7 Coffee Rituals From Around The World
In some cultures, coffee comes pre-sweetened with abandon. For others, its standard to come sprinkled with warming spices like cinnamon and cloves. Some douse it with heavy cream, others condensed milk. For some, it’s a vehicle with which to slow down, pass time, savor company, even celebrate ancient village ceremonies. And for others? Nothing more than a quick afternoon pick-me-up.
To celebrate the diversity of preparation, flavor, and customs surrounding this beloved beverage, we rounded up seven coffee rituals from around the world as a testament to the universal allure of a fresh brew.
In Ethiopia, the very birthplace of the coffee plant Coffea arabica, the drink is prepared as part of a village social ceremony which occurs three times a day: morning, noon, and evening.
It’s traditional for women to start the process by burning incense and spreading an elaborate array of flowers and aromatic grasses across the floor. They then turn their attention to the coffee beans, which are placed in a large pan and heated over an open charcoal flame until the husks separate and the aromatic oils are released. It’s during this stage that some may add warming spices such as cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves. The beans are then ground with a heavy metal rod (known as a zenezena) before being boiled with hot water in a clay pot (known as a jebena). Given the manual method of grounding, the coffee is often strained several times through a fine mesh sieve before it’s deemed fit to serve.
To prevent grounds from ending up in the cups, women pour in a single stream from a foot above the cups. The eldest is served first, and it progresses from there—as much a sign of respect as a symbolic connection of generations.
To accompany the coffee, women serve roasted barley, amasha bread, peanuts, and popcorn. From start to finish, the ceremony can take upwards of two hours, and it’s considered impolite to consume fewer than three cups—according to tradition, a transformation of the spirit occurs during the progression from first to third cup, with the third bestowing a blessing.
If you’re a fan of cinnamon in your coffee, Mexico’s café de olla is for you. It’s made by brewing coffee beans with cinnamon sticks in earthenware clay pots, a vessel that Mexicans claim amplifies the taste of their coffee. It’s then filtered through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth and served with piloncillo—an unrefined brown sugar with a subtly smoky flavor reminiscent of caramel.
The drink as we know it originated during the Mexican revolution when it was considered an energy-booster for soldiers. And due to the political turmoil that was transpiring at the drink’s inception, cafés soon became social hubs to read newspapers and discuss political conspiracies, ultimately birthing the first conceptions of independence.
Today, the drink is traditionally found in small country villages where temperatures are colder relative to the bigger cities.
3. SAUDI ARABIA
Saudi Arabian coffee rituals share many similarities with those of Ethiopia. For one, the roasting, grinding, and brewing is done in ceremonial fashion in front of guests. Arab coffee is also doctored up with spices—cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and saffron being the most common—with hosts abiding by similarly strict standards of etiquette by serving the eldest first.
However, unlike the Ethiopian rituals, only one-third of the cup is filled in Arab ceremonies, and it’s polite to drink at least one, but not more than three. The coffee is served alongside sweet dates and dried fruit to counter the drink’s bitterness—a practice that originated when the first wild coffee plants were cultivated in the Arabian peninsula around the 15th century.
Today, the Saudi Arabian coffee rituals play such a strong role in Arab society that they’ve earned a spot on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
It’s impossible to talk about coffee culture without mentioning Italy, the country that arguably invented it with the birth of the steam-driven, high-pressure espresso machine in the 19th century.
Today, one of the most ubiquitous coffee rituals is to drink it standing up at a bar, oftentimes engaged in lively banter with the barista—savoring not only the drink, but the precious time itself. And while espresso is served throughout the day, milky coffee drinks (like cappuccino) are only acceptable in the morning. It all boils down to digestion—the marker of having eaten well in Italy. Cappuccinos, which come with equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk, are considered too heavy to consume after a meal.
In Ireland, the world of coffee meets that of cocktails with the spiked beverage containing hot coffee, whiskey, sugar, and whipped cream. It was invented in the 1940s less for the sake of flavor than necessity; as a boat from Ireland’s west coast of Foynes en route to Newfoundland had to turn back halfway through the voyage, chef Joe Sheridan dreamed up the idea of adding something a bit stronger to coffee to warm up the passengers on board. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Ireland’s signature coffee drink may have only come to life in the mid-20th century, but coffee houses in Dublin have been around since the reign of Charles II in 1660. Over time, they became hubs for businessmen to convene over cigars and heated political debate in what they referred to as “Gentleman’s Clubs.” And although Ireland is a traditionally tea-heavy country, you can still find businessmen and women in local coffee shops and cafés.
When the French introduced coffee to Vietnam in the 1880s, the thought was that it would mimic their home country’s milk-based café au lait. The only problem was that fresh milk wasn’t nearly as readily available in Vietnam as it was in France. And when you could find it, its shelf life was impossibly short due to the oppressive heat. To compensate, the Vietnamese began adding shelf-stable condensed milk and ice. Lots of ice.
Today, if you order a coffee in Vietnam, expect it to come chilled with a hefty glug of sweetened condensed milk. The drink, known as ca phe sua da, is prepared in ritualistic fashion inside a filtered metal can that’s brewed directly on top of a glass of condensed milk. It takes about 10 minutes for the coffee to drip into the glass, after which ice is promptly added. The result? A strong yet refreshing drink commonly sold at causal street stalls and cherished as a respite from the heat.
Turkish coffee rituals date back to the 1500s when the first coffee houses began popping up as central locations for friends to convene. Today, the drink is enjoyed in a similar way, serving as a symbol of hospitality, friendship, and entertainment.
Once the Arabica beans are roasted and finely ground, they’re added with cold water and sugar to a pot (known as a cezve) and slowly brewed. The result is a strong, thick, and foamy beverage served alongside a glass of water—a testament to the famous Turkish proverb that coffee should be “as black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love.” Legend even has it the grounds which settle at the bottom can be used to tell your fortune.
Feeling inspired now? Check out our coffee recipes here and experience coffee differently.