Coffee is a beverage that's universally beloved (and obsessed over) by people of all nations.
You don't need to speak the same language to appreciate the comfort of a steamy cup of Joe on a bitterly cold winter morning. Worshipping the same God isn't a prerequisite for experiencing the always faithful boost of energy an espresso can provide at any hour, day or night.
For centuries, coffee has been a come-as-you-are kind of beverage, a conduit for communication and connection whether the person sitting across from you is considered a friend, family member, stranger or foe.
No matter where you roam in the world, coffee is most likely a given — which is why it's essential, especially for caffeine diehards, to understand the customs and rules that govern a peoples' coffee culture.
Here's how countries around the world get their caffeine fix.
Café de Olla - Mexico
According to legend, café de olla was born during the Mexican revolution of 1910. Cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined sugar) were mixed with coffee, which was then steeped in clay pots over an open fire and served to soldiers in need of an energizing caffeine boost.
Since then, café de olla has retired from the battlefield and become an honored tradition in Mexican culture. Today, in addition to cinnamon, café de olla is often prepared with orange peel, star anise and clove, making for a truly intoxicating blend.
Café de olla traditionalists still insist on brewing the coffee in earthen clay, but in modern times a metal pot with a sturdy handle will suffice.
For many Mexican families, what matters most is the company they get to share this beloved drink with.
Filtered Coffee - Southern India
India's coffee fate was sealed in the 17th century when Sufi saint Baba Budan, while on a pilgrimage to Mecca, smuggled a handful of coffee beans from Yemen's port city of Mocha back to Karnataka, India. Upon his return, Budan planted the beans; as the story goes, he had exactly seven, which was all it took for coffee plants to sprout up all over a mountain range, making coffee plentiful in Southern India.
For an authentic cup, boiled water is poured over coffee grounds packed into a filter. This process creates a decoction, a concentrated mix of coffee that drips through the filter and into a cup. Once the coffee becomes thick, boiled whole milk and sugar are added to create the robust brew that Southern India has come to know and love.
While tea reigns supreme in India, the steady influence of Western culture, along with the introduction of Starbucks in some parts, has made coffee popular, especially among younger locals who pair the beverage with socializing.
Caffè Normale - Italy
From Milan to Naples, caffè in Italy is hailed as both an institution and an art form. But to enjoy it properly and avoid getting the stink eye from your barista, a few rules and standards must be obliged.
For starters, all coffee in Italy begins and ends with espresso. A standard caffè normale or caffè is served black as a single shot meant to be consumed in one quick gulp while standing. Unlike in the U.S., to-go coffee is not common here, and attempting to order it this way will most likely result in a few discreet eye rolls from nearby locals.
Also contrary to coffee culture in The States, the cappuccino — a quintessential Italian drink made of equal parts espresso, milk and foam — should only be enjoyed with breakfast and never after 11 a.m. However, if you're jonesing for an espresso with a touch of milk, the macchiato is a safe choice, and like espresso, it's generally considered acceptable to order throughout the day.
While breaking any of these rules won't alarm the polizia, it will alarm Italians who know that when it comes to coffee, their way is best.
Café au Lait - France
Wake up in France, and you'll most likely start your day with a tartine, a toasted baguette served with butter and jam. And you’ll probably wash it down with a creamy French favorite: the café au lait.
A simple combination of coffee and hot milk, the café au lait is traditionally served in a generously sized bowl. As in Italy, it's considered inappropriate to consume after 10 a.m.
While France often receives bad marks for its coffee, there's something undeniably Parisian about sitting solo at a bistro table with a café au lait and losing track of the time while watching the city and its people pass you by. Perhaps this aspect of France's café culture picks up where the coffee, some believe, falls short.
Turkish Coffee - Turkey
Contrary to popular belief, Turkish coffee isn't precisely Turkish. Rather, it's an interpretation of coffee preparation that is common in the Arab world.
Regardless, Turkish coffee remains an indispensable part of Turkish heritage and culture. No social gathering or special occasion would be complete without a meticulously crafted pot.
The brewing process starts with finely ground roasted coffee beans. The beans, along with cold water and sugar, are added to an ibrik, a wide bottomed, long-handled copper coffee pot. This mixture is brought to a boil and then removed from the heat before it's placed back on the stovetop for a second boil.
During this double-boiling process, a caramel colored foam builds on the surface of the coffee, which can be scooped off the top if desired. After cooking, the coffee sits for a few minutes to allow the grounds to settle. At this point, spices such as cardamom or cinnamon can be added for a kick of flavor.
