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UNDERSTANDING THE SWISS

How to drink coffee like the Swiss

Whether at home or in the cafe, the Swiss love coffee. Here's how to fit in when drinking coffee in Switzerland.

A typical Swiss camping scene (we think)
A metal coffee maker in a field against the backdrop of the Morteratsch Glacier, Pontresina, Switzerland. Photo: Kevin Schmid/Unsplash

Switzerland sits at the nexus of three coffee-loving countries: Italy, France and Germany. Even eastern border Austria is known for its coffee houses. 

But while all of these cultures are united by their love of coffee, the way in which they enjoy a cup can differ significantly. 

As a result, Switzerland itself has a diverse number of ways of enjoying coffee, some of which are likely to make coffee snobs wince. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

The Swiss love coffee

Regardless of how they drink it, wherever they are from the Swiss love coffee. 

The Swiss drink 1,110 cups of coffee per person per year, which works out to roughly three cups per day. 

That’s tenth on the list globally, one ahead of Italy, according to figures from Statista. 

A breakdown of which countries drink the most coffee, with Switzerland tenth on the list. Image: Statista

A breakdown of which countries drink the most coffee, with Switzerland tenth on the list. Image: Statista

Other estimates say that Switzerland is as high as number three on the list. 

The Luzerner Zeitung reports that Switzerland bucked the global downtrend in coffee consumption during the pandemic, with the Swiss continuing to drink coffee like the pandemic wasn’t a thing at all. 

In fact, the Swiss love coffee so much that the government keeps a secret stockpile of the stuff just in case. 

READ: Understanding Switzerland’s strategic coffee reserves

While time out at a cafe is a Swiss institution, in the morning the Swiss are all business when it comes to coffee. 

According to that great bastion of coffee knowledge that is Swiss tabloid Blick, 75 percent of people drink their first coffee at home in the morning, with only 25 percent drinking it on the way to the office or actually at work. 

Coffee is the most important thing in the morning for the Swiss, Blick found, more important than sleeping in or breakfast. 

The cost of coffee also varies depending on where you are in Switzerland, with the average price highest in Zurich (4.35CHF) and lowest in Ticino (2.70CHF). 

READ: Where is the cheapest coffee in Switzerland?

And despite not having the climate to grow coffee, Switzerland’s role in the global coffee trade is so prominent that between 70 and 80 percent of green (i.e. unroasted) coffee comes through Swiss hands. 

Cool people enjoying a cool coffee at a cool cafe in Geneva. Photo by Johan Mouchet on Unsplash

Cool people enjoying a cool coffee at a cool cafe in Geneva. Photo by Johan Mouchet on Unsplash

Why do the Swiss love coffee so much? 

The answer to why a country which cannot grow coffee loves it so much is not incredibly clear, but experts say coffee is so culturally important because it has been considered a staple for such a long time. 

“In other countries coffee is considered a luxury good, in Switzerland it is a staple food,” says Bruno Feer, from coffee roasters Delica. 

The country’s wealth contributes to the popularity of coffee, as despite a cup costing a fair bit more over the Swiss border than in Germany, Italy or Switzerland, it is clearly affordable for the wealthy Swiss. 

“The corona crisis therefore did not affect coffee consumption in the same way everywhere. The purchasing power of Swiss consumers is still very high and the product is still in high demand”.

The cold climate and the lack of a tea culture also contribute to the popularity of coffee. 

They love it… but the Swiss did invent instant coffee

OK, so coffee snobs may thumb their nose at instant coffee, but it speaks to the country’s enduring love of coffee that they invented a way to drink it when there’s no coffee-making paraphernalia around – or that they found a way to drink it when it’s not even good. 

While several countries including New Zealand and France had tried to patent a way to make water-soluble coffee, it took the Swiss to actually make it happen. 

Image: Nestle/Wikicommons

Instant coffee was invented by Swiss chemist Max Morgenthaler during the great depression. 

