Coffee or Tea? Drinks Around the World

Coffee and tea are international beverages. I came to this realization at some point during the past two years of living in and traveling through the Middle East while also spending large amounts of time in Australia and Southeast Asia. These two beverages are ubiquitous throughout the above continents as well as my homeland of the United States, yet vary widely across the countries and cultures.

Although coffee and tea are universal, the manners in which they are made and presented are not. While slow-brewed coffee is popular in the U.S., instant Nescafe is what you’ll be drinking in the Middle East, unless you order a deliciously strong cup of Arabic or Turkish coffee. Loose leaf tea is not too common in North America, yet is quite popular in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. Some of the many varieties of these two drinks are the norm for their cultures, while others are a little odd no matter what country you’re from. Here’s a look at the coffees and teas I’ve found around the world.

Bubble Tea – I stumbled upon this rather odd tea in Chinatown, New York several years ago. I immediately became a fan and since then, have returned many times to the same little tea house where I originally tasted it. Made of a tea of your choice, over ice, with – get this – tapioca balls in the bottom of the glass, bubble tea is served with an extra wide straw so you can slurp up the tapioca balls along with the tea. Yum? I think so.

solo travel Chinatown

Plunger Coffee – To date, I have encountered this only in Australia, although many people have told me it exists elsewhere in the world. Pour ground coffee into a plunger coffee maker, add steaming hot water, then insert a plunger and push it to the bottom. The plunger allows the water and coffee mix through as you push. Wait a few minutes to let it settle, and you’ll have a not great but half-way decent cup of coffee.

Plunger coffee in Western Australia

Bedouin Tea – Tea brewed in a black kettle on an open fire just has to taste better than that heated up in a pot, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. Bedouin tea, created by cooking loose tea leaves in hot water, then adding sugar, is a delicious treat.

Bedouin Tea in Petra, Jordan

Arabic Coffee – My favorite kind of coffee is found in the Middle East. Consisting of finely ground Arabic coffee, cardamom and sugar and served in glass cups, drinking this after dinner is better than eating dessert.

Arabic Coffee in Egypt

Jelly Tea – While strolling the streets in Sydney, Australia in 2010 I was happy to spot a tea house offering my beloved bubble tea. When I read their menu, though, I saw that they had something which I’d never heard of – jelly tea. I had to try it. This tea originates in Taiwan and consists of cold tea of your choice over ice with some type of jelly-like substance included. This wasn’t the type of jelly you find in a jar at the supermarket. It was a little more sturdy and able to hold its own in a glass full of iced tea. I’m not sure this is a good thing.

Grass Jelly Roasted Milk Tea at ChaTime Tea House

“Asian Drip Coffee” – This is not the official name for this type of tea, but it was served to me each day at my guesthouse in Hoi An, Vietnam. Pour dry coffee into a small metal cannister with holes at the bottom, sit it atop a glass carafe, then pour water into the cannister. The coffee then seeps slowly into the carafe. Not bad stuff.

"Asian Drip Coffee"

“Middle Eastern Tea” – There really is no name for this tea other than “tea,” but what makes it special is the way it’s served. Sometimes consisting of loose tea leaves and sometimes tea bags, this tea is typically served in glass cups with two teaspoons of sugar. Whoever is serving it usually asks how much you want, though, so you can change the amount. This is the most common daytime drink, aside from water, in Middle Eastern countries.

Arab tea in Egypt

“Mystery Coffee” – I still don’t know what was in this coffee I drank in Oman a couple of years ago. Water, milk, Arabic coffee and sugar was obvious. But what were the tiny black specks in the bottom of it? It wasn’t coffee grounds. I never learned what it was. That makes it a mystery still today, and that’s a good thing. :)

Coffee with milk and brown specks at the bottom of the glass in Oman

17 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Melissa says:

    The plunger coffee you mentioned is also know as a French press ( in Canada and the US. Popular in Europe too, but it’s not the sort of thing you usually see in a coffee shop. Seems to be more of a household item.

    Costa Rica has a unique way of brewing their coffee as well using a chorreador ( Gound coffee is put into a little cloth bag and then water is poured in and it drips down into your cup. I had a cup brewed this way in Santa Elena and it was a nice, strong, flavourful brew.
    Melissa recently posted..Home Town Tourist: Up the PondMy Profile

  2. Sabina says:

    Hi, Melissa. That’s right – the plunger coffee is actually called a French press. I learned that some time after I used it.