Importantly, the coffee grounds remain at the bottom of the cup, and are not meant to be consumed. Instead, the remaining streaks of black sludge can either be tossed or used for fortune telling.
Greek Coffee - Greece
In Greece, it's considered politically incorrect to order a Turkish coffee. If you do, you will most likely be sternly reminded that in Greece, there's only Greek coffee.
While Turkish and Greek coffee are essentially indistinguishable - both are traditionally made in an ibrik and served up as a single shot with a thick sludge of coffee grounds at the bottom of every cup - the two countries each claim the coffee style as distinctly their own.
The long-standing rivalry between the Turks and the Greeks has made coffee a sensitive issue. But as long as you remain mindful of this critical distinction, Greek coffee, in all of its iterations, is yours to enjoy.
After enjoying the traditional brew, Greeks, especially older men, spend hours at local kafenios, or cafes, sipping on frappes. These sweet drinks are made with instant Nescafe, water, ice cubes and sugar; the ingredients are then shaken until thoroughly mixed and a bubbly beige foam forms on top.
Given the country's sizzling hot weather, Greeks in general are keen on serving coffee on ice. In the 1990s, when Italian espresso entered the scene, Greek baristas created the freddo espresso and freddo cappuccino (freddo in Italian means cold). As with the classic frappe, both drinks are poured over ice, shaken and served with a straw.
Kouhii - Japan
Since the 1600s, Japan has slowly been cultivating its passion for coffee.
The love affair began during Japan's self-imposed isolation period, when Dutch traders brought coffee (aka koffie) through Nagasaki. At first, the Japanese disliked the drink, but once the isolation period ended and coffee flooded the island, reaching a wider range of taste buds, coffee experienced a surge in popularity.
In the early 1900s, the first kissaten cafes began popping up in Japan, attracting writers and artists looking for a comfortable spot to enjoy a fresh cup. In the 1980s, when Japan experienced unparalleled prosperity, coffee shops began to take over the country, ushering in the coffee culture that prospers in Japan today. (In the country, coffee is called kouhii.)
In addition to international brands like Starbucks, homegrown chains such as Doutor Coffee are popular in Japan. You can also find canned coffee in roadside vending machines.
In recent years, specialty coffee shops in Japan have turned coffee into a distinct art form, cleverly using milk foam to sculpt anime characters, rabbits, kittens and puppies.
Kopi - Malaysia
Coffee, called kopi in Malaysia, owes its uniqueness to the torrefacto method.
Believed to have reached the shores of Malaysia in the 1800s, this treatment requires the addition of margarine and sugar midway through the roasting process. The method mellows the bitter and unpalatable taste of robusta coffee beans, which are cheap and as a result widely available in the country.
Once the beans are roasted and ground down, they're added to a cloth filter, which Malaysians affectionately refer to as "the sock." Instead of the common brewing method, boiled water is poured over the coffee, dripping through the sock into the pot.
Throughout Kuala Lumpur, kopi is available in kopitiam coffee shops as well as in hawker centers, open-air markets with stalls that sell a wide variety of inexpensive foods. When ordering, keep in mind that basic kopi comes flavored with sweetened condensed milk, whereas a kopi-o is served black with a bit of sugar.
Kava - Croatia
Croatia is one of the few countries that Starbucks, the ubiquitous coffeehouse chain, has yet to open in. This isn’t because Croatians dislike a good cup of Joe — it's because they cherish it.
Influenced by the Turkish coffee of the Ottoman Empire, the lavish coffeehouses of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and more recently the craft of Italian espresso, coffee culture in Croatia has a distinct personality.
Beyond a pop of caffeine, coffee or kava is the cornerstone of the Balkan country’s social activity. In Croatia, kava is not something to be rushed, taken on the go or sipped solo. Instead, locals opt to spend hours at their local kavana cafe gossiping with friends and family and discussing everything from politics to divorce. Over coffee, people get hired and fired. Some have even fallen in love.
If while traveling in Croatia a local says “Idemo na kavu,” which translates to “Let's go for acoffee,” consider the invite a friendly gesture and an opportunity for connection and conversation.
Cà Phê Trúng - Vietnam
In 1946, in response to milk shortages triggered by the First Indochina War, Nguyen Van Giang, a bartender at Hanoi's Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, began adding whisked egg yolks to coffee as a substitute for milk. Patrons of the hotel immediately embraced his creamy, caffeinated invention, and soon Giang opened Café Giang, where his infamous egg coffee, or cà phê trúng, became fixed in Vietnam's coffee culture.