Morgenthaler had been taken on by a little known Swiss food company called Nestle and managed to crack the instant coffee code while at home after five years of research. 

READ MORE: How Switzerland invented instant coffee

Instant coffee was popular during the Second World War and later became a global staple. 

Now as proud coffee people, most Swiss wouldn’t admit to drinking instant coffee – although almost every Swiss pantry is likely to have a jar of the stuff, just in case. 

Switzerland is also responsible for the 21st century version of instant coffee: the Nespresso pod, the plastic disposable coffee husk which simultaneously manages to annoy coffee snobs, the budget conscious and environmentalists at the same time. 

OK, so how do the Swiss drink coffee? 

The most popular coffee order in Switzerland is the ‘café creme’, or a Schümli in the German-speaking parts of the country. 

We’d explain what that is to you, but the café creme is far more elegantly defined by Swiss travel guide Hotel Magazin:

“The coffee beans are freshly ground for each cup and the light-coulored coffee grounds are brewed under pressure, as with espresso. A uniform foam, the Schümli, is created on the surface.”

This is usually served with a small glass of water and perhaps a little aniseed-flavoured cookie, ginger biscuit or small square of cake. 

And while the Swiss love to visit a café – particularly in Ticino – one relatively unique aspect of Swiss coffee culture is how much they like to drink coffee at home. 

Swiss are willing to spend more on coffee at home than their German and Austrian neighbours, with one in ten saying they’d pay up to 70 cents per cup for a coffee at home – compared to less than one percent of Germans or Austrians. 

Julian Graf, managing director of Cafetier Suisse coffee association, says Swiss coffee drinkers have such high standards in home coffee that they are forcing restaurants to keep up. 

“More and more Swiss people want to drink high-quality coffee and are finding ways (to improve) the product and the preparation of coffee,” he told the Luzerner Zeitung. 

“Customers will expect the same top quality in the restaurant that they know from home. This development has been going on for years and is now – like so many other things – being accelerated by the corona pandemic.”

More than a third – 36 percent – of Swiss have some type of sophisticated coffee machine at home like a capsule/pod system (26.1 percent) or an espresso machine. 

The Swiss don’t just stop with a morning coffee. They are also likely to keep their habit up during the day, with one in three Swiss drinking a coffee in the late afternoon, far more than in Germany (17 percent) or Austria (16 percent). 

How do Switzerland’s different regions enjoy their coffee? 

The German, French and Italian cultural differences play out in the way different Swiss language regions drink coffee. 

While the Swiss on the whole average three cups per day, the French speakers have the highest consumption, with an average of 3.4 cups. 

Across the whole country, just under two thirds (62 percent) drink their coffee with some form of milk, with the rest drinking it black. This is different in French-speaking Switzerland however, where less than half drink their coffee with milk. 

Perhaps surprisingly, slightly more (63 percent) of Italian-speaking Switzerland drinks its coffee with milk.

The German speakers however love adding Milch to their Kaffee, with 66 percent doing so. 

Ze Germans also prefer long coffee, i.e. filters or French press, whereas Latin Switzerland has a preference for espresso. 

Lighter roasts – more common in filter coffee – are much more popular in the north of the country, while the south of Switzerland prefers a darker roast, reports Swiss coffee blog Kaffi Schopp. 

Drink your coffee in a different way or haven’t tried a Schümli before? Let us know at [email protected].

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Myth-busters: Five things about Switzerland you should not believe

From dodgy bankers to cuckoo clocks, William Tell to Swiss soldiers, Switzerland is a country where myths and stereotypes abound. We separate the facts from the fiction.

Myth-busters: Five things about Switzerland you should not believe

When you think of Switzerland, you probably conjure up images of cheese, chocolate, Alps, cows, and watches. Add to this image the yodelling and Alphorn playing, and this somewhat idealised (but nevertheless true) picture of Switzerland is complete.

But at the same time, some common beliefs related to Switzerland are as full of holes as… Emmental cheese.

