Europe produces and consumes some of the world’s most exciting and satisfying drinks. From Belgian beers to Italian coffee, French champagne to wines from all over Europe, British tea to fruit and nut liqueurs, Europe has it all – and has refined its production into an art from.
The glorious grape and its friends
Where are some great places to see vineyards and taste wines? Just about everywhere. Grapes grow most easily between 30 and 50 degrees latitude; imagine a line stretching from the tip of Normandy through Frankfurt, Prague, and Krakow; that’s more or less the northern limit...except that Britain now has hundreds of wineries as well.
The most famous and largest wine producers are France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany. However, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Malta, Estonia, Romania, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Turkey all produce wine, although their best products are often enjoyed within their own borders. Because vineyards are so gorgeous and tasting wine is so enjoyable, most wine-producing European countries have wine routes lined out so you can discover its bottled treasures at the source.
Consider just a few of Europe’s wine regions. Luxembourg’s luscious crémant, its Rieslings and pinots come from vineyards along the Mosel. When you arrive in Belgium, beer is the drink to sample ad infinitum; there are so many fantastic nuances among these much sought-after suds.
The Rhine wines of Germany are legendary; is there any better way to enjoy a respite in a café on the Rhine or Mosel than with a glass of one of the wines of Germany? Oh yes, maybe with your favorite German beer! And if you overdo at the table, have one of the herbal digestive liqueurs, such as an Unterberg Bitters, sure to put you back in top form.
Fresh 'Grüner Veltliner' white wines paired with traditional Austrian food are outstanding. The vineyards of Switzerland are some of the steepest, where helicopters are sometimes used to “rescue” the grapes during the harvest! Hungarian Tokai wines are splendid; in the Czech Republic, the vinobrani (grape harvest) in Moravia is toasted with burčák, a partially fermented wine available only from August to November. Be careful, this elixir is known for its surprising potency!
Italy has its fantastic red wines, but don’t forget to try spumante, a sparking white, limoncello, and grappa. Spain, one of the world’s largest wine producers, is famous for it’s Riojas, sparkling cavas, and fabulous Sherries. Portugal is best known for its fortified wines, Port and Madeira, and also makes lovely red and white wines.
Greece is, after all, home of Dionysus, patron god of wine, as well as Europe's oldest wine-producing region, dating back some 6,500 years! The Cyprus Wine Festival offers a wonderful opportunity to get acquainted not only with its truly Mediterranean wines, but the local delicacies that complement them – or is it vice versa?
Coffee, tea, or chocolate?
Who visits Europe without going to a café to recharge after sightseeing or to engage in serious people-watching? All kinds of beverages are served in Europe, but special devotion is felt for coffee, after which cafés are named, and tea. Both have been relished here for centuries and are an essential element of Europe’s “café culture”. Although “take away” coffee in paper cups is becoming more available, it is by no means the norm. Sit, relax, enjoy!
In the Eastern Mediterranean countries coffee traditions derive from Arab culture. In Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey, a small pot is used to heat finely ground coffee with water and sugar. Decide in advance how you like it—each country has special vocabulary for super sweet, medium sweet, or supremely bitter. Just don’t drink all the way to the bottom where the grounds have settled!
Glorious pastries waiting in glass cases for you and your fork enhance the elegance of cafés in Hungary and Austria. Lavish chandeliers, gilt mirrors, velvety coffee, and towers of chocolate and whipped cream await! Try one of more than 20 varieties of coffee drinks, and linger at your table for hours.
The Coffee Museum in Hamburg and JURAworld in Switzerland are both fascinating places for the coffee aficionado to visit. You’ll learn all about the process of turning green coffee berries into the invigorating drink so many of us enjoy. Consider a hot chocolate in these countries, where solid chocolate is melted into hot milk to make the most unctuous cup of cocoa you’ve ever had.
Italy, coffee’s first port of call in Europe, has given us a world of liquid pleasure: cappuccino, espresso, lungo, ristretto, macchiato—and some of the most dazzling coffee machines ever invented! Funnily enough, it was a 19th century Frenchman who invented the precursor to the espresso machine.
a world of liquid pleasure.
In Belgium count on having a chocolate or a cookie nestled next to your cup; order a lait russe (Russian milk) to have it with hot milk. Coffee in Holland is almost more a social ritual than a beverage, something to be enjoyed and never squandered. And almost always, you’ll have a delightful little speculoos, the Dutch spice cookie, to sweeten the deal.
On a hot day in Spain, sip a café con hielo, coffee with ice. Picasso used to discuss things over coffee in Barcelona’s Els Quatre Gats Café and Madrid’s Café Gijón. Tea rooms in Granada follow the Arabic tradition of serving aromatic herbal teas at low tables in cool, dimly lit rooms for an exotic break. Portugal loves coffee: small, strong, and frequently! Bica is serious little coffee; add hot frothed milk for an abatanado.
In Turkey, çay (tea) is made in a two-level pot: the vessel below is for hot water, and the smaller top is for very strong tea, which is diluted to each guest’s preference. Tea is served in diminutive glasses that allow guests to appreciate the amber hues of the delicious drink.
If you avoid caffeine and alcohol
…take the waters! Europeans have been drinking mineral water for centuries, and your trip to Europe is a perfect time to taste-test as many different ones as you can to determine your favorite. You may also notice a wider choice and more frequent drinking of herbal teas, as well as different fruit and vegetable juices than are commonly offered at home. Have fun and drink up!