Belgian coffee

If you just ask for ‘a coffee’ in a different European cities, what do you get? In Brussels the answer is simple – a long-ish espresso type coffee, with a slightly burnt edge, normally served with a biscuit (perhaps a Speculoos), a couple of sugars, and some cream. In France you would normally get the same sort of thing, probably shorter. Un caffé in Italy would be a straight espresso. In Sweden you would get a bryggkaffe, with a refill if you’re lucky. In the UK? Hard to say. In the past you might have been given an instant coffee if you just asked for ‘a coffee’, but with the Starbucks invasion times have changed, so I’m not sure what the UK standard is now.


  1. As alluded to above a ‘coffee’ in the UK used to be a mug of large instant coffee with a dash of cold milk. Over recent years the invasion of Starbucks style coffee shops has meant what you get will depend on what kind of place you are in.

    If its a cheap cafe who’s target market is construction workers you’ll likely get instant. If it’s a more upmarket cafe you’ll likely get an ‘Americano’ which is a shot of espresso with lots of hot water and milk either added or on the side. If you’re in a hotel you may well get a caffetiere or filter coffee.

    It’s always best to specify what you want or ask what kind of coffee they serve…..then you can decide if tea is a better option 😉

  2. rose22

    Depends if you’re buying or ifit’s institutional coffee…
    standard response in the NHS is “white? how many sugars?” after which a polystyrene cup of instant with a grey-ish hue appears.

  3. Brusselsblogger

    Coming from Austria but living in Brussels since several years regularily fall into the trap of just asking “a coffee” in Vienna. And of course, the answer in Vienna always is “What coffee?”

  4. Jeremy Hargreaves

    Oh, I think the “UK standard coffee” is either a large-ish cup with a saucer, or a mug, containing probably instant but possibly what I would call simple filtered coffee. You would probably either be asked or be able to guess from your surroundings at the time (a) whether you want a cup or a mug, and (b) whether it will be instant or filtered.

    If you go to a relatively coffee-centred place such as Starbucks or Costa, you would probably get an American-style much larger mug containing whatever kind of coffee you’d asked for (out of about 17 different options…)

    I was discussing the other day and pondering a dilemma, which if anyone can help me with I’d like to know the answer to! If I’m in the UK and I want what in Italy is called a cappuccino, what should I ask for? It isn’t a cappuccino, and although a latte comes closer, that it isn’t quite the same either. Any suggestions!

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