By Mark Cox
Need a little jolt? Move over, Starbucks. Here are 10 European cafés (in no particular order) where caffeine consumption is halfway between an art and a religion.
Coffee philistines, please walk on by, these Budapest blenders mean serious business. Kontakt adheres to a strict, caffeine-worshipping code—no sugar, no milk with filter coffees, and absolutely no Americanos (don’t take it personally). The café’s philosophy is no perfectly blended coffee should need diluting or sweetening, and they’re justifiably confident you’ll enjoy their pure product. If you’re really craving milk, however, they do serve espresso blends such as lattes and flat whites, but you might well get a sniffy look from your barista.
Artisan Roast (Scotland)
Och aye, the brew! No Edinburgh visit would be complete without popping into the first specialty coffee shop and roastery in Scotland. Yes, the coffee’s delicious. And of course, the hot soups and fresh bakes—ideal for warding off those chilly, easterly winds—are perfection. But the real selling point is the atmosphere. In the midst of a bustling tourist city, the café offers a cosy haven of calm and serenity. Add to that, the wit and charm of the friendly staff (the venue promises a ‘superior class of banter’), and you’ve got a winning Gallic combination.
Cogito Coffee (Croatia)
The best things are often the hardest to find, and that certainly applies to this microscopic coffee house, hidden away in a snug corner of Dubrovnik's historic Old Town. It’s a simple spot with just a few wooden benches, but you can smell the delicious roasted blends from the other end of the cobbled street. When Dubrovnik gets scorching hot and muggy during the summer, their cold brews are a great way to beat the heat.
Tim Wendelboe (Norway)
Football has Tom Brady, tennis has Serena Williams, and coffee has Tim Wendelboe, who is—and this is an actual thing, folks—the World Barista Champion. Way up in Oslo, the King of Coffee runs a micro roastery, coffee training center, and espresso bar. Dunkin Donuts, this is not. Expect a cup of pure caffeinated heaven, in a venue The New York Times says is “run like a Michelin-starred restaurant.”
Kaffa Roastery (Finland)
In Finland, chugging back eight or nine cups of joe a day is considered normal. There’s no great mystery why: With temperatures frequently dipping to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you can see why the notion of a piping hot coffee (or nine) might seem inviting. Kaffa Roastery, in Helsinki, stands as the ultimate testament to the Finnish reverence for caffeine. It’s a lovely, warm venue, all the beans are roasted on-site, and you know your barista will be on top of their game because the building next door is The Helsinki School of Coffee!
Satan’s Coffee Corner (Spain)
Like your coffee with a little edge? This hellishly hip joint in Barcelona might be just the place for you. Operating under the banner “roasts to make the devil proud,” this café has a slightly counter-cultural vibe and is popular with local musicians and creative types. But it’s the eclectic roster of specialty brews—roasted locally and blended to complement the changing seasons—that will have you coming back for more. If you’re feeling peckish, they have yummy Japanese-themed street food and their own pastry chef. The devil’s in the details, you see.
Antico Caffè Greco (Italy)
Few people appreciate coffee like the Italians, who have been enthusiastically slurping on espressos since the 1700s. At the oldest coffee shop in Rome (opened in 1760), you can sit at a marble table among all the ornate furnishings and feel like you’ve truly been transported back in time. What’s more, grab a perch at the coffee bar and you’ll be sitting where many famous tushies have parked themselves over the centuries—Casanova, Keats, Shelley, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Orson Welles, and even Buffalo Bill. Of course, all this antique luxury and historic star power doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth treating yourself for the experience.
The smallest coffee shop in Vienna is a quirky, hole-in-the-wall affair that can only squeeze in eight customers at a time. The coffee-making equipment even hangs on the wall to save space. But the specialty blends (made by a couple of Austrian Champion baristas, no less) will blow your mind. Just don’t expect any cakes or sandwiches. Kaffeemodul’s motto is: “We make coffee. Everything else should be done by others.”
Sweet Cup Microroastery (Holland)
Our Most Charming Coffee Shop award goes to this little gem in Amsterdam, run by a sweet couple who lovingly roast their own uniquely flavored blends. So, it’s a great place to relax and hang out, and they also make some delicious food. But the real fun happens at the counter. Every customer is asked to blindly smell the various blends they offer, then choose a favorite—that’s the coffee you’ll get. The owners’ idea is to shake people out of automatically ordering their usual blends and open them up to new flavors. Apparently, it works.
Five Elephant (Germany)
Okay, confession time. This high-end coffee roastery in trendy Berlin is not included here purely for its black liquid gold. Although it does provide a superb caffeine experience equal to any other venue on this list, Five Elephant is really all about the cheesecake. It is the stuff of foodie legend, apparently. Sweet-toothed visitors to the café—and seriously, people make actual pilgrimages to this place—receive a generous slice of two-layered cake that thousands of reviews have described as akin to a spiritual experience.
Mark Cox is a London, England-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in print and digital publications around the world.