink has a large proportion of steamed milk that will also sate fans of the cappuccino, which is rarely ordered in Paris.

P.S.: Purists who revel in black coffee should go for the Café Allongé. Reminiscent of drip coffee, it’s in limbo between espresso and Americano territory.


What to order: Frappé

The frosty frappé is a staple of Greece’s vibrant café scene, particularly in the summer when it appears on countless alfresco tables. A refreshing but powerful mix of instant coffee — a Nescafé rep created it by accident in 1957 at the Thessaloniki International Fair — water, up to four teaspoons of sugar, and often, but not always, clouds of evaporated milk, it should be sucked up through a straw slowly to avoid otherwise inevitable jitters.

For those coffee snobs who scowl at the thought of just-add-water coffee, there is the freddo espresso (espresso served over ice) to consider.


What to order: Kaapi

Cups of aromatic Masala chai aren’t the only warm, caffeinated beverage you’ll encounter in India — especially in the southern part of the country.

Known as kaapi, a strong blend of frothed milk and finely ground coffee powder, it is ritualistically brewed in a metal filter and dramatically poured back and forth between a stainless steel tumbler and lipped saucer known as the dabarah. This is what you want alongside a breakfast of chutney-laden dosa and idli.


What to drink: Irish coffee

An integral part of Ireland’s imbibing history, Irish coffee marries hot coffee with Irish whiskey, brown sugar, and whipped heavy cream. Purportedly dreamed up in the 1940s at the Shannon Airport as a way of appeasing stranded passengers, it’s the country’s most distinctive elixir — whether for an afternoon pick-me-up in the pub (beware the shoddy quality at some of these joints) or a soothing nightcap by the fireplace.

Irish coffee aficionados: If you’re ever on Germany’s northern coast, look for the Pharisäer, their rum version that, as legend goes, was created as a way to smuggle in alcohol during a 19th-century baptism.


What to drink: Espresso

In Italy, coffee is part of the daily routine, but ordering it can get a bit tricky. For starters, know that if you ask for a café, espresso is the default setting. Another tip: Italians believe that milky coffee beverages, when consumed after 11 a.m., do a number on the digestive system.

You can, of course, still order a latte or cappuccino in the afternoon, but if you want to abide by the philosophy of “When in Rome,” consider a straightforward espresso. You’ll drink it standing up at the bar of a café, likely in the company of a cornetto, the sweeter, crescent-shaped cousin of the croissant typically stuffed with custard, marmalade, or Nutella.


What to order: Cafe bonbon aka cortado condensada

Throughout Spain, the café con leche, the scalding, equal-parts-milk-and-espresso hybrid, will make regular appearances. But don’t overlook the less well-known café bonbon, which traces its roots to Valencia. Sometimes called cortado condensada, it’s simply a 1:1 ratio of espresso and sweetened condensed milk.

Sweden and Finland

What to order: Kaffee and kanelbulle

In Sweden, it’s less about what you order in Scandinavia’s minimalist coffee shops (although ace roasting skills are the norm here, and pour-overs are recommended) than when. Partaking in fika, mid-morning and late-afternoon breaks either taken in solo comfort or with pals, are customary routines in the day of Swedes and Finns. Evolving from the tradition of post-church chats, they are a welcome way to foster community in a world increasingly devoid of human interaction.

Just as important as the coffee and conversation are the mandatory pastries, including twisted cardamom buns called kardemummabullar, and kanelbulle, the iconic, icing-slathered cinnamon rolls.

Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina

What to order: Turkish coffee

Making Turkish coffee is a ceremonious activity: Finely ground coffee goes into the cezve, a long-necked copper or brass pot with a slender handle; water and sugar are stirred in before boiling (sometimes a number of times in succession); and powder settles to the bottom of the pot in a thick pool of sludge before it’s poured into small cups and arranged on ornate trays — hopefully with perfumed cubes of powdery Turkish Delight to boot.

The setup resembles the one favored in Bosnia and Herzegovina; both renditions are bitter and thick as mud, yet one of the small differences between them is that sugar isn’t added to Bosnian coffee until after it’s brewed.

Vietnam and Malaysia

What to order: Cà phê đá or iced coffee

Amid the sultry heat of Vietnam, the ubiquitous, soothing cà phê đá (pronounced cafe da), comes to the rescue with a jolt of cooling richness. Indigenous to Ho Chi Minh City, this mélange of coffee and hot water swirled into sweetened, condensed milk is typically drunk from a tall ice-filled glass.

Like it hot? In Malaysia there is the thick kopi susu panas — one part condensed milk, the other ground and brewed coffee — to look forward to.