Photo by Marty Skovlund, Jr./Coffee or Die Magazine.
Contemporary wisdom tells us experiences deliver more lasting happiness than material things. After years of research, a psychologist at Cornell University concluded that we should spend our money on experiences, not things.
With that in mind, coffee enthusiasts looking for their next special fix should get away from the coffee-flavored sugary beverages found on every corner in America and venture out for some extraordinary coffee experiences. Here are six of our coffee destination recommendations.
Where better to start a worldwide coffee tour than the birthplace of the magic bean? By now coffee lovers know the legend of Kaldi the goat herder, who discovered his goats wouldn’t sleep after eating a certain berry (in some tellings, the goats dance).
How he decided to take the seed, roast it, grind it, and brew it in boiling water is anyone’s guess. My personal guess is that he was trying to make booze. Humans are always trying to make booze.
Ever since, Ethiopians have worked to master the art of coffee growing, roasting, and brewing. And the Ethiopian coffee ceremony isn’t something you want to miss.
In a traditional ceremony, the woman of the house roasts the green beans in a flat pan over a charcoal fire. She grinds them with a mortar and pestle, pouring the grounds into a special pot, a jebena, filled with hot water. The coffee is then brewed over an open fire. When it’s ready, it’s filtered a few times before serving, starting with the oldest person in the room.
Ethiopians, like the rest of us, take their coffee in their own personal way. Some use a lot of sugar, but it’s extremely rare to see anyone use cream or milk. Outside major cities, salt is used to cut the bitterness of the coffee. In a coffee ceremony, a sprig of rue (an herb known locally as tena adam) is used to counter the bitterness.
No matter where you are in the country, it shouldn’t be hard to find a coffee ceremony, complete with a popcorn snack. In Addis Ababa, make sure you stop at Tomoca Coffee on Wawel Street. Any coffee shop is decent in Addis, but Tomoca is world famous.
Cubans make a great cup of coffee, and when there’s not a global pandemic ruining everything, the Caribbean island nation is a great travel destination in general. Communism sucks, but a visit to Cuba can support the decadent bourgeois capitalists there.
The government controls a lot of the fun in Cuba, including luxury items, hotels, rum, cigars, and — most importantly — sugar and coffee. Cuban citizens are allotted 4 ounces of coffee each month, and sometimes it’s mixed with chickpeas and other fillers to stretch out the supply.
Tourists in Havana, however, can get a cup of the pure stuff, which is worth every penny (actually about $1 per cup).
The ideal Cuban cafecito is made from the first (and strongest) drops of the brew, which are mixed with sugar, whipping it to a smooth, caramel-colored glory called espumita. The rest of the coffee is added to the froth, which then rises to the top.
If you can’t do your part to help defeat communism with a Cuban vacation, you can probably find a Cuban cafecito in Miami.
No matter where you go to experience this unique cup of joe, prep your taste buds with a drink of water and take a sip. If you happen to have a cigar, dip the end in the espumita, and imagine a time when every Cuban will be able to enjoy it just like that.
Whether you call it “The West Bank,” “The Occupied Territories,” or “Palestine” is unimportant. For the traveler visiting the area between the Jordan River and the Trans-Israel Highway, one of the most important things to know is you’re visiting a part of the Arab world where traditions are alive and well, especially in the coffee.
In the souks (open outdoor markets) in the old city of Nablus, one of the oldest and most traditional of Palestinian cities, the smell of spices, fresh bread, knafeh (an Arab cheese-based dessert), and (of course) roasting coffee fills the air. That mix of smells from coffee and spices has the same mouthwatering effect on the tongue as it does the nose.
Many of the Ottoman traditions are alive and well in Palestine. Palestinians still bathe in hamams (Turkish-style baths) and smoke nargileh (fragrant tobacco, also known as shisha), and the coffee in Nablus is made Turkish style — brewed unfiltered from a fine powder.
