Virtuoso Life contributor Jeff Koehler wrote the book on coffee: Where the Wild Coffee Grows. It’s an in-depth exploration of arabica coffee in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, the Kaffa people’s culture, and how that region may hold the key to Latin America’s coffee industry, which has been battered by climate change and other factors. “Writing a book about coffee allows for a couple of justifiable indulgences,” says Koehler. “One, of course, is drinking coffee – lots of it. I have sipped more in the last two years than the previous ten.” Another is spending time in cafés and coffeehouses that have a patina of history, sumptuous interiors, and attentive service. Here are five cafés he advises you to seek out.
Viennese kaffeehaus culture has played such a key role in shaping the city that UNESCO added it to its Intangible Cultural Heritage List. For centuries, artists, writers, musicians, and thinkers have treated Vienna’s sophisticated coffeehouses as public living rooms. Sigmund Freud, for instance, favored the lovely Café Landtmann. Indulge in its famous apple strudel with your afternoon coffee.
Café Las Violetas was founded in the Almagro barrio in 1884, and in the 1920s, moved to its current building, resplendent with high, ornate ceilings, curved stained glass, and Italian marble. Come for the elegance – and for a plate of medialunas (small croissants) to accompany the coffee. On weekends, the café is open 24 hours a day.
Set near the Grand Bazaar in a garden courtyard of an eighteenth-century mosque, Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi is a direct descendant of the ancient Ottoman coffeehouses once found across the city. Order a traditional Turkish-style coffee, in which the grounds are boiled with water and sugar in a long-handled cezve pot. Many patrons linger for hours while smoking hookahs.
Few cities have a single café with the dominating renown of Café Du Monde. Established in 1862 and always open, it’s touristy, but remains one of the best places in the French Quarter for people watching at any hour. You’ll have a café au lait, made with the house coffee, which is roasted with chicory, and a plate of sugar-dusted beignets.
In a city that consumes the most coffee per person in Italy and is home to the legendary roaster Illy, the iconic spot for a perfectly pulled espresso is Caffè San Marco. The café embraced its literary roots – James Joyce and Italo Svevo are among those who have found inspiration at its marble tables – by opening a bookstore inside. Pick up a copy of Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, Jan Morris’ paean to the city, before sitting down.
Top photo: Café Las Violetas in Buenos Aires. (Photo by Viviane Ponti/Getty Images)