Something magical happens when hot water pours over ground up coffee beans. It’s led us coffee-lovers to form a special cult of people traveling the world in search of the very best cup. If you love coffee, you loooove coffee. Every place has their own speciality, and often they’re unique enough to leave us saying, “That settles it. I’m moving here. Pour another cup.”
If you’re sick of packing a burr grinder, organic beans and Aeropress in your way-too-small suitcase, head to one of these destinations to find some of the best (already made) cups of coffee instead:
Best Coffee in: Tokyo, Japan
Japan has a long history of perfecting beverages. The Japanese tea ceremony is all about meticulous precision. So, it makes total sense that they brew coffee just as carefully. The end result is a fantastic cup, made with obvious care and attentiveness.
The Japanese were introduced to coffee in 1700, thanks to Dutch traders. The Japanese found it to be a bitter and unpleasant drink. In 1804, a famous Japanese poet wrote of coffee, “It smells burnt and the taste is intolerable.” I can’t say we would have been friends. Luckily, the country’s stormy relationship with coffee changed drastically as Westernization took hold. The world’s first canned coffee originated in Japan in 1969. Today, you’ll find coffee in every vending machine in Japan, which means you have 5 million opportunities to try out Japanese canned coffee (and in the winter, the cans are hot!).
While life in Tokyo may look chaotic at a glance, with flashing lights and crowded trains, most of the food scene operates at a different pace. In fact, it’s a social faux paus to eat or drink while walking. Eating while walking means you’re probably distracted, and therefore not devoting respect to the fuel you’re putting in your body. You’ll understand this mentality once you step into a tiny coffee shop down any alley and feel everything slow down. Here’s where to go to experience what I’m talking about:
Light Up Coffee
Where? Kichijoji and Shimokitazawa
What to order: The Tasting Set Trio is a fantastic choice if you want to better understand the intricate flavors in your coffee. It comes with adorable notecards behind each cup that explain the beans down to the smallest detail, like what elevation they grew at. Tip: the notecards are in Japanese, so use Google translate to help you out.
Bonus points for Light Up Coffee: On a nice day, sit outside on their steps for excellent people watching. Ok, adorable dog watching.
Extra bonus: Last summer, the seasonal menu featured espresso gin and tonic. Summer + espresso + gin + tonic + Tokyo = never going home.
What to order: Espresso Con Panna that is perfectly Italian-inspired.
More often than not, Mr. Kyohei Nishiya himself will be there making your drinks. The Coffeehouse has a charming decor that speaks of Italy, but also a bit of that ‘local diner that your grandparents went to every Tuesday for meatloaf’ vibe.
Best Coffee in: Hanoi, Vietnam
If you were to walk around Hanoi blindfolded, within seconds you’d end up eating a bowl of pho and drinking Vietnamese coffee. The motorbike traffic is heavy, so while I don’t recommend walking around with a blindfold, you get my point. The density of coffee shops within the city center is nothing shy of impressive.
Given the French history in Vietnam, they’re no strangers to the process of roasting and brewing coffee. They’ve strayed from French tradition, however, and often roast the beans in avocado oil which ensures the beans won’t burn and adds an extra creamy taste.
The coffee culture in Vietnam’s capital is thanks to the country’s coffee-growing expertise. Vietnam is the world’s biggest producer of Robusta coffee and the second largest producer of coffee worldwide. Hanoi has created some its own speciality coffees that you are required to try. Here’s where to go for the best cup in Hanoi:
What to order: Egg Coffee. Okay okay, don’t lose faith in me because I’m sending you to a hostel to drink coffee with raw egg yolk in it. A Hanoi speciality, egg coffee must be tried. It starts with dark-roast Robusta beans brewed into velvety espresso. Then egg yolk and sweetened condensed milk are beaten together for an eternity (like 10 minutes). It turns into a heavenly rich, sweet, extra-dense merengue texture. That gets poured over the perfect Robusta espresso. Egg coffee is what heaven tastes like.
Not only are the baristas at the Chien Hostel angels, the rooftop bar overlooks St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The church was completed in 1886 and was built to resemble Notre-Dame de Paris. It’s really is a religious experience. Go here early in your trip because this is worth returning to often.