In Nablus and the West Bank, the difference is that the coffee is ground and brewed with a mix of cardamom, either ground or in whole pods, depending on who’s making it. The result is a sweet, spicy, and strong brew that’s hard to replicate and impossible to find anywhere else.
Coffee is usually served black (sada), but if you like it sweeter, ask for medium sugar (wasat) or sweet as hell (helwa). There is no in-between. Find a street vendor with a metal cup and a propane tank and you’ll find yourself trying to learn how to make it.
Unlike other places on this list, coffee from Jamaica isn’t unique because of how it’s prepared – the secret lies in how it’s grown. The island nation sells one of the most expensive coffees in the world, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, which can fetch as much as $85 per pound. The cost isn’t exactly why it’s a must-try, but the reason it’s so expensive is.
Jamaica’s Blue Mountains are the highest in the Caribbean, and the elevation (between 2,000 and 5,000 feet) makes for a cool area with high rainfall, ideal for coffee cultivation. This combination enriches the soil of the Blue Mountains, and the resulting bean is unparalleled in richness and body. There’s nowhere in the world that can grow coffee this way.
But space here is limited to those elevations in that small mountain range, so supply is equally limited. Jamaica accounts for only .01% of the world’s total coffee production, making the Blue Mountain variety extremely rare. Limited supply plus nearly unlimited demand make for an expensive brew, but Blue Mountain coffee makes a latte that is actually worth the $6 to $10 you’ll pay for it.
With a nice balance, medium acidity, and an almost complete absence of bitterness, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee is one of the smoothest cups you’ll ever have. Some coffee purveyors also offer a Blue Mountain bean infused with Jamaican rum for an unforgettable flavor explosion.
After trying the Levantine version of Arabic coffee in Palestine, visiting Saudi Arabia or Dubai and having a cup of coffee might give you a start, especially when the coffee pot pours a cup of a mysterious, clear yellow liquid.
Relax and unclench, it’s still coffee.
On the Arabian Peninsula, coffee is brewed from very lightly roasted or even green coffee beans. It’s then spiced up with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron (hence the yellow color). It sometimes even has a touch of rose water added.
The final product is unlike any cup of coffee found elsewhere, but the brewing process is also unique — and worth the wait.
Like the Ethiopians, Saudis roast beans on a flat pan or sheet in front of guests. They cook until the bean is barely roasted and golden, which makes the brew tealike with coffee flavor. The beans are ground and brewed in the Turkish style with the spices added.
When poured for guests, it comes from a dallah (Arabic coffee pot) held with the server’s left hand. Dates are usually served as a sweet complement.
Vietnam is more than just the largest exporter of questionable Jane Fonda photos. It’s the world’s second-largest exporter of coffee, and it has a vibrant coffee culture with flavors uniquely tied to its history.
When the French colonized Vietnam, fresh milk was incredibly hard to find. To meet the colonists’ taste for cafe au lait, locals began importing sweetened condensed milk to make it instead. They brewed the coffee directly into the condensed milk, creating incredibly strong, incredibly sweet ca phe sua da.
You may have seen it served over ice while waiting for your pho order.
When even condensed milk was unavailable, locals managed to find ways to make coffee full and creamy. Ca phe trung (egg coffee) was created during a shortage of milk, when bartenders in Hanoi used the frothy properties of whisked or blended egg yolks to add body to coffee. Don’t ever claim you love coffee more than the Vietnamese until you’re willing to whisk an egg into it to make it drinkable.
Today, that tradition continues, as Vietnamese baristas use other heavy substances to fill out their coffee drinks, including yogurt, coconut milk, and even avocado.
Blake Stilwell is a traveler and writer with degrees in design, television & film, journalism, public relations, international relations, and business administration. He is a former US Air Force combat photographer with experience covering politics, entertainment, development, nonprofit, military, and government. His work can be found at We Are The Mighty, Business Insider, Fox News, ABC News, NBC, HBO, and the White House.
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