Sophisticated and highly social
It’s a typical morning scene in the thousands of cafés and bars thriving throughout this small Mediterranean country. People young and old (though mainly male) are sitting around small round tables, leisurely sipping their cups of espresso. You won’t see people having a quick cup at the counter like in Italy. They take their time with their Albanian “avash-avash” attitude and not only in the morning, far from it. It’s quite OK to have 4-5 cups of strong coffee a day and even late in the evening. Albanian coffee culture is overwhelming.
Albania doesn’t top the league of countries with the highest consumption of coffee. In fact, it is not even in the top 50. This fact seems to contradict my personal observations but the truth is that when it comes to drinking espresso, Albanians choose quality over quantity. Even the grubbiest little bar in a provincial town will have a large Italian coffee-maker machine and the people who operate it will know what they are doing.
I didn’t find a similar appraisal of Albania’s espresso but a few years ago Italians must have been shocked to read this article about the superiority of Kosovan macchiato.
And it’s not just the quality of the brew. Cafe-goers in Albania believe that coffee time has to be quality time. They establish business relationships, discuss personal matters with friends and family, date their lovers, start and end their day over cups of the hot drink. One personal memory: we had to take our bicycles to a repair shop in Berat. While the owner worked on them his son ordered coffee for us from the nearest café (which is never too far in Albania). Soon a man appeared with four cups on a tray. We then slowly drank our espresso, sitting on the stairs, watching the traffic of the street.
Two types of Albanian coffee
Two main types of coffee are generally offered in Albania: ekspres and turke (espresso and Turkish style). This gives us a hint on how this Balkan country embraced the habit of drinking the black drink. The answer lies in the history of the country. First there was the centuries of Ottoman (Turkish) occupation. Then Italy also had strong (if largely unwanted) influence on Albania in the first half of the 20th century. The result is that you can often get better coffee (and pizza) in Albania than on the other side of the Adriatic. And for much less!