Food Tales

Celebrating the Beauty of Coffee in the Most Curious Places

by Kerri Allen
Coffee Photo by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash.

The history of coffee is the history of humanity. Think about it: Generations of farmers all over the world are experts in cultivating the crop, and distinct café cultures have developed over time from Colombia to Japan, with countless stops in between. Even the artistry of the physical pour of the liquid differs by era and region.

Which may be why no matter where I am in the world, I rely on coffee not only to start my day but also to get a peek into how a destination, a people, and a culture work.

Let's begin this caffeinated global hopscotch at the birthplace of coffee: Ethiopia. At Tomoca Coffee House in Addis Ababa, travelers can participate in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, which starts when the raw bean is washed, roasted, and ground with a mortar and pestle. The grounds are added to boiling water in a jebena (coffee pot), then dramatically poured into small espresso-sized cups.

If, like me, you live in North America, you can taste an homage to this authentic experience (minus the 7,000-mile trip) at Bu’na: The Soul of Coffee on Toronto’s Queen Street West (next to the Drake Hotel, a Fathom Favorite). This step-by-step ceremony was a grounding way to start my day and enjoy a coffee, much more memorable than my usual get-it-in-my-hand-now morning routine.

The coffee ritual at Bu'na in Toronto. Photo by Mike Brown.

Now to fly across the Pacific to Japan. The country often considered a haven for tea lovers was the birthplace of Omotesando Koffee, where serving coffee is an art form and expertly brewed cups are served in a Zen-like ambiance. While their Tokyo shop has closed, the Hong Kong location embodies the historic, quiet style of Japanese tea ceremonies: Visitors are served their brew on a square tatami mat to help increase focus, remove external noise, and center the coffee and coffee-drinking experience.

I had a distinct but similarly calming experience on a recent trip to Iceland, when a rainy day found me with the need for shelter and a place to kill time. I’m so grateful that I stumbled into Mokka Kaffi, one of the oldest cafés in Reykjavik and the first in Iceland to make coffee with an espresso machine. For more than 60 years, this deeply mid-century modern spot has doubled as an art gallery, inviting you to sink in and linger a bit longer over your caffeinated cup. I was happy to oblige.

New York City’s coffee culture has come a long way from the “We Are Happy to Serve You” paper cups favored by street vendors (who generally filled them with watery sludge). Love it or hate it, in the 1990s Starbucks ushered in a new wave of experiencing coffee in my home town. I was equally shocked and delighted by my visit to the high-end version of the ubiquitous café, Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery, on the basement level of the Empire State Building (yes, the Empire State Building, and, yes, the basement) where, behind gold curtains, I found a hidden lounge with a six-seat wooden tasting table. There, a barista whipped up an iced cortado with espresso, olive oil, piloncillo syrup, orange bitters, and oat milk. It definitely provided me a different perspective on the big brand and has proven to be a unexpected way to surprise out-of-towners.

Because whether savoring a cup at a quiet café in Hong Kong or underground on Fifth Avenue, curious cafes are a reminder that the beauty of coffee lies not only in its taste but also in the history it holds, the thread among peoples, and the curious rituals that we make our own, in our connected (and caffeinated) global village.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.