Understanding Café Culture In Europe

In many countries across Europe, the café culture is an important part of peoples’ everyday lives, and you can learn a lot about the locals and their traditions by simply exploring the cafés as you visit each country.

You’ll be amazed by just how much they differ from each other, and how much their traditions tells you about the people themselves…

Café Culture Swedish "Fika"

Understanding Café Culture In Europe

Swedish “Fika”

In Sweden, café culture is a big deal, and a very important part of Swedish culture.

The coffee breaks are called “fika”, and the coffee is always served with “fikabröd” (coffee bread) which can be anything from Swedish cinnamon buns, sweet bread and biscuits – often all of them at once.

Swedes have “fika” up to 4 times per day, and always at least once – they are among the world’s heaviest coffee drinkers (behind Finland), but they don’t drink espresso, rather large mugs of coffee.

During fika, everyone in the family or all the colleagues at work gather and sit down together and take a long time to drink their coffee.

Going for a fika is also one of the most common ways for friends to meet up, so if you’re ever in Sweden and want to meet up with a friend or ask someone out on a more laid-back date, ask them out for a “fika”.

Café Culture Italy's Quick Coffee

Italy’s Quick Coffee

Unlike in Sweden where people take their time and can sit for hours with one coffee, Italians drink their coffee fast – and they do it standing up by a bar, sometimes (depending on what coffee they ordered) they even throw it back as a shot!

Coffee is a huge part of Italian culture, but be aware that when you order a coffee, to them it means an espresso.

I was so surprised to see that all the Italians often have for breakfast is a coffee and a biscuit or croissant, but that’s they way they do it.

They also only drink certain coffee at specific times of the day – they would drink a milk based coffee like Caffé Latte or Cappuccino in the morning, but never after a meal or in the evening – try ordering one and see the look the waiter will give you..!

English Tea Café Culture

English Afternoon Tea

The tea drinking culture dates back many centuries in England, and while in the 18th century women were forbidden in the Coffee houses, they would instead have tea gardens where they would drink the tea outside, which was one of the few places women and men could meet freely.

The afternoon tea became popular later on, and is today a big part of English culture, together with “Elevensies” and “High Tea”.

A typical afternoon tea usually include warm scones with clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches, and of course a pot of tea – in London there has been an “explosion” of afternoon tea houses, so there are loads of great places to check out.

Most tea houses are in the city center, so if you really want to splurge and indulge in afternoon teas, stay close, and visit Hotels for central London hotels.

If you prefer saving money on accommodation, I suggest you stay at a hotel in Earls Court London, as it’s cheaper there.

Vienna's Coffee Houses

Vienna’s Coffee Houses

I should start by mentioning that while the rest of Austria is more about the beer, their capital city Vienna has one of the oldest café cultures in Europe.

Visiting a Viennese Coffee House is a unique experience, and they are often referred to as the city’s “public living rooms”.

Sitting down with a Großer Schwarzer and an appel strudel (or the famous Sacher Torte), at a Viennese Coffee houses is one of the best places for people watching and to embrace their cultural heritage, so much so that even Unesco included them on their Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

There are many more countries in Europe and around the world that have a unique café culture, which is your favorite?

(photo credits:  1 – 2 – 4)

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20 thoughts on “Understanding Café Culture In Europe”

  1. Personally I like the Italians. They treat espresso like a medical necessity and are very businesslike and perfunctory about getting it done. I do like that Swedes drink regular coffee though. It makes me want to go there. I always reach a point of frustration in Europe where I just want to approximate a cup of regular American coffee with half and half and I just end up exasperating counter people. Great idea for an article! 🙂

  2. I miss the cafe culture of UK and Europe, now we live in Thailand where its not really done to the same standard. ‘Fika’ 4 times a day sounds great.

  3. I agree with most of you that Sweden has a good custom/culture in having coffee. Swedish value time and drinking coffee should be given time because it’s hot. You dont want to get scald.

  4. Haha yes that is a great way to put it, “like a medical necessity”.

    I understand your frustration, you will find regular coffee in northern Europe though. I think in the south you can sometimes (in fancier places) order an “americana”, where the espresso is more watered down.

  5. Fika four times day sounds great in theory but what an awful lot of sugar! I think my favourite cafe culture country is probably Germany (sorry Austria!) with its Kafee und Kuchen and wonderful slices of cake. Cheers:)

  6. I grew up in Vienna and can vouch that it’s the most wonderful coffee culture. You can spend hours in a cafe, ordering one of the dozens and dozens of types of coffee (delicious desserts as well – someone once said it’s impossible to remain slim in Vienna), reading the papers, chatting, watching people… Sheer bliss!

  7. I have tested all the different coffee / tea traditions. I am from Sweden (and American in spirit), so I have “fikat” many times during the years. The Italian coffee bars with baristas have become very popular in Sweden. As a tea enthusiast, I am glad to see that the Afternoon Tea tradition is catching on. I haven’t been in Vienna yet, but I had a slice of Austrian café culture in the Hungarian city, Sopron, close to the Austrian border (and a stone’s throw from Vienna).

  8. Portuguese people used to have a lot of coffee (small cup) “Expresso”. In the cities, in the morning with a popular “pastel de nata” and, during the day, simple. In the coldest places, like in the north, the older people used to have a “bagaço” (brandy). Nowadays people are spending less money also in the Cafés.
    In my coffe-shop “O Cafe da Praça”, situated in Constancia, a local cake “Queijinho do Ceu” hand made by the Clarissas Nuns together with coffee or porto wine or ginginha liquor.

  9. I love the cafe culture in Europe, and it’s interesting how different each place is. I made the mistake of ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon in Italy, and the look I got just said “stupid tourist!” 🙂

  10. Yes, a lot of sugar indeed!
    I agree, Germany has wonderful cakes, although I didn’t like that they always used “automatic” coffee machines in the cafes.

  11. I love Europe’s unique cafe culture and it’s so fascinating to see how it differs by country. I live in Brussels, and there are many wonderful cafes ranging from preserved art nouveau cafes to more modern “American” style coffee houses. It’s so interesting that only in Italy is ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon frowned upon, it’s practically all that is served here. I will definitely have a “fika” when I visit Sweden. Sounds wonderful in the morning and late afternoon.

  12. What a coffee heaven to grow up in! I can imagine staying slim is difficult in Vienna. with all their delicious cakes. I find it fascinating how it is really quite different from the rest of Austria when it comes to cafe culture. Here in Innsbruck where we are at the moment it’s not at all the same.

  13. What a coffee heaven to grow up in! I can imagine staying slim is difficult in Vienna. with all their delicious cakes.

    I find it fascinating how it is really quite different from the rest of Austria when it comes to cafe culture. Here in Innsbruck where we are at the moment it’s not at all the same.

  14. I love the pastel de nata! I did see a lot of espresso coffee when we were there.
    I haven’t tried the local cake you mentioned, will have to try it next time. 🙂

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