In my opinion, the list of things that Europeans do better than us North Americans is long: fashion, food, markets and transportation top the list of many. One everyday habit I enjoyed so much more in Europe was definitely the coffee culture.
My daily coffee in Canada is nothing to write home about. Every morning I’ll either make (or buy) a fairly large cup with a big splash of skim milk. Whether I’m working or not, the cup will last me the better part of the day and hours later, I’m drinking cold, bitter and fairly gross coffee. I’m not even sure you can still call it coffee at that point. I don’t warm it up throughout the day either. I just sip it till it’s done which usually coincides with the end of my shift.
To get to my point, I’ve been accustomed to this daily routine until our trip to Europe when everything changed and I came to understand the real meaning (and beauty) of European coffee culture. The concept there is that one enjoys a good cup of coffee (or two) at a leisurely pace with good company, the daily news or even just a pen and paper.
The Swiss love their coffee as much (or even more) than any other nation. In Geneva, I was particularly captivated by this storefront café. As we walked by, the owner was setting out the outdoor chairs and making sure they were arranged just so. Even being winter, you’d be sure to find the Swiss locals enjoying their daily cup under a warm blanket at a table outdoors. Regrettably, you wouldn’t find Wes and I there – on account of the whole country being so expensive! Our budget had us sticking to the less luxurious instant coffee machine in our hostel but that was fine by us.
Two of the most beautiful, extravagant, luxurious cafes I have ever been to were both in Budapest. The first was the Alexandra Bookcafe (at Lotz Hall) right in the center of downtown, on Andrássy út. You enter the large bookstore and are an escalator ride away from being transported to a beautiful, mirror-walled café hall. This visit was memorable for us because of it’s beauty, the fact that it was nearly empty AND also for being the place where Wes had his very first espresso.
And then there was the New York Café – the most beautiful café in the world. After seeing the photos online, I dragged Wes with me to enjoy a coffee and experience the legendary interiors. It is a popular tourist stop but luckily we didn’t have to wait in line. What the café lacked in service, it made up for in splendor with exquisite murals, high ceilings and even red velvet chairs.
When we got to Vienna, I knew more about the sweets and desserts than I did about their coffee. It didn’t take long before I realized you could probably dedicate an entire course on the different variations of Viennese coffee. Close to the Imperial Palace is Café Griensteidl where we spent a leisurely morning planning our day over coffee.
Another café I went to was Aida, which is part of a franchise. Their menu listed over a dozen types of coffee styles all served by staff in pink uniforms to match the pink and brown trademark colours.
In the end, for me, Paris is still the epitome of café culture. I can remember sitting at a charming corner café in the center of Montmartre where an accordion classic was being played nearby. How much more Parisian can it get? I sat down to write postcards on this last full day in Paris and the hours just flew by. The waiter didn’t rush me. The smoke from outside tables didn’t bother me. It was just me, enjoying my coffee, taking in the last bit of Paris. And it was good to the last drop.