Hanoi House Cafe
What to order: Coffee with sweetened condensed milk
As the name suggests, the Hanoi House Cafe is in a traditional Vietnamese house. Getting there involves walking through a small alley and up a wonky staircase. It feels like you’re going to accidentally wander into someone’s private home. Once in the correct (coffee) house, grab a seat on the balcony and watch the world go by. The coffee is damn near perfect, and adding sweetened condensed milk is the way to go in Vietnam. Everything in this cafe is a photographer’s paradise, from the tile floor, the exposed ceiling, the plants, the windows, and the way the light enters the cafe.
Best Coffee in: Belgrade, Serbia
In your search for the best coffee, travel to the site of the first-ever coffee house in Europe: Belgrade. Stemming from the Ottoman period, the first kafana (coffee house) in Europe cropped up in Dorcol, a neighborhood in Belgrade. Of course this sixteenth-century kafana served Turkish coffee in its rich, finely-ground, and unfiltered glory. Given the intensity of this new caffeinated drink, patrons spent a good chunk of their days slowly sipping, socializing and conducting business. It was such an important backbone in the city’s culture that the first electric street light in the city was installed directly outside of the first kafana.
Today, that iconic coffee culture found in Europe is perfectly represented in Belgrade (but at a fraction of the price). It’s everything we love about coffee in Europe: the inviting outdoor patios on pedestrian-only streets, the giant umbrellas, the option to share a bottle of wine and then move on to espresso (ice cream optional). So, let Belgrade wow you with these coffee options:
Aviator Coffee Explorer
What to order: Pour Over with your choice of bean
You can’t go wrong in a place with the slogan, “But first, coffee.” So first, order a pour over (I’d ask the barista for their bean recommendation that day), and then savor. Ordinarily I opt for outdoor seating, but Aviator Coffee Explorer’s interior is so impressive, I’d stay inside. With walls covered in greenery, insanely cool lighting and green couches, you’ll be asking to move in even before you order.
What to order: Jaffa coffee. Espresso, milk, Belgian chocolate, and orange essence round out this life-changing latte. It’s modeled after the British Jaffa Cake and does not disappoint anyone who’s a fan of the British cake (and even those who aren’t).
Baristocratia is everything you want in a cafe, and it’s conveniently nestled right in the center of Belgrade. Indoor and outdoor seating, wifi, delicious cookies and excellent coffee. It’s a recipe for a great morning, afternoon meeting, or evening pick-me-up.
Best Coffee in: Ubud, Indonesia
Ubud’s no stranger to monkeys, rice paddies, and coffee. Ubud sits in the center of Bali, a giant volcanic island in Indonesia. The volcanic soil is said to be a large reason why the coffee grown here is so delicious. Coffee plantations near Ubud specialize in the wet method of processing beans. The coffee bean is actually the pit of the coffee berry. Once harvested, the berry is dried and then stripped off, leaving the pit (bean). But the wet method strips the berry off first and leaves the now-naked bean to dry. This process is why the Ubud coffee is brighter and fruitier than most.
Here at Seeker, we do our best to travel responsibly by taking care of Mother Earth and her wildlife. Indonesia is well known for civet coffee, or kopi luwak. More often than not, the civet’s are kept in sad conditions and are treated poorly. Because of this, we’re highlighting other great coffee options found in Indonesia. And there are plenty of ethical choices around. Here’s where to find them:
What to order: Iced Americano
Tucked into the second floor with a handful of bar stools and three tables, Anuman Coffee feels as personable and comfortable as sitting in your best friend’s house during a Netflix binge. The coffee is never bitter and perfect for an iced americano on a warm afternoon. The bar stools overlooking the busy street below provide a much needed breeze while you savor the best americano, always served with a kind smile and a side of coconut sugar.
Atman Nourish Kafe
What to order: Coco-oil Latte or Tumeric Latte
A waterfall and a 180° rice paddie view make the Atman Nourish Kafe a must-visit for your morning cup of coffee. If your timing is right, the crickets will be chirping in the distance. Or ducks might be waddling around searching for a snack in the water-bogged field. Point being, this is serenity like none other. Add some coffee in the mix and you’ve reached euphoria. Although it’s doesn’t include coffee, the tumeric latte is worth trying for an earthy, nutty flavor. And when in Ubud, vegan food reigns supreme, so dive deep into that smoothie bowl.