Coffee in 51 Different Languages
Jackie Chan once said, “Coffee is a language in itself.”
Coffee is a way to get rid of that morning grogginess or Monday weariness worldwide. A lot of people have coffee to thank for being able to pass as morning people.
And in many parts of the world, it’s also part of socializing, with customs involved in naming, ordering, serving and consuming different forms of coffee.
So in this post, we’ll look at how people consume and talk about coffee in different languages and cultures.
- Where Did the Word ‘Coffee’ Come From?
- 51 Ways to Say ‘Coffee’ All Over the World
- Coffee Habits in Different Cultures
- “Coffee Breaks” in Different Languages and Cultures
- Coffee Is Part of World Culture
- And One More Thing...
Where Did the Word ‘Coffee’ Come From?
Have you ever wondered why the word “coffee” is almost universally understood?
Here’s the scoop: “coffee” originally came from “Kaffa,” the name of a former kingdom and current province of Ethiopia.
The Arabs of the Middle East referred to it as “قهوة” before they sold it to the Venetian merchants, who called it “caffe.”
Through a few other twists and turns, that eventually worked its way into English as “coffee.”
51 Ways to Say ‘Coffee’ All Over the World
Sitting down and chatting with someone over a hot cup of coffee is one of life’s great pleasures.
Here’s how to say it in some of the world’s most common languages:
- Afrikaans: koffie
- Albanian: kafe
- Arabic: قهوة (qahwa)
- Armenian: սուրճ (surj)
- Azerbaijani: qəhvə
- Belarusian: кава (kava)
- Bengali: কফি (kophi)
- Chinese (Cantonese): 咖啡 (ga feh)
- Chinese (Mandarin): 咖啡 (kā fēi)
- Czech: káva
- Danish: kaffe
- Dutch: koffie
- Filipino: kape
- Finnish: kahvi
- French: café
- Georgian: ყავა (q’ava)
- German: kaffee
- Greek: kαφές (kafés)
- Haitian Creole: kafe, /kʌˈfe/
- Hebrew: קפה (kah-feh)
- Hindi: कॉफ़ी (kofee)
- Hungarian: kávé
- Icelandic: kaffi
- Indonesian: kopi
- Italian: caffè
- Japanese: コーヒー (kō hī)
- Javanese: kopi
- Korean: 커피 (keopi)
- Malay: kopi
- Marathi: कॉफी (kŏphī)
- Norwegian: kaffe
- Pashto: قاهوی (qaahwai), /ˈkɔ fi/
- Persian: قهوه (ghahveh)
- Polish: kawa
- Portuguese: café
- Punjabi: ਕੌਫੀ (kauphi)
- Romanian: cafea
- Russian: кофе (kofe)
- Serbian: кафа (kafa)
- Spanish: café
- Swahili: kahawa
- Swedish: kaffe
- Tamil: காபி (kaapi)
- Telugu: కాఫీ (kaaphii)
- Thai: กาแฟ (kaa-fae)
- Turkish: kahve
- Ukrainian: кава (kava)
- Urdu: کافی (kaafi)
- Vietnamese: cà phê
- Yiddish: קאָווייַ (koviya), /ˈkavə/
- Zulu: ikhofi
A Short History of Coffee
According to some, coffee has a long history that begins in the ancient forests of Ethiopia.
Some say an Ethiopian goat herder discovered the energizing power of coffee after witnessing firsthand the effect that coffee had on his goats, who ate some of the seeds from a coffee plant.
Word spread quickly, and coffee was soon enjoyed from Ethiopia’s plains to the Persian palaces.
We’ll probably never know the whole truth of coffee’s origin, but it’s clear that by the 16th century, coffee had made its way to Europe through trade between the Middle East and Italy.
Eventually, coffee made its way to America. Tea was still the favored drink until the Boston Tea Party, after which the colonials turned to coffee.
No matter where you go, you’ll probably be able to get your coffee, likely without ever having to use a different word to order it.