In addition to whisked egg yolks, the modern version of cà phê trúng includes sugar, condensed milk, cheese and even butter. The result is a decadent coffee that has often been compared to tiramisu or a creamy Cadbury egg.
Every year, tourists flock to Café Giang to experience Hanoi's infamous egg coffee. And while knock-off versions of Giang's original drink are now widely available throughout Vietnam, his is still considered the best.
The Flat White - New Zealand and Australia
Considered New Zealand's unofficial national drink, the flat white inspires both conversation among friends and a bit of controversy between countries.
While there's no hard evidence to support any claim of ownership, New Zealanders and Australians both believe the flat white originated in their respective countries sometime during the 1980s.
According to one source, the battle intensified when Starbucks, upon introducing the drink to the American market in 2015, issued a press release that handed Australia all of the creation credit. "Since originating in Australia in the 1980s, the Flat White became a coffee house staple in the UK and is now a budding favorite among coffee aficionados in the United States and Canada," the release stated.
Kiwis were not having it.
Despite the ongoing debate between the countries, both agree that the perfect flat white is made with a shot of quality espresso and combined with gently boiled whole milk, then topped off with a touch of foam.
Café Touba - Senegal
Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, creator of the Mouride Brotherhood and founder of the city of Touba, first introduced café Touba to the country of Senegal in the late 1800s. Initially, Bamba exclusively shared this coffee — which is boiled with Selim pepper, a warming spice — with his followers, who needed the extra energy to remain awake during long chanting sessions.
Over time, the drink spread across Senegal, and today the people of this West African country not only enjoy it, but consider it a symbol of their identity and a staple of their culture.
Much like Turkish coffee, Touba is boiled with cloves, sugar and Selim pepper. However, unlike with the Turkish style, the resulting brew is aerated by rhythmically pouring the coffee back and forth between two cups before serving.
Viennese Coffee House - Austria
The heart of Austria's coffee culture has been beating for over 300 years inside Vienna's elegant, chandelier-lit coffee houses.
It all started in September 1683 during the Siege of Vienna, when defenders of the city crushed the invading Turks of the Ottoman Empire. As the Turkish troops retreated, the Austrian forces swooped in and collected their abandoned coffee beans, along with other treasures. On that victorious day, Vienna's love affair with coffee began, and coffee houses started popping up across the city.
While most of the original cafes in Vienna have been renovated, many of the customs that inspired UNESCO to add the Viennese coffee house to the 2011 intangible cultural heritage list remain untouched. Locals still refer to the establishments as extended living rooms, where it's okay to spend your entire day sitting, reading, nibbling on strudel or discussing the day's news.
The coffee itself, after 300 years, is still served on a small silver platter, with a polished silver spoon, a few cubes of sugar and a glass of water.
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony - Ethiopia
Both a spiritual practice and a social activity, Ethiopia's elaborate coffee ceremony dates back centuries and remains an integral part of daily life.
Traditionally, each ceremony lasts up to three hours and is performed three times a day. To begin, the woman of the house prepares the ceremonial room by burning incense to ward off evil spirits. Next, a jebena, a clay coffee pot, is filled with water and set on a pile of hot coals. The hostess then takes a handful of raw coffee beans, adds them to a large pan and shakes them over an open fire to remove the husks.
Once clean, the beans are roasted and crushed by hand with a mukecha wooden bowl, similar to a mortar, and a zenezena blunt-end cylinder identical to a pestle. The grounds are placed in the jebena, now filled with boiling water, and once ready the coffee is served to the guests of the ceremony. The ritual is then repeated two more times.
From a spiritual perspective, each round of the coffee ceremony is meant to transform and cleanse the soul. Socially, the practice provides an opportunity to connect with friends, family and the broader community.
Kahvi - Finland
Imagine a world where workplace coffee breaks are mandatory. Where every piping hot cup of java is served alongside a flaky cinnamon roll, and where drinking 10-plus cups of coffee a day is considered normal.
For coffee aficionados, there is such a place, and it's called Finland.
Recognized as the world's top coffee consumer, Finland is a place where locals refuse to live without their kahvi, even during times of war. According to one source, during World War II, when coffee disappeared, desperate yet resourceful Finns boiled pine bark, potato peels and anything else they could find to approximate a close-enough-to-coffee substitute.
Luckily, Finland's coffee coffers are beyond replenished now, and finding the stuff, even in the most remote corners of the country, is never an issue. And if you're fortunate enough to be invited into someone's home for coffee, it's considered rude to refuse the offering.
No matter how many cups you've already had.