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My Biggest Question About Europe Remains Unanswered

After 16 years of traveling here I still haven’t figured it out.

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic- “What size would you like?” the lady behind the counter asked in reference to my coffee.

I looked over my options: small, smaller, and miniscule. The miniscule’s handle was its largest part. I had no idea how a grown man could even pick it up.

“How about a normal?” I joked, but then settled for their large:

I paid $2.50 for this.

This is the one thing that I still don’t get about Europe: small coffees. This was one of the first things that struck me about the continent when I first began coming here in 2002, and I figured that I’d eventually work it out — that one day someone would explain to me why people would prefer drinking coffee in teeny tea cups when they could just as easily drink from a standard size mug.

90% of the time when you look at something in another culture and declare it stupid you may as well turn the adjective back upon yourself, as chances are you just don’t understand it yet.

If you give these things enough time, if you ask enough questions you more often than not you come to at least a plausible explanation. But, 16 years later, this has yet to happen with European size coffee cups. Or maybe I just have some sort of small coffee syndrome.

Filed under: Coffee, Czech Republic, Food

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

15 comments… add one

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  • Rob November 25, 2018, 3:33 pm

    Always something new… Is this just regular coffee in the tiny cups?

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    • Wade Shepard November 25, 2018, 4:02 pm

      Yes, it’s just a normal Americano. I still don’t get it haha.

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  • Trevor November 25, 2018, 8:42 pm

    Lol… coffee isnt served in bucket sized cups here (Europe) only at Starbucks. In Switzerland who 99% of the time do things better than the rest of the world there is no S.M or L coffee.

    if u order a coffee you’ll get a coffee served with a little tub of cream.. called a Kaffee Creme.

    all the others are expressoes served with steamed and /or frothy milk .

    Espressoes are designed like a shot. u traditionally had on the way to work at a small café with standing room only.. and if u like ur shot super strong u get a ristretto.

    Americano is just an expresso with added hot water. and when i was in Chamonix an Americano was a expesso with hot water in a large cup and the bill was for a double expresso.

    outside of Switzerland i go to Mc D. ( in both places u know what youll be getting..)

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    • Wade Shepard November 27, 2018, 12:15 pm

      Haha double the price for hot water. Very true. My take is that if you’re going to make the effort to sit down at a cafe why not have a drink that lasts more than two sips? Maybe I’m just a stupid American … following you to McDonald’s!

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      • Trevor November 27, 2018, 4:15 pm

        i just order 2 haha i prefer 2 reg McD coffees to 1 large. and i cant stand Starbucks coffee. all tastes like dish water though theyve got the most comfy seats…

        and it all boils back to McD coffee. the size is great cheap enough and u can sit for as long as u want AND as we said before, you know what ur getting from Cape Town to Cairo and Peking to Jakarta.

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        • Wade Shepard November 27, 2018, 10:06 pm

          Right on! The price you pay for a Starbucks coffee is the price to sit down and relax for a while. The coffee is truly terrible. It’s funny how people think it’s good until you point out that it’s not — then it totally ruins it for them for the rest of their lives haha. I believe it was you who made me start tasting dish water each time I drink a Starbucks coffee!

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  • Trebon November 26, 2018, 5:18 am

    Small coffee cups? In Europe?

    Maybe you travel a little too fast. There are several sizes around. From Espresso, Cortado, Coffje, Kaffee (in different idioms from different countries) cappuccino, café (au lait) a.s.o.

    Europe is broad very broad. It takes more than a living just to see it small. And sorry, we only write the tourist places (and tourist coffee shops) to tourist books.

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    • Wade Shepard November 27, 2018, 12:17 pm

      I’ve spent many years in Europe in probably around 20 different European countries. If you read more of this site you will see that I spend very little time in tourist areas.

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  • Andre Vieira November 26, 2018, 11:00 am

    Nothing like a morning double shot of espresso to grow some manly chest hair!

    On a serious note, these are the things that fascinate me about living abroad and you just described them perfectly:

    “90% of the time when you look at something in another culture and declare it stupid you may as well turn the adjective back upon yourself, as chances are you just don’t understand it yet.”

    Seriously Wade, 16 years should be enough to get used to small coffee 🙂

    Good travels

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    • Wade Shepard November 27, 2018, 12:17 pm

      Haha, yeah, I guess you’re right!

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  • David Nellis February 25, 2021, 10:52 am

    Think of caffeine like alcohol. Some people are satisfied with one small beer, and they think drinking two liters in a short period is alcoholism.

    Similarly, many are going to think more than a couple milligrams of caffeine is absurd.

    I know so many people that have 1000mg a day of caffeine. That’s an addiction, but its largely harmless, so I mind my own business and have my 6 mugs of green tea!

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  • Adam August 14, 2021, 4:55 pm

    “why people would prefer drinking coffee in teeny tea cups when they could just as easily drink from a standard size mug.”

    That is a loaded question. Try drinking an espresso shot from a standard size mug and you’ll find it’s a lot less practical and thermally-inefficient than drinking it from an espresso cup. I know this is a crazy notion, but in Europe people drink from vessels whose size matches the amount of liquid they’re meant to contain.

    Perhaps the question you really meant to ask is why in Europe there’s so little demand for coffee so watered down it would require a mug or a bucket to not overflow, that it’s not a standard for cafés to offer such sizes. I would venture to guess it’s because people have figured out that in cafés water is free, and if they want water they can drink it separately and not have to mix it in their drink.

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    • VBJ August 18, 2021, 10:28 am

      I’m not talking about espresso here. In the United States we drink espresso from the same little cup that they use in Europe. I’m talking about a standard cup of coffee that is exactly the same at a cafe in the US as it is in Europe … except in one place you get a nice big cup and in the other you get one half the size.

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      • Trevor Warman August 20, 2021, 10:15 am

        The coffee cup conundrum.

        I find the reg size, 10oz (?) Cups ok. I drink mine black and sweet. And it is possibly stronger than in the US… so the need to drink BIG cups is less?

        And if i need more, i get a 2nd cup… a big cup simply goes cold , like a big beer in the tropics, gets warm quickly.

        Anymore than 2 cups and my hands start shaking… 😉 ☕☕ cheers

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        • VBJ September 8, 2021, 2:15 pm

          Drink like a man! haha.

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