Want Great Coffee? These Cities Are Your Best Bet

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Coffee is a universal beverage, which means there are few places on Earth where you have to forego your morning caffeine ritual. If you really appreciate the bean, however, you'll want to know which cities are the best for feeding your habit. That depends on whether you just need a quick dark roast from a chain shop or whether you want to immerse yourself in the local cafe culture. In coffee-conscious cities, how and where you drink is as important as what you drink. Some of the big name chains have tried (and failed if you ask a purist) to mimic the feel of these coffee cultures.

So where can you find the best cup of morning (or afternoon) coffee? That depends in large part on how you define "good coffee," but the following cities are known for their quality brews and for the un-copyable atmospheres in which they serve them.

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Addis Ababa

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Both species of coffee plant, arabica and robusta, originated in Ethiopia. The East African country still has several very active coffee growing regions, though we know prolific growing doesn't necessarily guarantee a good domestic coffee scene. In Colombia, for example, the best beans are reserved for the lucrative export market. That's not the case in Ethiopia, where as much as 70 percent of the coffee crop is consumed domestically. Many venues still make their brew the traditional way. They roast the beans by hand and brew the drink in a clay pot.

Coffee lovers in Addis Ababa have plenty of choices. Travel guides recommend experiencing the traditional brew, sometimes referred to as a "coffee ceremony" because of the lengthy roasting and brewing process. Neighborhood cafes and western-style coffee shops, which serve Italian-style drinks, add to the menu of caffeination options. Addis Ababa will delight coffee purists because of the lack of major international coffee shop brands. Several domestic names, including Tomoka (To.Mo.Ca) and Kaldi's have multiple locations around the capital, but many shops are completely independent.

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Cafe Cubano is everywhere in Cuba. This thick espresso-like shot of caffeine is usually doused with sugar and served in a tiny cup. Cafes in Havana also serve other coffee-based beverages. Most of the beans are roasted in small batches and come directly from the interior mountain areas, which boast ideal soil and elevation for growing coffee plants.

Starbucks and its global peers are absent from Cuba’s coffee scene, so independent coffee shops thrive. This is the city for you if you want to spend time in charming cafes with mismatched furniture. Every self-respecting Cuban barista can brew up a quality cup of coffee, and many of the cafes dabble in fancier drinks that use whipped cream, flavorings and even liquor. If you can't make it to Havana, you can find cafe Cubano stateside. Cuban-American neighborhoods such as Little Havana in Miami have numerous shops selling the sweet, potent shots.

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Melbourne is a great city for coffee lovers who want to get away from the chain scene. Neighborhood shops abound. These range from roughly converted storefronts that draw remote-working hipsters to coffee shops that attract aficionados with single-origin beans, craft roasting, and creative coffee-based beverages. Melbourne's cafes have even developed their own distinctive style of coffee-accompanying cuisine.

Melbourne has drawn a lot of coffee talent. It's a destination for both roasters and baristas. Melbourne's baristas always perform well at national and international competitions. People might come to Melbourne to work in the coffee scene, but the Australian city's cafe scene is also getting exported. The New York Times has reported on the opening of a number of "Australian style cafes" in the Big Apple.

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Italian coffee culture has inspired the cafe scenes in cities all around the world. When it comes to ordering your morning brew, everyone speaks Italian: espresso, latte and cappuccino. Tourists flock to some of the oldest cafes in Rome, such as Caffé Greco, which first opened in the 18th century, well before Italian inventor Angelo Moriondo spawned the espresso revolution by creating a steam-powered, pressurized coffee brewing system. Even today, espresso and espresso-based beverages dominate the menu in Rome. At many places, you won’t find filter-brewed coffee at all.

People for whom coffee is a ritual will appreciate the Roman approach to cafes, which are called (coffee) bars here. Despite the storied history and romance associated with Rome's cafe scene, most coffee shop visits are quick affairs for locals. Romans stand at the counter and drink their espresso or cappuccino (only in the early morning) relatively quickly. So if you want the "local experience," stand at the bar instead of sitting down.

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Ipoh, Malaysia

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Lonely Planet once called Ipoh, Malaysia, one of the top coffee towns in the world. This state capital, the third largest city in Malaysia, is known for its food scene, but one particular type of coffee has put it on the world map. Ipoh white coffee is made from beans roasted in palm oil margarine. (According to the Malaysian palm oil industry, the country produces 39 percent of palm oil used around the world, which is steeped in controversy due to deforestation.) The resulting brew is usually mixed with condensed milk. As the popularity of this drink has grown, instant versions have become available, so you have to make sure you're getting the real thing when ordering.

