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A Jolt of Inspiration: International Coffee Traditions, VBT Style

Posted on Friday, October 27th, 2023

Story by: Molly Waldstein | Travel Writer


Coffee makes the world go round—at least for the first few hours of every morning. Here are top VBT destinations for the best coffee buzz!

A Jolt of Inspiration: International Coffee Traditions, VBT Style

Coffee makes the world go round—at least for the first few hours of every morning. One of the wonderful things about exploring the world on two wheels is the opportunity to discover unique international coffee traditions—something special that makes people tick in big cities and small villages across the globe. Whether you like your coffee hot and strong, rich and creamy, or sweet and cold, we’ve found some of the best international coffee traditions to tempt both your taste buds and your sense of adventure. Here are top destinations for the best coffee buzz:

The Great European Coffee Rivalries of Italy, France, and Spain

Always competing for the coveted “best of the best” in culture and cuisine, there’s a long-standing debate about which nation makes the best coffee in Europe. Fortunately, there are no wrong answers!

Spain: Girona & Costa Brava Guided Tour: The carajillo is a famous Spanish coffee drink made from a fortifying combination of coffee and rum. According to legend, the first carajillo was created in Cuba and served to laborers to give them coraje, or courage. In Catalonia, carajillo is often served with a Spanish twist—replacing the rum with Brandy de Jerez. This iconic flavor pairs perfectly with good, black coffee and can be served hot or cold.

Italy: Tuscany, Chianti & Marina di Castagneto Guided Tour: Italian coffee is famous the world over—and in Italy, it’s very common to take a shot of espresso after every meal—including dinner. But late-night caffeine can disrupt sleep—hence the tradition of an after-dinner ammazzacaffè, or “coffee killer.” An ammazzacaffè “kills” the caffeine with a generous shot of liquor at the end—typically grappa, sambuca, or amaro. Plus, it’s a deliciously sophisticated way to wrap up an elegant meal!

France: Normandy & Brittany Guided Tour: The famous apple orchards of Normandy are home to some of the most delicious and unique flavors in all of France—so it stands to reason they have their own coffee drinks as well. Classic Norman coffee is brewed with cinnamon and nutmeg—then blended with apple cider and garnished with orange slices. This iconic Norman hot drink is perfect on a cool autumn day—and is often enjoyed with traditional petits fours on the side.

Italy: Puglia’s Undiscovered Coast Guided Tour: During your Puglia bike trip, you simply cannot miss one of the region’s most iconic coffee drinks—the affogato. A delicious pick-me-up on a hot afternoon, the affogato is made by pouring a strong shot of espresso over a creamy ball of hazelnut gelato. This sweet coffee confection is designed to be consumed quickly—before the gelato has a chance to melt.

France: The Burgundy Wine Region & Dijon Guided Tour: Coffee didn’t become popular in Paris until the late 17th century—and since then it has been au courant throughout France. While pedaling the Côtes de Beaune and Routes des Grands Crus, you’ll find many superlative local brews. A Post Trip Extension to Paris gives you the opportunity to visit the oldest Parisian café, Café de Procope—still serving excellent coffee to this day.

Spain: Andalusia, Córdoba & Granada Guided Tour: While cycling through Andalusia, you simply cannot miss the quintessential breakfast of Spanish coffee and churros. A classic Spanish treat, churros are made from a basic flour dough which is squeezed through a star-shaped syringe to give the pastry its iconic shape—then fried in olive oil and dusted with sugar.

Italy: Piedmont, Langhe & the Italian Riviera Guided Tour: Unique to the Piedmonte region (and particularly to Turin) we find bicerin—a coffee drink so delicious it was once famously praised by celebrated author Alexandre Dumas. Named after the small glass in which it is served, the bicerin includes three distinct layers—one of espresso, one of hot chocolate, and one of milk or cream.

France, Luxembourg & Germany Bike & Boat: Mosel River Valley, Aboard the Princesse Royal: During the French leg of this epic Bike & Boat voyage, you simply cannot miss le café liégeois. Originally named for the Austrian city of Vienna, le café liégeois was renamed in 1914 after the Belgian city of Liege held out against German occupation for 12 days—allowing Paris critical time to fortify itself against invasion. Today, le café liégeois is a cold coffee dessert made by layering sweetened coffee with coffee ice cream—the confection is then topped with a generous layer of whipped cream.

