For members


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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For members


What does Swiss government want you to know about bomb shelters?

Also known as nuclear, raid, or fallout shelters, these underground bunkers are hidden from view, but they are hardly a secret — in fact, and Swiss authorities have recently issued new guidelines.

What does Swiss government want you to know about bomb shelters?

‘Strong interest in shelters’

Even though the threat of Russian attack has waned in the months since the war in Ukraine erupted, the Swiss are still showing “a strong interest in shelters”, according to the Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP).

For this reason, the government has recently issued new guidelines, covering all aspects of shelter life, for lack of a better term (See more below).

The shelters are an integral part of Swiss life — perhaps not as well-known as cheese or chocolate, but ubiquitous nevertheless.

If you live or have ever lived in a house in Switzerland built between the 1960s and late 1980s, you are likely familiar with nuclear bunkers located in the basement.

From 2012, however, only residential buildings with more than 38 apartments are required to have fallout shelters in their basements.

Residents of bulidings that don’t have those bunkers will have space, in case of emergency, in a communal bunker in their town. That’s because Swiss law stipulates that each resident “should be guaranteed a shelter in the vicinity of her/his place of residence”.

Today, Switzerland has 370,000 communal shelters able to accommodate the entire population in case of need.

Though an enemy attack is unlikely, everyone in Switzerland should know where their nearest shelter is located. You can find this out at your commune of residence.

READ ALSO: What are Switzerland’s nuclear bunkers and does each home need one?

A bit of history

During World War II, as neighbour Germany fought to take over Europe, the neutral Swiss started to dig underground bunkers — not only to conceal battle-ready troops and military equipment, but also to provide shelter for civilian population in case of attack.

When the war ended, with Switzerland unscathed, instead of dismantling the shelters, the ever-vigilant Swiss kept the bunkers intact because, while Germany was no longer a threat, the Soviet Union was (or at least was perceived as such).

But even after the Cold War ended in the 1990s and Switzerland started to decommission some of its military shelters, the ‘bunker mentality’ continued, persisting to this day.

In February 2022, when Russia attacked Ukraine, the population’s interest in shelters was renewed.

And this brings us back to the present day.

When should you go to a shelter?

These bunkers are intended to protect the population during an armed conflict, especially one involving weapons of mass destruction.
They can also be used in case of natural or man-made disasters.

However, you should only go to the shelter (either in your home / building or community) by order of the authorities.

“The current situation in Ukraine does not justify” the use of shelters, according to FOCP .

How are shelters structured?

The Swiss don’t do anything half-way

The shelters are equipped in a spartan manner to minimise costs, space requirements, and maintenance efforts, with the main focus on the protective effectiveness, FOCP said.

Each shelter’s floor, walls, and ceiling must be constructed from reinforced concrete and all the openings should be closed with blast-resistant covers. The bunker must also have an emergency exit or escape tunnel.

To ensure fresh air supply, the shelter is equipped with a ventilation system. “This includes the air intake, the explosion protection valve, the ventilation unit, and the gas filter, as well as the overpressure and explosion protection valve,” FOCP said.

An officer of the Swiss Civil defence of the canton of Geneva closes the door of a private concrete nuclear fallout shelter located underneath a residential building. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

How should shelters be equipped?

They must be stocked with the supplies needed for an extended stay. They include cots, as well as sufficient supply of bottled water, medications, and non-perishable food for each occupant for at least two weeks.

Federal Office for National Economic Supply (FONES) has a list of recommended stockpiles.

What should you do if an order to shelter is given?

Hopefully, this will never happen, but it’s good to be prepared, just in case.

FOCP issued these instructions:

  • Prepare emergency gear (including personal documents)
  • Bring a battery-operated VHF radio and spare batteries
  • Prepare food (including special dietary and infant foods), as well as medicines
  • Close windows and doors, switch off electric devices, turn off gas mains, and extinguish open fires (fireplaces, candles)
    Inform and, if necessary, help building residents
  • Accommodate pets as well as possible and supply them with water and food
  • When the official order is issued, close blast door and blast-resistant covers, and turn on ventilation.

What about non-emergency use?

A shelter may be used for everyday purposes, for example as a storage room, workshop, office, or playroom.

However, “any such usage for purposes apart from civil protection must comply with regulations regarding workplace safety, electric installations, fire protection, etc., and no changes may be made to the protective shell (floor, walls, ceiling), the blast doors and blast-resistant covers, or the ventilation system,” FOCP said.

“Any projects for adaptations and changes to the structure or the technical protective installations must be approved by the authorities.”

You can find out more about FOCP’s guidelines for shelters here.