When you love coffee, you love coffee. Sure, you can get a cup of joe anywhere in the world, but true coffee connoisseurs look beyond the carafe at the corner deli. When traveling, coffee lovers need to know where to go to escape the substandard American-style brew most hotels serve. There are cities across the world that define themselves by their coffee culture, and they are incredible to explore.
In the United States, San Francisco has the most coffee shops per capita, according to Redfin. Honolulu has historically gotten major props for being the capital of the only U.S. state that actually grows its own beans commercially, although California farmers have recently begun growing coffee bushes under the shade of avocado trees.
Jump across the Northern Hemisphere to Italy, where Italians are so passionate about coffee they have created a coffee culture that is almost unparalleled anywhere in the world. Almost every household has a macchinetta (a stovetop aluminum percolator), and it’s a rare sight to see someone drinking coffee in a paper cup on the street. In Rome, coffee is an experience, a moment to be savored and respected. In fact, it was a trip to Italy that first inspired Howard Schultz to remake Starbucks into its current identity as not just a coffee purveyor but a public meeting place.
Because of the variables involved in making a cup of coffee — bean origin and quality, roasts, temperature, water pressure, baristas, drink style — not to mention variations in personal taste, it’s not easy to come up with a definitive list of the best coffee in the world. But there are certain cities that are definitely worth a visit if you’re hoping to indulge in the art of coffee.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. The two main species of coffee plants — arabica and robusta — originated in Ethiopia. According to Trending Top Most, Ethiopia is the world’s fifth-largest coffee producer. Farmers here grow 5,000 different strains of Arabica coffee, while other countries like Brazil and Columbia only have 20. So there is little doubt that the coffee you are going to get in Ethiopia is good. Traditional Ethiopian coffee is roasted by hand and brewed in a traditional clay coffee pot. Nearly all restaurants and cafés in Addis Ababa will have some on offer, and enjoying a cup of joe in the crop’s ancestral homeland is considered one of the best coffee experiences in the world. Scouting out coffee shops like Tomoca and Mokarar in Addis Ababa is highly encouraged, and taking part in an Ethiopian coffee ceremony should be an integral part of any exploration of Ethiopian culture.
Some in Cuba consider coffee to be its own food group. After a drop in Cuban coffee production due to bad weather and government cutbacks, the economy and industry is now growing again to meet demands. In town, many coffeehouses grind beans source locally and directly from the Escambray and Sierra Maestra mountains, making it some of the best coffee a connoisseur can get. Former British MP and Treasury Minister Phillip Oppenheim loves Cuban coffee so much, he has invested millions in making sure Cuba restores itself as the world’s biggest coffee exporter. Havana is Cuba’s capital city and is fueled by café cubano, a full-bodied espresso with sugar that accompanies nearly every meal. Havana’s Old Town is peppered with cafés like Café El Escorial and Café de las Infusiones, where the traditional coffee drink is perfectly made and on offer, alongside over a dozen other cups. Guests checking out one of Cuba’s busiest squares linger for hours.
Don’t let the laid-back nature of Hawaiian culture fool you; Hawaiians are serious about their coffee. Honolulu has one of the highest numbers of coffee shops per capita in the U.S., and it’s also the capital of one of only two states in the country that grows its own beans commercially. Kona coffee, from Hawaii's Big Island, is grown in porous, mineral-rich soil, courtesy of the island’s volcanoes and hot sun, and it has a unique flavor as a result.
Melbourne has been ranked as the world’s most livable city, a result of the city’s standards of living, advanced infrastructure, low crime levels, history, and culture. Part of that culture includes coffee.
World Barista Champ Pete Licata told Travel & Leisure that “It's nearly impossible to find a bad cup of coffee in Melbourne.” “Café culture walks” are a tourist draw, while locals prefer to occupy popular shops like Axil Coffeehouse Roasters in the Hawthorn area of northern Melbourne and Dead Man Espresso in the south. Considered Australia’s coffee capital, Melbourne spoils its residents with an abundance of coffee-sipping locales. Shops like Market Lane Coffee source, roast, and serve coffee from some of the best growers in the world.
Though its “big sister to the north,” Seattle, is famous for launching the world’s largest coffee chain, Portland has steadily grown to become not just the capital of American coffee culture, but one of the world’s. There are so many things to love about Portland — the green trees, the thriving music and art scene — and that’s before even considering the coffee. Portland’s artisan coffee scene is famous, full of award-winning baristas, and is home to the third highest number of coffee shops per person in the United States, according to Redfin. These include Five Points Coffee Roasters, Heart, and third-wave pioneer Stumptown Coffee. Portland consistently makes an appearance on lists ranking the top coffee cities in both the United States and the world, including those from Lifehack, Travel + Leisure, and USA Today.