William Tell

Many people firmly believe that this folk hero and expert crossbow marksman who shot an apple off his son’s head, was a real figure who lived in Uri in the early 1500s.

Though he embodies the struggle for freedom and independence — principles that the Swiss hold dear to this day — there is no evidence that Tell actually existed.

Historians investigating the Tell legend didn’t find any evidence that such a person ever lived, or proof that anyone shot an apple off a boy’s head.

Among the arguments against Tell’s existence is that crossbows were not commonly used in the 14th century.

According to one history fact-checking site, “it seems that the origin of the story was in a myth that was popular in Europe, and which was adopted by the people of the Alpine Valleys. It later was used as a foundation myth, by successive Swiss governments, to explain the development of the Swiss Federation”.

Neutrality

Some people take it for granted that Switzerland has been a neutral nation, which didn’t get involved in other countries’ armed conflicts, since its official creation on August 1st, 1291.

However, in the Middle Ages, the country was a military power and its soldiers could be hired for money, fighting on the side of those who paid them the most.

That was long before the Swiss army knife was invented, and the soldiers went to the battlefields with a pike — a long thrusting spear that could inflict a lot of damage on the enemy. 

It wasn’t until 1815 that Switzerland’s “perpetual neutrality” was declared. Great powers of Europe decided that Switzerland would provide a convenient geographical buffer between quarrelling France and Austria, and its neutrality would be a stabilising  factor in an unstable region.

Just over 200 years later, in 1920, the newly created — appropriately enough, in Geneva — League of Nations, officially recognised Swiss neutrality.

READ MORE : Swiss history: When Switzerland was a nation of warriors

Wealth

A common belief is that Switzerland has always been a rich and prosperous country it is today.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In centuries past, Switzerland was a pauper nation, where a large portion of the population in this landlocked, mountainous country with no natural resources, struggled to survive. Some people even ended up emigrating to South and North America to escape a life of poverty.

Many of those who did not go abroad moved from rural areas to the cities, where they continued to live in precarious conditions.

According to an official government document, “anyone who was not a citizen of a commune was homeless and lived on the margins of the community or was left to wander the country as a vagrant”.

Not exactly the image we have of Switzerland today.

READ MORE: Swiss history: The country was once so poor, people had to go abroad to survive

Banks

In many people’s minds, Switzerland’s financial institutions are synonymous with dirty money and illicit dealings.

As The Local previously reported, “such images are often perpetuated by Hollywood films,  in which shady characters invariably have a banker in Zurich — an equally shady individual with a thin moustache and a dark suit — who quietly stashes illegally begotten money in secret accounts”.

In reality, Swiss banks don’t quite live up to this notoriety. For instance,  there is no such thing these days as ‘anonymous’ accounts.

To open an account, you must have a valid ID like a passport, verification of your address, and a document to prove the money you are depositing comes from legitimate (i.e. non-criminal) sources.

In terms of banking secrecy, there is some truth to it:  in principle the banks can’t reveal your financial information to a third party.

However, there are some exceptions, as in order to prevent tax evasion, Switzerland has signed agreements with a number of countries to cooperate in exchange of financial information of their respective citizens.

So if you are a foreign national, the government of your country can request Switzerland to release your account(s) information and banks must comply.

READ MORE : Gold, secrecy and wealth: Six Swiss bank myths that need to be busted

Cuckoo clocks and lederhosen

A number of foreign tourists in Switzerland are looking to buy ‘Swiss’ cuckoo clocks, not realising that these clocks originally came from the Black Forest in Germany.

Now, however, many are manufactured in Asia; either way, very few, if any, are hatched in Switzerland.

By the same token, many foreigners associate lederhosen — short or knee-length leather breeches — with Switzerland.

Wrong again.

Maybe it’s because they confuse Switzerland with Austria and Germany (the three countries do look alike, especially in the dark), but whatever the reason, lederhosen is not a Swiss garb.

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