Kick-start 2011: the best cities in the world for coffee

Wipe the sleep from the eyes, shrug off post-festivities sluggishness and kick-start 2011 with a shot or two of black lightning: here’s a few of our favourite places for picking uppa cuppa something good.

Vienna, Austria

It would probably make the entire list void if Vienna wasn’t included. The Kaffeehäuser (coffee houses) are attraction in themselves, a world away from boilerplate, identikit chain-cafes: think anything from grand romantic fin-de-siecle institutions to urban hipster houses brewing up challenging concoctions. More than that though, the Viennese can claim to be one of coffee’s great inventors. The Ottoman sieges of the city had the happy accident of leaving coffee beans with the locals, who took it upon themselves to put the produce to good use.  Shortly after the final siege, the city’s first coffeehouse opened with the spoils, and helped popularise the custom of adding sugar and milk to the drink.A cup ofmelange, strong coffee mixed with hot foamed milk, is still the drink of choice. Be sure to complement the drink with a thick slice of sacher torte – this is a city with a seriously sweet tooth.

Istanbul, Turkey

For coffee, before Vienna there was Istanbul. As with so much cultural and commercial trade between east and west, Istanbul was a crucial staging post in the spread of coffee from the Arab world to Europe. Nowadays, Istanbul is among the best for the mix of sharp little drinks brewed up here and the frenetic street life that makes people-watching a national pastime. It’s the perfect mix – a rocket-fuel caffeine jolt in a city that marches to a quick beat. Markiz Passage and Fazil Bey’s Turkish Coffee House, in the heart of the bazaar, are both good places to start, but art gallery-cum-cafes, bookshops serving rocket fuel and music shops offering cups all attest both to Istanbul’s fanaticism for the daily grind, and the city’s creativity in serving it.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The ingredients are just right in BA for great coffee: rich Spanish and Italian roots, a discerning palate among locals, and a sociable devotion to living life among others. Other countries in South America, despite producing acres of the crop, often settle for an instant Nescafe fix. Not here. Places like Cafe Tortoni and Confiteria el Molino are venerable grandees of the city, touristy sure, but beautiful and comfortable nonetheless. For something a little more up-to-the-minute, head to the Palermo neighbourhood, within which the Soho area has sofa-laden cafes tailor-made for whiling away days, while edgier Hollywood’s welcoming coffee-shops nestle among some of the city’s best nightlife.

Palermo, Italy

Espresso, macchiato, cappuccino...Italy invented how much of the modern world thinks of coffee, and it’s worth trying the different brews on offer. Any city in Italy could have made this list, really, so deeply ingrained is coffee in the daily rhythm of life, so well do the locals invariably make it. Palermo wins an extra point or two for (a) the dangerously tasty caffe granitas served here, and (b) the street food that you can grab between cafes. From the Piazza Castelnuovo, strike out in any direction and you’ll swiftly hit a cafe or two worth stopping at. Often, you’ll have to pay a little more to sit outside than if you were drinking at the bar, but it’s swoon-worthy Mediterranean streetscapes we’re talking about here, so splurge. Plus, outside you’ll be that bit closer to carts selling those snacks – try the meaty little bread-based bites, chickpea fritters and brioches filled with ice cream.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Back to where it all began. Arabica beans hails from Ethiopia, but that’s not why the country’s capital makes the list. The city is dotted with atmospheric places to have a brew, typically served thick and sufficiently rich to wake the dead. While some joints may appear unprepossessing, the lovingly tended vintage Italian espresso machine behind the counter and aroma hanging in the air swiftly convince you of the truth – they know how to rustle up a good cup of joe around these parts. Bole Road is home to many of the city’s flashier places; and look out for a Kaldi’s cafe, named in honour of the Ethiopian goatherd who, legend has it, discovered the coffee plant. The decor and logo may just be a tad familiar to anyone who has encountered a certain Seattle-based global coffee megacorp.

So that’s our top five for the black stuff, but one last tip for the discerning connoisseur – If you want to sample the world’s most expensive coffee, snap up some of Indonesia’s Kopi Luwak brew. A smooth nectar, the drink is made from coffee beans eaten, partly digested and then excreted by the Common palm civet, a weasel-like animal. Bottoms up!

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