Scandinavians have the highest coffee consumption per capita globally, so it only makes sense that Reykjavik wants to make sure its citizens and visitors are well taken care of, caffeine-wise. Some say the commitment to coffee here borders on fanaticism. Kaffitár, one of the city’s larger chain cafés, is also considered one of the best. Another favorite is Kaffismiðja Íslands, where coffee is roasted on site in a converted house-turned-café. Liz Clayton, author of Nice Coffee Time, says “You won't find a better cup in Reykjavík, and you won't find a café quite like this anywhere.”
Rome consistently makes it onto best-of lists when it comes to cities with the best coffee. According to CNN, the nation’s best baristas call Rome home, which makes sense given that Romans can drink five or more espressos a day and consider coffee bars and cafés “temples.” When you think about it, Rome defines the way the rest of the world drinks coffee. Cappuccino, latte, and macchiato are all Italian terms, and drinking coffee in Italy is an experience to be savored. Stopping to drink a cup, even if you’re standing, is more common than grabbing a coffee to go, and Romans live by rules like “no cappuccinos after noon.” Caffè Sant’Eustachio is considered one of the best cafés in the world — owner Roberto Ricci handpicks each of the 100-percent arabica beans in the café’s signature blend. Beans are slow-roasted over wood for a smooth, sweet, and low-acidity coffee that locals and tourists line up for.
San Francisco has the most coffee shops per capita of any U.S. city, according to Redfin. Cafés like Sightglass and Blue Bottle are changing the game for coffee drinkers by offering things like a five-light siphon bar (and by not offering Wi-Fi). Tried and true options like Caffe Trieste have been serving coffee to locals since the 1950s. Conde Nast Traveller considers the coffee at SFMOMA’s rooftop garden a work of art. These are just a few of the reasons San Fran is considered one of the best coffee cities in the world.
Taipei’s strong coffee culture and abundance of unique coffee shops helps it land on the list of the Best Coffee Cities according to MSN, CNN, and LifeHack. Beans here are high-quality, freshly roasted, and slow-brewed for the best flavor. Independent coffee shops like Barbie Café, Paper Plane, and Melange have cult followings. Smart Traveler ranks it among the world’s best, no doubt in part because of the beans available in Taiwan. Taipei is a city that is dedicated to coffee, and the increase in small cafés and chain shops shows it. “Independent cafés here do not just compete on the quality of their coffee; there is also a strong trend of each café creating their own signature drinks,” says Van Lin, co-founder of Gabee Café. “As a result, independent cafés here are adventurous with ingredients when crafting their signature drinks.”
Vancouver is a city of microbrewers, roasters, bean educators, and champion baristas. Independent and small-chain cafés are eager to showcase interesting coffee varieties and brewing techniques. Milano Coffee, the original Vancouver coffee roaster, has won multiple awards from the International Institute of Coffee Tasters in Italy, and its master blender, Brian Turko, has brought a modern and unique approach to European espresso to Vancouver.
Vienna fashions itself the “Coffee Capital of the World” and UNESCO has listed Vienna’s coffee houses as an invaluable part of the city’s heritage. Vienna’s historic cafés are legendary, and it’s no surprise considering that the process of filtering coffee was reportedly invented in the Imperial City in 1683. The city has a high number of cafés, including the famed Café Central, considered one of the most beautiful in the world, and Aida, a small chain of thirty-four ‘50s-style kaffees that has achieved cult status in the city.
Coffee culture in Wellington dates back to the 1950s. Before cafés, there were milk bars, general stores that often sold sundries and served ice cream cones and milkshakes. These establishments served as social venues and hangouts and were the predecessors of the coffee house. According to Tourism New Zealand, it is believed that the flat white originated in Wellington as a result of a failed cappuccino, and though London (as well as Australia) is also known for the flat white, it is only because it was introduced by a Kiwi. “Having coffee in New Zealand isn’t just about the caffeine; it’s this whole culture full of immense pride, creativity, and community,” says American actress Bryce Dallas Howard, a brand ambassador for Tourism New Zealand. Some of the top cafés in Wellington include Havana on Tory Street, The Hangar, Supreme, and Red Rabbit Coffee Co., whose owner came in fifth in the most recent annual Barista World Championships.
If you’re hankering for something a bit stronger than coffee, check out our most recent ranking of the 101 best bars in the world.