Travels of a Coffee Addict

Like more and more people I am a coffee drinker. My first memories of drinking coffee are sat in the Piazza del Campo, in Siena, enjoying a cappuccino and bombolone (custard filled doughnut) as a teenager on a family holiday. Ever since, whenever I visit a coffee-drinking country I look forward to trying the local variety - whether it’s a cafezinho in Brazil (short, strong, sweet and black), a Vietnamese coffee (strong and mixed condensed milk), or traditional Ethiopian coffee, probably the best I’ve ever had.

Red coffee beans Red coffee beans, Nicaragua

Ethiopia is in fact where it all began. The story goes that a herder, Kaidi, noticed that when his goats ate the red berries from a local bush they had more energy than normal. Kaidi tried the berries himself and decided to bring them to a local monk who, disapproving of stimulants, threw them in the fire. Soon a rich aroma arose attracting the curiosity of other monks. The roasted beans were raked out of the ashes, ground up and brewed in hot water and, just like that, the first cup of coffee was made.

Coffee, Ethiopia Coffee, Ethiopia

It quickly became an important facet of Ethiopian culture and remains so today. It is normally drunk following a ceremonial preparation; the beans are freshly roasted over a brazier, ground up finely in a mortar and pestle and brewed in a special pot known as a jebana. The coffee boils into the jebana’s long neck and is poured into another pot to cool down before being boiled for a second time. It is served black and sweetened to taste. Commonly frankincense will be placed on the burning coals of the brazier and popcorn will be served to accompany the coffee. Other countries don’t have such elaborate ceremonies but coffee, I have found, can bring about fascinating local encounters. I remember being sat in a café in Sarajevo’s Old Town drinking a Bosnian coffee (short, black and strong - similar to those drunk in Turkey and Greece) when a man wearing a striped shirt, hat and sporting an elegant moustache sat at my table with an approving expression. He spoke only Serbo-Croat, of which I speak none, but the coffee was invitation enough. He ordered his own and we communicated, somehow, for a while as we sipped our coffee and relaxed in the shade of a tree.

A traditional Bosnian coffee set A traditional Bosnian coffee set

A part of the world which has probably become more synonymous with coffee than any other is Latin America. In Costa Rica I visited a plantation, endless rows of coffee trees interspersed with banana trees and other plants. In Colombia, in a region of the country known as the ‘Coffee Zone,’ I was invited to a small farm where the family grew coffee for their own consumption. In Panama I was taken to a coffee tasting where, just like with wines, I was taught how to recognise different blends. And every time, of course, it ended with a great cuppa joe.

Coffee sacks on display, Costa Rica Coffee sacks on display, Costa Rica

Other countries are known for their coffee, Kenya, Jamaica, India, but one country which I have yet to explore and sample its caffeinated delights is reputed to have the best and most expensive coffee in the world: Indonesia. The coffee I refer too is Kopi Luwak, also known as civet coffee. The civet cat eats the coffee berry; the bean then passes through the animal’s digestive system before being defecated. The beans are thoroughly washed and dried in the sun before being roasted, ground and brewed. They say the resulting taste is less bitter than normal coffee and the cost of a kilo of Kopi Luwak is in the hundreds of pounds. I don’t yet know when I will eventually make my way to the islands of Indonesia but I do know that once there I will make a point of having a cup of what is probably the world’s most unusual coffee!

Follow Tom's taste journey:

Siena - Cycle Siena and Chianti

Ethiopia - Ethiopia holidays 

Bosnia - Bosnia & Herzegovina holidays

Indonesia - Indonesia holidays

Learn more about trips going to...

Read our expert insights on...