Since the Italians started arriving in Australia in droves, and brought their machines with them, coffee has become a daily ritual. Decades on, the humble cappucino is still the entry point for most Australians who discover there’s more to coffee than what comes out of a twist-top jar or (ewwww) a sachet, but it has devolved into a myriad of styles – some more palatable than others.

We enjoy macchiato (short or long), espresso, ristretto and, of course, the ubiquitous latte. ‘Australian’ coffee or, more accurately, Australian baristas can be found virtually everywhere – from the delightful Coffee Culture in New York City’s midtown to Stockholm (see more below).
Given Europe is one big, happy family these days, you’d think getting your favourite coffee the length and breadth of the EU would be reasonably straightforward. Hah.

Yes, cappuccino is available everywhere – but should it be? Greedy Girl’s experience of coffee in several European cities during summer 2012 suggests perhaps not.

By way of clarification upfront – this blog doesn’t include coffee consumed at the major restaurants visited by Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband during the 2012 European tour which was generally fairly good. This is about finding your everyday elixir of life.

The snobbery around coffee and the frustrating inconsistency with which many establishments provide it to patrons is a huge bug bear for Greedy Girl who has ‘broken in’ baristas from Budapest to Sydney.

So, covering off London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin and Paris, here’s Greedy Girl’s not extensive but heartfelt tips for where to go – and perhaps where not to have any expectations.

The rule of thumb is, unless you’ve had a recommendation for good coffee, don’t deviate from the local brew. Ordering a strong cappuccino in Paris? Don’t be surprised if what you get is bitter, burnt and watery. If you’re fond of the Australian trait for abbreviating everything, asking for a ‘latte’ in Italy will get you a lovely glass of milk.

For the most part, asking the wait staff in restaurants where you’ve had good food is a reasonable pointer to finding a good cafe – or sometimes you can just get lucky. Also – the Australian penchant for drinking cafe latte at five in the afternoon makes you look even more of an alien in Europe, where anything milky is for breakfast.

On previous trips to London, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband have jumped on the Tube to Tottenham Court Road station and walked 15 minutes to start the day at Flat White in Soho. While this comes up in a Google search ‘Australian coffee in London’, it’s actually a New Zealand cafe, further evidenced by the silver fern design atop their lattes.

Prices for coffee in London can be rather steep but have been helped by the strength of the Australian dollar, however, this trip Greedy Girl opted not to have to add the Tube fare to her morning cup of joe and, being near Borough Market, decided to look at more local options. There is always a queue outside Monmouth (which is in other London locations as well). This is a rarity for London, given the British predilection for tea in that it doesn’t serve any – much to the chagrin of several locals who storm out, muttering indignantly.

Greedy Girl likes her coffee strong and communicated that to the barista who explained they make their lattes with a double shot – the key to remember here is that the cup is HUGE. The double shot still gets lost among all that milk. If you prefer a stronger taste, ask for the milk to be filled to only half or two thirds of the cup. Also in the market is Altamarea – a hole-in-the-wall Italian cafe that has a few chairs inside and upstairs (and free wi-fi). More than acceptable.

One of her faves from a more recent trip was Kaffeine. This is seriously strong stuff. Greedy Girl had to ask for, gasp, more milk!

Arriving in the groovy suburb of Norrebro in early June, the owner of the apartment that Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband called home for a week gave a few recommendations for local coffee. Not among them was Taxa, just around the corner in Stefansgade. Given it had only been open six weeks Greedy Girl supposes he just hadn’t caught up with the local buzz.

For a country with a generally bleak climate, the prevalence of outdoor seating is a surprise, but it was a bonus for Taxa. A footsore Greedy Girl probably wouldn’t have travelled another corner, except gluttonous husband spied the tables and chairs outside. We found it was more than worth a look, it was the cafe ‘home away from home’. Extremely spoiled (as is the case virtually everywhere in Scandinavia) about the English skills of the cafe staff, we were able to communicate the desire for a strong coffee with milk.

The size of the latte here is large and very drinkable. The cafe (open from early morning to late at night) also has a small range of very edible snacky food, including some yummy chocolate and peanut cookies. A wonderful neighbourhood vibe and highly recommended. It’s on the corner of Stefansgade and Jaegersborggade in Norrebro – probably too far a walk from the centre of Copenhagen but if you’re staying in the area, a big bonus.

Having experienced traditional Swedish food at the Operabaren (read meatballs, mash, berries and a rich, creamy sauce), we asked our helpful waitress for a coffee recommendation. Apart from full-on Italian restaurants, and an option out in the burbs, she suggested a trot down the walking street, Drottninggatan, to Kafe Esaias.

Not much bigger than a hole-in-the-wall, the cafe is serious about its brews. On describing the way Greedy Girl likes her coffee, the barista on the first day suggested a ‘double cortado’ – this is what many Australians would recognise as a piccolo latte or even close to a long macchiato. The coffee flavour was excellent but not quite what the doctor ordered. The following day, another barista was on duty, listened patiently to our request for a strong, not too milky coffee and obliged – in spades.

A strong latte was absolutely perfect and after receiving a hearty thumbs up, he fessed up – another Australian. Bliss in a coffee cup. An additional bonus to discovering Kafe Esaias is the middle-Eastern restaurant next door with the unlikely name of ‘Underbar’. Great food and the best Cosmopolitan drunk outside New York City.

Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were back in the burbs on the Pest side of the river. There are a lot of ‘tourist trap’ cafes in Budapest, not the least of them the New York Cafe which could lay claim to the most over-the-top cafe in the world in terms of its sheer size and ornate decor.

Out in the 13th district, next to Lehel Tor metro station, the Lehel Csarnok market is one of the best fresh food markets you’ll ever enjoy. Like a great many public spaces in Budapest, it offers free wi-fi and upstairs you can find a couple of small cafes where, making do with hand gestures and nods, you can get a very decent couple of coffees for around $2.

The cup size isn’t huge but it’s very drinkable. Budapest was certainly the cheapest destination on the European tour and the quality of local food, coffee and wine is exceptionally high.

This is a good city in which to get into trouble. It’s very expensive, very smelly (see the blog Smokin’ in Vienna) and hard to communicate a particular preference for coffee. Asking for recommendations doesn’t work very well here.

Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were directed to a Starbucks by eager helpers at the hotel. Ewwww. Be warned – your coffee may test positive to cream. Lots of it. The local version of a caffe latte is very weak and trying to minimise the milk content is not worth the hassle. If you like your coffee strong in Vienna, just order an espresso.

Again, getting information about places to go for coffee do tend to revolve around tourist traps but Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband found their way just beyond the old town square to a delightful neighbourhood cafe/bakery called ‘Bakeshop’.

Sit inside on a high stool and enjoy their signature sourdough, a selection of antipasti or a wicked chocolate brownie, or prop outside on a large bench, enjoy the sun and laugh at the hapless tourists being ferried past on extremely uncomfortable looking tram cars jolting over the cobblestones. Greedy Girl ordered a double shot of coffee with a jug of frothy hot milk on the side and created her own strong latte. A triumph, and a lovely spot. It’s at Kosi 1, Prague old town.

Arriving in the German capital late on a Saturday was not ideal for researching a good local spot to enjoy coffee – especially given free wi-fi isn’t easy to find. Thanks to the Guardian website, Greedy Girl read about Oliv (Munzstrasse 8, in the old East Berlin) had the distinct advantage of being open on a Sunday – an uncommon feat.

The first strong latte on that cool Sunday was superb – a beautiful rich colour, matched by the flavour. Turning up the next day, hoping for a repeat, was extremely disappointing. Same coffee made by same barista but not a patch on the original.

Trudging back to the Berlin apartment, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband spied a small local Italian cafe, Maialino (on Hannoversche Strasse). Not open on weekends, but a haven mid-week. Coffee made with love by northern Italian girls, accompanied by fresh biscotti and free wi-fi. Most Italians in Berlin seem to find their way to Maialino and meeting Cecilia and Fabio one fateful morning resulted in a recommendation for another local eatery, Dudu. A wonderful spot, with a small range of food and the ability to buy deli items to take away.

On Greedy Girl’s first visit to Paris, ahem, around 30 years, ahem, ago, she discovered the pitfalls of not ordering local coffee. Asking for a cappuccino (and, quelle horreur, sitting at a table rather than standing at the bar), the bill soared higher than the Eiffel Tower. The waiter tried to take the sting out of it for a callow tourist by explaining a cappuccino was a ‘double coffee’ – so you paid twice as much as a regular brew.

A few decades on, deviating from the norm still makes coffee an expensive business in the city of lights. Unless you’re desperate to do the touristy thing of pulling up a table (do it for lunch or dinner – it doesn’t cost extra to sit down and eat), prop at the bar and forget about a strong coffee if you order cafe au lait or cafe creme. After 11am, forget about anything other than ‘un cafe’ – an espresso. It’s just not worth it.

Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband found a wonderful little diner in the fifth arrondissement called ‘Loulou’. Despite its name and location on the Boulevard St Germain, it was an American-style diner full of cheap NYC memorabilia and, oddly, an Australian flag (apparently the joint is owned by an Aussie). The food, a mixture of European classics and standard US fare, was really tasty and not too outrageously expensive. There is free wi-fi and, again, if you order the coffee as advertised, it’s not too bad.

Those that need their coffee softened by a dash of milk should go for a macchiato (listed on the menu). Asking for a strong cappuccino resulted in something that was bitter, watery and just horrible.

It wasn’t the worst coffee Greedy Girl had endured during her trip – that dubious honour goes to Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food (London Heathrow Terminal 5). Horrendous. Asking for a ‘strong latte’ (with an equally strong price tag), Greedy Girl sent the first effort packing when it arrived at the table with the barest semblance of a brown shade to the tall glass of hot milk. Effort number two looked slightly more ‘coffee’ like but tasted like dishwater.

If you’re a strong coffee drinker who likes a bit more than a dash of milk – whether it’s 10 in the morning, or 10 at night, Europe is a bit of a challenge. The best advice Greedy Girl can offer apart from trying some of the establishments listed above, is to ask wait staff at a restaurant you enjoy for a local recommendation. Hotel staff generally send you in the direction of Starbucks (although, blissfully they were far from ubiquitous on this trip) and the key seems to be the ability to get out into the burbs.

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