If you’re a coffee lover, you’ll be right at home in Albania, where drinking coffee is a national pastime. The country’s long period under Turkish Ottoman control shaped its enduring love of the bitter beverage.
Much has changed since those historical days, but coffee, in its many forms, has remained, even skyrocketed. Today, the majority of Albanians, from teens to seniors, drink at least one cup of coffee per day, often up to 5 per day (they only drink small espressos, though, not 20-ounce flavoured coffees with 2-3 espresso shots in each cup).
Regardless, Albania regularly ranks among the highest in the world for coffee shops per capita. Similarly to India’s cultural love of chai, most Albanian activities centre around a cup of coffee.
But Albania’s coffee habit is not simply for the sake of a caffeine boost. Time spent in an Albanian cafe is mostly social. Albanians sit to have their coffee, and you’ll rarely, if ever, see an Albanian with a to-go coffee in their hand as they walk down the street.
Albanians take coffee time to see friends, discuss business, make plans and simply slow down and have a break. Ask an Albanian for coffee, and they will always have time to meet you.
If you stand on any street in any town or city in Albania, you’ll find more than one coffee shop (cafe) at an easy glance. Some cities, like the centrally located capital city, Tirana, coastal Vlorë, northern Shkoder, and eastern Korçë, host a dizzying amount of coffee cafes.
With one literally on every corner of an intersection, even more coffee havens are tucked between shops and scattered along side streets, deep within urban neighbourhoods.
Turkish coffee has a special place in Albanian culture, although Italian espresso is emerging as the beverage of choice - but that varies between regions in the country. Macchiato and cappuccino are the next most ordered coffee drinks and are available everywhere.
Most Albanians prepare kafe turke, or Turkish-style coffee at home. This requires grinding roasted coffee beans and boiling them, along with water, in a special small copper pot called an ibrik. In just a few minutes you have a frothy, bitter, sludgy, strong coffee that is traditionally sweetened with sugar and served in tiny, beautifully decorated cups.
Turkish coffee is available in cafes throughout Albania, but even the simplest cafe will also have an expensive, high-quality Italian machine, and a barista who knows how to make a great espresso (ekspres).
In every cafe you’ll also see people sipping the typical local combination of espresso, a side of water and a shot of rakija, or raki, the “high octane” local grape, plum or walnut brandy home-brew found throughout the Balkan region.
While most coffee cafes are one-off privately owned venues, there are the occasional chains in Albania, found in larger cities. Trendy, more upscale cafes, plus those in large hotels, may offer speciality coffee drinks, such as flavoured lattes, flat white, etc.
Don’t count on “Third Wave Artisanal” coffee shops in Albania featuring many options of single-origin world coffee in one venue. Cafes are “sponsored” by one coffee brand, so they choose one, and that’s what they serve.
The coffee company provides branded set-up equipment (coffee machine, cups, saucers, sugar packets, napkins) to further advertise the brand, not the cafe.
Every coffee brand is a bit different, from super dark roast Ama and Lavazza (favourites in the south, but throughout Albania) to robust Kimbo to mid-range Segafredo. In central and northern cities, you’ll also find soft and mellow Julius Meinl and Yxha, among many others.
So, when in Albania, you’ll be checking out not only the atmosphere and how good the barista is at a coffee cafe, but also which coffee brand you prefer. With never-ending coffee shop options, you’ll be tempted to try them all! You’re bound to find a favourite, and then you’ll be set to enjoy coffee like a local.
Now that we’ve established that you’ll always be able to find coffee in Albania, day or night, you’ll want to understand where to have that coffee…
Almost every sit-down restaurant in Albania will also serve espresso and other coffee drinks, so you can always start or end a meal with a coffee.
But if you’re just looking for coffee, there are a few cafe types dedicated to coffee in Albania, and they are quite specific.
If you wander town or city streets, you’ll see many, many little “hole-in-the-wall” spaces that might have a name, but are often just labelled “Bar-Cafe.” If you take the time to observe, you’ll notice that men fill the tables.
Not that these cafes wouldn’t serve a woman or a couple; they would… but in the Balkans (as throughout the Middle East), it’s an unspoken understanding that these are “men’s hang-outs.” These little shops often have sports games streaming at all hours of the day.
From early morning until night, men enjoy their coffee-raki time solo or meet in cafes to commune over coffee and raki, while smoking a cigarette. In these cafes, you might get a macchiato or cappuccino, but don’t count on fancy coffee drinks.
Bar-cafes (obviously) have a bar, and, although they serve alcohol (foreign and domestic beer, wine, spirits) all day, by evening they turn into full bars for primarily alcohol consumption.
The second type is a more general coffee bar-cafe, serving espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, and iced coffees in summer, as well as alcohol and the ubiquitous raki shots. In these cafes you’ll find mixed company, and the interiors are more decorative, from lush and dark to light, modern and airy.
They might even serve a few pastries or lunch snacks, like burek. Additionally, these venues offer a limited variety of black and herbal tea, plus (usually in winter) hot chocolate and salep, a sweet Turkish drink made with milk and the starch from orchid tubers.
Thirdly, you’ll find family-friendly properties with huge outdoor gardens, fountains, and playground equipment. These venues serve any and everyone, providing a fun and kid-friendly environment, so parents can enjoy adult company while the children play to their hearts’ content. These cafes also serve alcohol, along with coffee drinks, sodas, etc.
And, in larger cities you’ll find Pasticeri cafes, which are dessert bakeries offering a variety of cakes and pastries, often with a wide selection of Turkish sweets and chocolate candies. These sit-down venues also serve coffee drinks, gelato, and other beverages (but rarely alcohol).
If someone offers to treat you to a coffee (even a stranger – it happens!) say yes, and enjoy… it’s considered rude to refuse, unless you’re in a huge hurry.
Albanians will “fight” over the coffee bill… everyone wants to pay! Until you know someone well, it’s better to just give in and let them pay. You can try to pick up the bill the next time, and you’ll see mock “arguments” if someone hurries to pay – it’s all in good fun and a country-wide phenomenon.
Menus are always available in restaurants, but rarely in coffee cafes - you’ll have to ask for prices and options in a cafe.
You won’t often find soy, oat, or almond milk on offer at coffee shops in Albania, unless it’s a trendy cafe in a larger city (few and far between). Most large supermarkets do sell a variety plant milks, so you can doctor your own coffee.
Some cafes that don’t normally offer food may offer coffee/croissant (sometimes called brioche) specials in the early mornings.
You’ll never be rushed in an Albanian cafe. Feel free to sit and enjoy your coffee, the breeze, people-watching, or your friends… for hours, even.
Just don’t assume you can set up your laptop, because coffee shops, as mentioned above, are primarily for social interaction, not used as workstations (there are a few options in the capital city). You may find amenable shops in other cities, but be prepared to order something every couple of hours.
With the average monthly income in Albania below 500 Euros, it’s kind of amazing that Albanians always have money for coffee. One local college student and her mother in Vlorë explained, “We need our coffee! So much so, we’ll even give up bread if we have to!”
That’s saying a lot because Albanians eat a lot of bread!
Fortunately, coffee is quite inexpensive in Albania.
Espresso - 40-80 ALL (less than 1 Euro)
Macchiato - 80-100 ALL
Cappuccino - 120-150 ALL
Raki shot – 40-60 ALL
Iced Coffee/Frappe - 150- 300 ALL