Navigating Coffee Culture An Expats Guide to Belgium

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Welcome expatriates to the vibrant coffee scene in Belgium, where locally grown beans and traditional brews blend with international favorites to create a unique and delightful coffee culture. Whether you're a long-time expat or a newly arrived coffee lover, this guide offers insights and tips for immersing yourself in Belgium's coffee traditions.

Understanding Coffee Origins and Production

Belgium may be best known for its chocolate and beer, but coffee has a rich history in the country as well. Coffee beans have been cultivated in the Congo since the 19th century, and today, Belgium is home to several coffee plantations, including the Ferme de Kibanga near Lake Kivu in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu. Coffee production in the Congo is complex and often challenging due to issues with poverty, infrastructure, and armed conflict, but local beans are highly prized for their unique flavor and aroma.

For expats seeking to explore coffee plantations and farms in Belgium, several options are available. The Chocolaterie Jarich coffee plantation near Geel in Limburg is one such option, offering guided tours of the plantation and the opportunity to sample locally grown coffee. The Ferme de Kibanga also offers tours and tastings for coffee enthusiasts, with proceeds going directly to support local farmers and communities.

Embracing Favorite Coffee Style Drinks

Belgium is known for its wide variety of coffee style drinks, ranging from traditional favorites to specialty blends and international favorites. Espresso is a popular choice, with strong, mineral-rich water and a slow roasting process creating a unique flavor profile. For those seeking a creamier drink, the classic Belgian coffee, also known as café au lait, is a must-try. This drink combines espresso and steamed milk for a rich and velvety experience.

Other popular coffee style drinks in Belgium include the cappuccino, which is similar to the Italian version but often served with a sprinkle of cinnamon, and the affogato, a dessert-like drink consisting of a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of espresso.

For expats looking to explore the coffee scene in Belgium, several options are available. The Chokolade coffee shop in Antwerp is renowned for its artisanal coffee, while the Coffee Club chain offers a variety of coffee styles and locations throughout Belgium. Other popular coffee shops include Caffènation, located in Ghent and several other cities around Belgium, and The Roasterie, with locations in Antwerp and Brussels.

Embracing Coffee Drinking Customs and Traditions

Coffee is more than just a beverage in Belgium – it's a part of daily life and social culture. Coffee shops, or cafes, are a common sight around Belgium, with locals and expats alike gathering to enjoy a cup of coffee, catch up on news, or simply people-watch. Belgian coffee culture is characterized by a relaxed, leisurely pace of life, with coffee enjoyed over several hours and not in a rush.

For expats looking to immerse themselves in local coffee customs and traditions, several options are available. Belgians often serve coffee with biscuits or sweet pastries, such as pain au chocolat or croissants. The tradition of serving coffee with biscuits is thought to have originated from the history of coffeehouses being places for artists and intellectuals to gather, contributing to a social and cultural heritage surrounding the coffee-biscuit pairing.

Another coffee custom unique to Belgium is the concept of café va banque, which roughly translates to 'he who comes, pays.' This principle refers to the open-ended nature of Belgian coffee culture, where expenses are shared among a group and socializing is preferred over settling bills. Many locals prefer to have a café card, which is a reusable card that can be topped up with money, making it easier to enjoy coffee and baked goods without worrying about cash transactions.

Tips for Embracing Coffee Culture in Belgium

For expats seeking to embrace Belgian coffee culture, several tips are offer. Firstly, it's essential to respect local coffee traditions, such as taking the time to savor the coffee and enjoying it with biscuits or sweet pastries. It's also essential to be aware of café va bank and other social customs related to coffee consumption.

Secondly, expats are recommended to explore locally grown coffee and traditional brew methods to fully immerse themselves in Belgian coffee culture. Locally grown coffee often has unique flavor profiles, and traditional brew methods, such as the French press or Turkish coffee, offer a distinct and authentic coffee experience.

Finally, expats are advised to engage with local coffee communities, such as taking part in coffee tastings, coffee festivals, and coffee farmer cooperatives. These opportunities offer insights into Belgian coffee culture, allow for cultural exchange among expats and locals, and contribute to a stronger and more vibrant coffee community.


In conclusion, navigating the coffee scene in Belgium requires a mix of understanding coffee origins and production, embracing favorite coffee styles, and respecting local coffee customs and traditions. By exploring locally grown coffee, engaging with local coffee communities, and fully immersing themselves in Belgian coffee culture, expats can connect with the local community, enjoy a unique coffee experience, and contribute to a strong and vibrant coffee community.