All about the bean: 5 top places to get coffee around the world

After going around the world this year in search of a decent cup of Joe – and more often than not ending up with the dregs from the bottom of the Mediterranean – I thought my search for a good coffee might be worth sharing with travellers out there who need a fix wherever they are in the world.

If you love the “brown boiled bean-juice that gives you morning-breath and loosens your stools with colonic laxativity”, as Danny Katz once wrote at the Sydney Morning Herald, read on… here are my five favourite places for the ultimate coffee interspersed with some extracts from a marvelous Lonely Planet post about caffeine-fueled travel.

Vietnam

Coffee drinking in Vietnam is magic. I love the slow drip drip of the single-cup filters, the strength of the brew and the sweet thickness of the condensed milk (introduced because of easier storage in a tropical climate). You can also get the coffee brewed onto ice.

In Vietnam, coffee is normally served while it is still brewing and on my motorbike travels through Vietnam last year, it was blissful to sit down out of the traffic, wait for the coffee to filter and watch life go by. The shuttered coffee saloons in Ho Chi Minh City were a particular highlight.

There are also a number of regions in Vietnam were coffee is grown.

The single cup coffee filter in HCMC. Pic: Joanne Lane; www.visitedplanet.com

Laos

Coffee is one of Laos’ biggest export products. Thanks to good climate and soils, the country is highly suited to coffee production and it’s very good.

Like in Vietnam, Laos coffee is normally served in a glass with condensed milk in the bottom that you can mix in according to your taste. Coffee here is strong, so add hot water if you can’t quite take it. The coffee is dripped into the glass via a filter – traditionally a bag-shaped cloth filter – that drips through a lot faster than the Vietnamese version.

Traditionally, coffee is roasted, ground and filtered just before serving. You may also get a chaser of hot water or weak Chinese tea.

If you’re keen to check out the growing regions, head to the Bolaven Plateau in the south. It’s also worth buying a few bags of beans as souvenirs when you leave – hard to find once you leave the country.

Coffee beans at Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia - another great place for coffee. Pic: Joanne Lane;www.visitedplanet.com

Istanbul

From Lonely Planet:

Surprisingly, Türk kahve (Turkish coffee) isn’t as widely consumed in its homeland as çay (tea). But don’t worry: you’ll have no trouble getting your caffeine fix in Istanbul. Traditional coffee houses such as Etham Tezçakar Kahveci serve a brew thick and powerful enough to put hair on your chest!

It is believed that Europe acquired the habit of coffee drinking from the Turks, who in turn learned the trade from Cairo and Mecca where it had in fact first spread from Yemen and Ethiopia. Whatever the case, Turkish coffee is good and it’s a very important part of Turkish culture – coffee is actually used in wedding customs and the word for breakfast means “before coffee”.

Turkish coffee is roasted and finely ground just before brewing. Usually, the grounds are immersed in hot water, sugar is added and dissolved and then the coffee is boiled, removed from the heat and then boiled a second and a third time. There is also an art form in the method of pouring – lifting the pot higher and higher to get a thick layer of foam.

Rome

From Lonely Planet:

As befitting the land of espresso, Italians take their coffee seriously. Do as the Romans do, and be precise about what you’re drinking: will it be un caffè, un caffè macchiato, un caffè lungo, un cappuccino or un caffè corretto? Famous throughout Rome, Caffè Sant’Eustachio is the perfect place to practise your newfound vocabulary.

Mmmmm… Rome and coffee … the association is as deep as wine, love, gladiators and the Da Vinci code; still the reality is you’ll get good coffee all over Italy. And it is good. The Italians believe in their food and drinks and it shows – coffee is a national obsession. Life literally begins and ends each day over coffee. There’s little else that needs to be said – you won’t be disappointed…

Friendly cafe staff in a small town in Tuscany, Italy. Pic: Joanne Lane;www.visitedplanet.com

Melbourne

From Lonely Planet:

Coffee in Melbourne is often trumpeted as the world’s best, lovingly prepared with both Italian and supreme local roasts. The café scene is integral to much of the city’s socialising; lingering over a coffee is sacred, whether with a newspaper or with friends. Try stalwart Pellegrini’s for it’s old school, quintessentially Melburnian experience, or hit one of the many Third Wave spots like Collingwood’s Proud Mary for an updated brew.

Coffee consumption has increased at a remarkable rate across Australia in the last few decades. I’m not even sure Melbourne would be considered the coffee capital anymore – I did read recently Perth has more cafes per capita than any other city so this post is more an ode to coffee in Australia in general. Still thanks to its resident Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Lebanese and other coffee drinking communities, Melbourne drinks a lot of coffee and they do it very well in all their cute cafes, restaurants and bars across the city.

However, you may all be interested to know that neither Italy nor Turkey nor anything else listed here is the coffee drinking capital of the world. The country that takes out the honour of drinking more coffee than anyone else is… Finland.