    The Costa Rican coffee made with the chorreador sounds intriguing. I would really like to try that some day.

  3. Alouise says:

    Love this post. I’m a big tea and coffee drink and it’s interesting to see how many different ways it can be prepared and served around the world. Out of the methods you have I’ve only tried the first tea. With the French press I’ve started doing a cold steep, letting the coffee grinds steep with room temperature water over night. It’s good for iced coffee, and it brings out a different flavor than adding hot water does.
    Alouise recently posted..Opening Thoughts on New OrleansMy Profile

  4. Sabina says:

    Thank, Alouise. Your French press method is interesting. I’ve never heard of it. I actually have a French press in the house right now. Perhaps I shall try it.

  5. Steve says:

    I was wondering if you’d include that coffee cannister from Asia. That thing really brings me back to Vietnam. I had coffee from it just about every morning.

    It’s interesting that for coffee and tea to be so universal, but still places around the world can make it their own experience. I know that I’m always on the lookout for different kinds of tea. In fact, when I’m in Morocco in a few months I’ll be searching out a good tea house to see them prepare tea. I’ve heard it’s quite an interesting method of preperation.

    I really liked Costa Rica’s coffee. It’s strong, but tastes good.
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  6. Sabina says:

    Steve, you’re going to Morocco! That’s so exciting. I hope to hear about it from you! it seems no matter what method is used to make coffe, I always like it. I even learned to prefer instant over brewed while in the Middle East.

  7. Oh I LOVE Bubble Tea – my FAVOURITE on this fun list! I am not a coffee/tea drinker so I never really think about all the options out there – but I was introduced to Bubble Tea in Taiwan and I am perpetually thinking about it hoping I will find a bubble tea stand! :)
    Chrystal McKay recently posted..Daily Activities of Destination StaffMy Profile

  8. Gina says:

    I’ve had bubble tea once and thought it was so fun! A little yummy surprise at the bottom. :) I’m a huge coffee and tea drinker so enjoyed reading about some of the options I’ve never heard of, like Jelly tea. That one definitely sounds…interesting.
    Gina recently posted..Places to Go, Things to SeeMy Profile

  9. Sabina says:

    Hi, Chrystal – I’m happy to find a fellow bubble tea lover! The only places I’ve seen it are NYC and Sydney. It should be more popular!

  10. Sabina says:

    Hi, Gina – Yes, jelly tea was…interesting. I’m glad I tried it but don’t see myself gravitating back towards it too readily. It was somewhat like bubble tea, but lost something in the tapioca to jelly translation.

  11. I don’t usually think of how many coffee or tea types there are. I hardly ever drink coffee, and tea to me was a winter thing and didn’t stand on its own, though I recently started exploring more types and this post inspires me to continue – this is an impressive collection!
    Ayelet – All Colores recently posted..Reaching (Almost) the Top of the Top of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National ParkMy Profile

  12. As a big coffee lover, I really enjoyed this post. The best coffee I ever had was in Northern Peru, and of course Italy. The worst was in Greece – extremely rich and bitter. I really enjoyed tasting the tea in China, although drinking tea with the leaves still in takes some getting used too!
    Elle of Solo Female Nomad recently posted..Volunteering in Nepal – Journey With A PurposeMy Profile

  13. […] Fantastic recent post: Coffee or Tea? Drinks Around the World […]

  14. Sabina says:

    Hi, Ayelet – tea very much stands on its own for me and I drink it all day long. Have you ever tried green tea? It’s so healthy and doesn’t taste bad as long as you add some lemon.

  15. Sabina says:

    Hi, Elle. It’s great to meet a fellow solo female traveler! I’m a big coffee lover too and just love Arab and Turkish coffee – extremely strong, with sugar added. I hope you get to try these some day soon.

  16. David says:

    You should check out the coffee in Phnom Penh, Cambodia if you are ever around. I was surprised by the local coffee culture there. They have locally grown stuff which is cheap and great. Has a kind of vanilla taste to it. I think it’s the french colonial interest.
    David recently posted..Campervan Trip to YambaMy Profile

  17. Sabina says:

    Hi David, I did actually drink coffee in Phnom Penh, but only the stuff that was available for breakfast where I was staying and it didn’t taste remarkable to me. I wish I’d found the coffee you’re talking about.

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