If you want to read more on coffee’s origins, there’s a brilliant book called “The Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee” by Stewart Lee Allen.
You can probably see by now that the word and pronunciation of “coffee” is more or less universal. And if you just say that word, pretty much everyone will know what you want, regardless of the language.
If you want to learn more vocabulary you’ll need to order a coffee in a particular language, check out any of these blog posts:
- How to order coffee in German
- How to order coffee in Italian
- How to order coffee in Spanish
- How to order coffee in French
- How to order coffee in English
- How to order coffee in Chinese
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Coffee Habits in Different Cultures
In the same way that “pudding” can refer to very different things throughout the English-speaking part of the world, “coffee” (or the word’s foreign equivalent) won’t always refer to the same thing.
For example, when you think about having coffee, you might imagine a cup of hot coffee with a cube or two of sugar, milk or even a snack on the side.
But in Finland, people are just as likely to think about drinking coffee while eating leipäjuusto (bread cheese), a slice of “squeaky” cheese you’re supposed to coat in hot coffee before eating.
There are many different things—some of them may be quite weird by your standards—that people put into their coffee or eat while drinking it.
But it isn’t just the actual drink that might take some getting used to.
Each culture has its own unique rules of etiquette regarding coffee.
For example, while you can order coffee at any time of day in Sweden without being gawked at, ordering a cappuccino past morning in Italy is frowned upon.
These customs aren’t things you must keep in mind when traveling and need that quick pick-me-up, but it’s always good to be aware, especially since many of these traditions go back a long way.
To give just one example, the Turkish coffee tradition has remained the same for centuries.
Coffee reached Turkey at the beginning of the 16th century and since then, it’s been an essential part of Turkish culture. They have a very specific way of making coffee, using coffee beans ground into very fine powder.
“Coffee Breaks” in Different Languages and Cultures
Typically, you’ll be working or studying, gradually losing steam as the day continues.
So on one of your breaks, you head over to the nearest coffeepot or coffee shop to get yourself a lovely “cup o’ joe” before that stress starts to mocha you crazy.
I’ve just described a “coffee break,” something everyone has in almost every coffee-loving country. When did the whole world suddenly agree that a short break at work was meant for that wonderfully bitter, black beverage?
This story begins in the late 19th century in a little town in Wisconsin called Stoughton. There, the wives of Norwegian immigrants would leave work for a short while to take care of the kids and enjoy a much-needed cup of coffee.
It was something they were used to doing since coffee breaks stem from a quite old custom in Scandinavia. In Sweden, for example, it’s known as fika, and it’s been a habit of the Swedes for generations, one that has worked its way into the formal business world.
The Nordic nations basically created the concept of a coffee break—a fact those from Stoughton haven’t forgotten—which is why they celebrate every year in August with the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival.
Still, while there were a few workplaces around the globe that adopted coffee breaks as a habit, it wasn’t actually made a mandatory break until the mid to late 20th century.
Studies show that breaks help people learn and refresh themselves, increasing productivity when they start up again. A little caffeine goes a long way.
On average, people in America consume at least two cups of coffee daily, while even the supposedly tea-loving UK consumes more than 90 million cups daily.
Finally, the countries that statistically love coffee the most are Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark.
Coffee Is Part of World Culture
The wonderful thing about coffee is that every nation has a part to play in its distribution and development.
From its humble beginnings in Ethiopia to its current status as our go-to break beverage, coffee results from centuries of cultures meeting, combining and innovating to socialize and counter the effects of the daily grind.
That’s a great thing to remember, too, because while every culture has its unique spin on coffee, enjoying it is something they all have in common.
When you’re ready to go out into the real world and start using those new languages you’ve been learning, the best place to start might be a coffee shop you visit in a foreign country.
After all, finding common ground always makes learning a new language a bit easier.
And if you meet someone at a coffee shop and you’re looking for a great conversation starter, you can talk about all the exciting stuff you just learned about coffee!
And One More Thing...
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