Italy: Valleys of the Dolomites Guided Tour: VBT’s local Italian trip leaders know a lot about Italian coffee—and even more about how to drink it. When you join this exciting Italian cycling adventure, you can look forward to their entertaining coffee speech—including tips about where and when to order specific coffee drinks. For example, cappuccino is a delightful morning wake-me-up—but if you order it in Italy after lunchtime, your barista is likely to raise an eyebrow!

Switzerland, Germany & France: The Black Forest & the Alsace Wine Route Guided Tour: In Alsace, coffee is more than a pick-me-up—it’s an important social occasion! In the charming Alsatian town of Barr (along our cycling route) it’s customary for villagers to gather in the late afternoon at the iconic Pâtisserie Oster to enjoy their favorite coffee and catch up on village news. Coffee and conversation are traditionally served with a slice of cake—which, depending on the season, might include rhubarb tart, black forest cake, or blueberry tart with meringue on top.

Iconic Coffee Traditions from Around the Globe

From the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Arizona—there’s plenty of buzz about coffee! But everywhere we looked there was one thing in common—superb coffee is always best enjoyed with friends.

Vietnam: Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An & Saigon Guided Tour: Cà phê trứng is a unique and fortifying Vietnamese pick-me-up. Topped with a thick cream of egg yolks whipped with condensed milk, this decadent beverage is sweet, delicious, and thick enough to stand up a spoon. You’ll find many local coffee houses in Hanoi where you can sit on a low stool and rub shoulders with locals enjoying this delicious high-protein coffee beverage.

Scandinavia: Denmark & Sweden Guided Tour: The fika, or coffee meet-up, is a long-standing Swedish social tradition. A great way to get together with friends, a fika is often enjoyed outdoors—and with the Swedish government’s official “Right to Public Access,” Swedes are free to roam the countryside to their heart’s content. It is common to find Swedish friends gathered along a local park or riverbank to share coffee, cake, and each other’s company.

Arizona: Saguaro National Park & the Sonoran Desert Guided Tour: Until Arizona’s John Arbuckle patented a process for glazing roasted coffee beans, most people bought coffee beans green and roasted them at home. Arbuckle’s innovation opened the door for coffee as a more out-going social occasion. The historic Arbuckle Coffee Roasters is native to Tucson—and a must-see for coffee lovers on this delightful VBT adventure in Arizona.

Danube Bike & River Cruise: Prague to Budapest Guided Bike & Boat: While there is vigorous debate throughout Europe regarding the origins of the cappuccino, the Viennese Kapuziner has a valid claim. Comprised of a double shot of espresso lightly topped with schlagobers (whipped cream) the Kapuziner is often said to predate the modern-day cappuccino. Not to be confused with the Kapuziner, its cousin the Einspänner is another Austrian coffee drink with a curious history. This double shot of espresso was traditionally topped with a generous dollop of schlagobers—with a specific purpose. An effective insulator, the whipped cream helped the coffee retain heat—allowing drivers of horse-drawn carriages to enjoy a warm cup of coffee even while working outside on the coldest nights.

Holland & Belgium Bike & Boat: Amsterdam to Bruges: Through their colonies in Indonesia, Dutch merchants were instrumental in bringing coffee to western Europe. Today, coffee culture is central in the Netherlands—where it’s customary to share coffee with friends—and enjoy a little cookie or sweet with each delicious cup. There’s even a popular Dutch song: “koffie, koffie, lekker bakkie koffie, Jongens wie lust er een kop.” Which loosely translates to: “coffee, coffee, nice cup of coffee. Guys, who wants a cup?”

Vermont: Lake Champlain Islands, Burlington & Stowe Guided Tour: Join VBT for a rousing cup of coffee in our own backyard! During a visit to a local sugar house, you’ll meet the owner and learn about Vermont’s time-honored maple sugaring tradition. You’ll also enjoy a classic Vermont treat—fresh coffee sweetened with maple syrup, served with a delicious maple treat on the side.

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