True or false:
Italians are the world's biggest coffee drinkers?
Although there’s no denying that most Italians are partial to an espresso, it’s actually the Finns who top the global list of caffeine-guzzlers, with other Nordic nations such as Norway and Denmark regularly making the top five. Italy – wait for it – often struggles to reach tenth place.
If this tells us anything, it’s that there is more to coffee than first meets the eye, and that popping into a café in central Stockholm can be just as enjoyable as spending time in a traditional Roman coffee-bar.
With this in mind, we take a look at several of our favourite European coffee houses, all fascinating, and each in their own unique way:
It’s not known exactly when the Viennese took their first sip of coffee – legends tell of a retreating Ottoman army leaving behind sacks of beans in the 17th century – but it didn’t take very long for the rich, chestnut-coloured liquid to charm the city’s inhabitants, or for coffee houses to spring up all over Vienna. The grandest Kaffeehaus is undoubtably Café Central, but our favourite is Café Sperl, if only for its gorgeous Jugendstil décor, unhurried atmosphere and delectable Sperl Torte – an almond-and-chocolate-cream sensation.
Sweden’s thriving coffee culture can be summed up in one, four-letter word: fika. Often translated as ‘coffee break’, fika can also mean a catch-up with friends, the chance to relax with the paper, or to get one’s nose into the latest Scandinavian noir thriller, always accompanied by a cup of steaming coffee and a freshly made cinnamon bun. There are a number of fika ‘hotspots’ in Stockholm, but if we had to choose one, it would be Vete-Katten. This iconic coffee shop is all about lavish olde-worlde interiors, neatly uniformed staff and mouthwatering pastries. Oh, and did we mention the never-ending coffee pot?
Customers who book our laid-back cycling holiday to the German island of Rügen have the option to stay at the Hotel Scheelehof in Stralsund. Besides being the former home of Carl Scheele, the chemist who ‘discovered’ oxygen, the Scheelehof has its own in-house Bio-Kaffeerösterei (‘organic coffee roastery’) plus an atmospheric Kaffeehaus in which it can be quaffed. It’s a favourite with many locals, including one Frau Merkel…
Our next pick is something of a regular haunt for Inntravel staff, but Roost didn’t make it onto the list by slipping us a free espresso (we promise). Run by enthusiastic husband-and-wife team David and Ruth Elkington, this excellent coffee roastery aims to provide an alternative to the “ubiquitous chain coffee shops”: all of its beans are roasted on site, and there is also an espresso bar where customers can try the coffee before buying.
Granted, Santa Cruz’s Bar Imperial may not be the most glamorous of places to get your daily caffeine fix, but it is the stuff of coffee legend. The story goes that every day a man used to call into the Imperial and ask the barista to prepare him the same coffee – with condensed milk; piping hot espresso; hot milk; a shot of Licor 43; a small piece of lemon skin and freshly grated cinnamon. After a while, the barista began to prepare the coffee the minute he saw this particular customer arriving, and, as his nickname was Barraco, christened the coffee barraquito. This delicious layered creation is now available throughout the Canary Islands.
Despite the statistics, it wouldn’t feel quite right to compile a list of coffee houses that didn’t include at least one Italian café, and Sant’Eustachio is as Italian as they come. Situated in the heart of Rome, just around the corner from the Pantheon, this tiny, uncomplicated bar has been around since the 1930s and is always in demand – serving over 6,000 high-quality coffees each day.