Greater than a flat white: Ten places that do coffee better than Australia

Here's my hot take on coffee: the Australian flat white is almost perfection. When it's done well, with a perfectly extracted espresso mixed with a small amount of "pulled" milk that's not too frothy and not too hot, it's a thing of true beauty.

We brought this to the world, and it's great. Even though we would probably have to admit that a good flat white is not all that different to a proper Italian cappuccino, this is a solid contribution to worldwide coffee culture.

And yet Australia is not the only country to contribute something interesting: plenty of nations around the world have devised their own special versions of coffee, of beans brewed with water, and some of them are worth travelling for in their own right.

Here are 10 of them. And not a pumpkin-spiced chai latte in sight …

Ca phe sua da, Vietnam

I would travel to Vietnam purely for a "ca phe sua da", an iced coffee with milk, brewed in a mini-percolator that drips strong black coffee over a glass of ice-cubes and a layer of condensed milk. Once the percolator has finished its work, you stir coffee, ice and milk together, and you have the perfect, delicious antidote to a hot Vietnamese day.

Drink it: At a "ca phe vong", a roadside coffee shop with hammocks for the guests.

Espresso, Italy

True aficionados will tell you that this is coffee at its simplest and best. No milk. No sugar. No other flavours or mixers. Just a simple, small shot of perfectly extracted espresso, drunk from a tiny cup. When you're in Italy that's a hard thing to argue with, though without good beans roasted properly and prepared well, an espresso is not delicious.

Drink it: At a Roman bar, while standing and yelling at someone about football.

Cortado, Argentina

Argentina has a great coffee culture, thanks to a large Italian migrant population. Coffee here has taken on a life of its own, with a whole series of unique cups: cafe chico (a slightly longer espresso), cafe con crema (espresso with cream, and lagrima (a large amount of milk cut with coffee). My personal favourite is the "cortado", a shot of espresso that's "cut" with a little frothy milk and served with a tiny glass of sparkling water.


Drink it: At a pavement cafe in Buenos Aires' Palermo district.

Coconut coffee, Vietnam

Vietnam gets two entries because this is a country that loves coffee, and does some interesting things with it (check out egg coffee, made using condensed milk and whipped egg yolks). Blurring the lines between beverage and dessert, there's also coconut coffee, a dripped espresso mixed with condensed milk and coconut cream. It's sweet, strong and tasty.

Drink it: At a trendy Hanoi coffee shop.

Kahvesi, Turkey

<i>Turkish coffee brewing.</i>

Turkish coffee brewing. Photo: iStock

Turkish coffee is pretty brutal to the uninitiated, particularly if you make the mistake of getting halfway through the cup and then taking a big gulp: you'll get a mouthful of coffee grounds. Blergh. To make coffee in Turkey, beans are ground to a fine powder and then brewed on a stove-top and poured into a cup unfiltered. The result is bitter and powerful, and the grounds are a trap for first-time players.

Drink it: Look for the oldest, rowdiest shop you can find on the streets of Istanbul.

Nous-nous, Morocco

"Nous-nous" is Arabic for "half-half", which tells you all you need to know about this Moroccan staple. Half coffee, half milk. The perfect combo. The coffee is often extracted via a hand-pulled espresso machine, and the milk is warmed and pulled in the same way a flat white is prepared. It's served in a small glass and it's very good.

Drink it: At an old-school coffee shop in the Fes medina.

Kissaten, Japan

This isn't so much about the coffee itself, but the traditions and the surrounds. A "kissaten" is an old-school Japanese tea and coffee shop – it's also something of a dying breed, given the popularity of Starbucks and its ilk, as well as "third-wave" coffee shops doing flat-white-style cups. Coffee at kissatens is usually made using a percolator and served in a china cup with milk on the side. These places are cultural throwbacks that have to be experienced.

Drink it: Try the beautiful Chatei Hatou in Tokyo's Shibuya district.

Coffee with kaya toast, Singapore

Again, this isn't so much about the coffee itself – which usually isn't amazing – but what goes with it. The tradition. The toast. Coffee in Singapore is often served with kaya toast – slices of buttered toast smeared with kaya, a sweet coconut and pandan jam – as well as soft-boiled eggs mixed with soy and pepper. Dip the toast in the eggs, follow with a sip of coffee. Perfection.

Drink it: Most hawker centres in Singapore will have a kaya toast stand.

Ethiopian coffee, Ethiopia

Coffee in Ethiopia isn't just made – there's a whole ceremony around its production and consumption. That ceremony involves the burning of incense, and then the cleaning and roasting of fresh beans over an open fire. Those beans are then hand-ground, and brewed with water back on that fire. The resulting beverage is then poured into small cups, and the remaining coffee grounds are used to brew two more batches. Everyone drinks three cups, which are said to transform the spirit.

Drink it: At someone's house in a town such as Lalibela.

Fika, Sweden


Photo: Getty Images

Swedes love coffee. They drink more of the stuff than almost any other nation on Earth. They drink black coffee and white coffee, drip-filter coffee and espresso. Regardless of their preference, however, they almost always drink coffee during "fika", the nation's traditional coffee break that's accompanied by a spectacular array of cakes, pastries and other delicious treats, and taken in good company.

Drink it: Stockholm has plenty of cosy cafes that specialise in fika.

What's your favourite style of coffee that you've discovered on your travels? Have you ever tried to re-create it at home?



See also: The eight foods (and two drinks) Australians miss most when overseas

See also: The one place outside Australia that takes their caffeine very, very seriously