Take a break

I like coffee. I like drinking coffee, I like talking coffee, and I occasionally like writing about coffee. Call it an addiction, but it’s one plenty of Australians seem to share.

But where do you get the best coffee fix when you’re on the road? So fellow coffee lovers, do yourself a favour: avoid the genteel café cultures of most of Europe and set your sights further afield. There’s are plenty of great brews to be found around the world.

New Zealand

Along with hairy-footed-gnome movies and robotic rugby players, Kiwis also excel at producing a sensational cup of coffee. Wellington is the country’s king, but you can walk into a café pretty much anywhere across the ditch and be sure that you’ll be served a rich, smooth flat white. Apparently a lot of Kiwis are moving to Australia – as long as they’re baristas it should work out fine.


Trust me: sit down at a café and order a “nous-nous”. That’s Arabic for “half-half” – a small glass half-filled with frothy milk and topped up with espresso. It’s the perfect way to drink what is always great coffee around the country, where people sit at cafes French-style, staring out at the crowds, drinking nous-nous produced from hand-pulled espresso machines. It almost makes you forget the lack of booze.


It’s not just parochialism, we really do great coffee – from the wanky organic free-trade stuff to the regular old cup from your corner store. And it’s not just in Melbourne, the traditional capital of all things hot and caffeinated, but in all of the capital cities, and increasingly in the country… And even out of the country. Together with New Zealand we’re taking the flat white to the world.


Up in the coffee-growing regions around Pereira, they do a mean cup of java. The stuff is brewed not with regular water but with sugarcane juice, turning a simple espresso into a sweet, sticky explosion of caffeine and energy. It’s not always served that way, but even the regular stuff in Colombia is up there with the world’s best.


There is bad coffee in Italy. If you choose to drink your café lattes while sitting down at the touristy piazzas you’re just as likely to be served a steaming bowl of watery milk as a decent brew. Best bet is to seek out the little neighbourhood joints where everyone’s standing at a bar sipping from little cups. Order an espresso, pay your one euro or so, and enjoy.


At any given moment on any given day you could ask me what I’d like to be doing and it’s this: sitting at a café in the Buenos Aires suburb of Palermo, people-watching and drinking a “café cortado” with a little glass of sparkling water on the side. The coffee is good in Argentina, and the setting is perfect.


The beans are local. The drip-filters are unique. The shot of condensed milk is perfect. And the addition of some ice cubes in inspired. There are few things better on a sticky Asian day than a glass of cold coffee in Vietnam.


When I think back on misty-eyed memories of southern India, there’s one that sticks out furthest: standing on a dirty street in Madurai, an island in the hustle and bustle, sipping a glass of sweet, spiced, milky coffee whipped up by a guy who’s probably been whipping up sweet, spiced, milky coffee his entire life. It tastes like nowhere else.


“More carffee?” That’s the sound most old-school restaurants ring with around the country as waitresses offer to top up your bottomless drink with more percolated bilge. Because when I say the USA, I don’t mean all of the USA. Most coffee in the States isn’t great – up in the Pacific Northwest, however, in places like Seattle and Portland, you’ll have no trouble finding a reasonably sized cup of organic espresso to go with your bran muffin and granola.


You have to like it black. And thick. And you have to have time on your hands. A “coffee ceremony” in Ethiopia – which involves the roasting, grinding, brewing and serving of coffee – can take up most of your morning, but the resulting pots of tasty black goo are easily worth all of the effort. You’ll drink three cups per ceremony, so don’t plan on a siesta afterwards.