Shops and market stalls will serve white coffee, but you can also head to the city's coffee shops. Many, located within the historic Old Town, are heavy on art and whimsy, and they serve other coffee drinks besides the local favorite. Interestingly, the "white" in white coffee refers to the beans, which have a lighter color when roasted compared to standard Malaysian "kopi" beans. This means you can drink the beverage without the condensed milk and still be drinking white coffee.

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Istanbul's cafe scene dates back to the 16th century. The method used in early cafes — boiling water directly with finely ground coffee — is still practiced in many coffee shops, and you can find the boiling pots (ibrik), ornate cups, and grinding mills or mortars at markets in the Turkish capital. Like Addis Ababa, however, Istanbul has embraced more modern forms of java brewing as well. Artisan roasters and creative baristas work with both new and old coffee-making mediums and select beans from all over the world.

Istanbul is well known for its coffee culture. When the city decided to launch an annual coffee festival, nearly 15,000 people attended and some of the world's largest coffee companies signed up to be vendors. In only its first year, the conference was one of the biggest of its kind in Europe. Add to this the prevalence of coffee shops with outdoor seating, and you have the makings of one of the world's great cafe cities.

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Seattle is usually associated, sometimes negatively, with the world’s biggest coffee house chain. You'll certainly find plenty of franchises sporting the double-tailed mermaid logo in the Emerald City, but you'll also witness plenty of venues that prove independent cafes and artisan coffee are alive and well. In Seattle, you'll find in-house roasters and baristas who make both espresso drinks and filtered coffee manually. Some cafes even host lectures and coffee cupping events.

And yes, the original Starbucks is here near Pike Place Market. This could be a photo op for coffee lovers, but with 24-hour diner-style restaurants with gourmet coffee, mobile cafes, authentic coffee drinks from as far away as Vietnam and Ethiopia, and bean-to-brew operations that serve single origin brews, there's much more to see beyond the obvious in a coffee tour of Seattle.

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Is it just coincidence that two of America's best coffee towns happen to be neighbors in the Pacific Northwest? Travel and Leisure has called Portland America's best coffee town on more than one occasion. That could be because the damp, light-jacket weather makes coffee a comfort-beverage almost year round. It could also be because this Oregon metropolis has single-origin roasters and small batch producers (aka micro-roasters) doing creative things such as aging their beans in wine barrels.

The cafe scene is alive and well in Portland, with most city neighborhoods boasting at least one beanery, and many having half-a-dozen or more. The re-establishment of indie coffee scene that helped launch the chain cafe trend is evident here more than almost anywhere else in America.

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Buenos Aires

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Buenos Aires has two coffee scenes. The first revolves around espresso (and often generous amounts of sugar), which locals imbibe in the early morning. The options are cafe chico (single shot) and cafe en jarrito (double shot size), Both are often cut with milk and foam (cafe cortado). The coffee scene in Buenos Aires pairs well with the city's long-standing cafe culture. People aren't likely to get their beverages to go, and prefer, instead, to sit in cafes and enjoy their drink along with conversation and perhaps a biscuit or cookie, which are usually complementary.

Buenos Aires is also a leader in South America when it comes to specialty coffee. Specialty roasters and gourmet coffee shops have been making inroads in the Argentine capital over the past few years. Actually, the city sees these different coffee cultures as part of one diverse scene. The most recent Festival de Café de Buenos Aires was divided into three parts: one for traditional cafe coffee, one for artisan shops, and one for large brands.

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Viennese coffee houses played an important part in the history and culture of Austria. Like other great coffee cultures, elements of Vienna's classic cafes are copied the world over. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, writers, journalists, philosophers and artists spent lots of time at the marble tabletops reading the complementary newspapers, writing and discussing the issues of the day. Some customers spent so much time at their favorite coffee shop that they had their mail delivered there.

Some of these historic shops are still in operation. This includes the Cafe Landtmann, a favorite haunt of Sigmund Freud, and Café Bräunerhof, the local favorite of Thomas Bernhard. Some of these historic spots can seem quite formal, and some are popular with tourists. Vienna also has a new wave of coffee shops that are trying to bring a more creative, colorful flare to the city's cafe scene.