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A Brazilian beach vendor carries a tray of home-made caipirinha cocktails on Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Shutterstock

An A to Z atlas of national drinks, from coffee, tea and vodka to beer and wine. But where do they enjoy laban and teh tarik?

  • Every place has its favourite drink, alcoholic or not, and here is a list of countries from A to Z and their tipple of choice
  • Some are to be expected, including French champagne, Czech beer and Russian vodka, but what is the national drink of Samoa?

From elaborate tea ceremonies to champagne toasts, the customs and rituals linked to drinking are as much a part of national identities as history, language, music and cuisine. Here’s an A to Z of countries and a drink associated with each.

From the German word for swallow, Austria’s national tipple is a distilled fruit brandy that packs a hefty punch. Schnapps is the go-to après-ski spirit, but is best avoided before hitting the slopes, for obvious reasons.

Brazil is the world’s biggest exporter of coffee but when the locals want to let their hair down – which is most days – a caipirinha is the way to go. Refreshing and easy to make, with Brazilian cane sugar spirit cachaca mixed with fresh lime juice and sugar, the cocktail was reportedly used as a cure for scurvy and cholera, and a remedy during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.

Beer is cheaper than bottled water in the Czech Republic so it’s no surprise the central European country consumes more than any other per head of population. Overall, however, China leads the way in both beer consumption and production.

Bottles of Aalborg akvavit at a duty-free shop in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo: Shutterstock

Distilled from grain or potatoes and flavoured with herbs, akvavit (from the Latin aqua vitae, or “water of life”) is Denmark’s national firewater. And you were expecting it to be Carlsberg.

The English drink an average of 1.78 cups of tea per day but in 2020, during lockdown, this number doubled. Kenya grows almost half the nation’s supply, 96 per cent of which is sold in tea bags. Avoid being drawn into arguments with the English about whether to put the milk in before the tea or vice versa.

Was Canada’s national cocktail, the Caesar, inspired by pasta?

You won’t be surprised to hear that the French drink more champagne than anyone else, but its the Portuguese who quaff the most wine per head. And despite its famed cafe culture, France can’t compete with world leaders Finland when it comes to per capita coffee consumption.

Jokingly called to farmako (“the medicine”) by Greeks, ouzo is an aniseed-flavoured aperitif usually enjoyed in the late afternoon accompanied by plates of appetisers or mezedes. Sip it slowly, it isn’t meant to be downed in one.

During World War II, Allied bombs destroyed the Budapest factory where the popular Hungarian spirit unicum was made. Worse still, the Hungarian Communist government was unable to replicate the secret recipe, which involves blending more than 40 herbs and spices. All’s well that ends well, though, and the original is available again.

A seller garnishes cups of lassi in Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, India. Photo: Shutterstock

Served sweet, salty or spicy, lassi is a creamy, yogurt-based drink known as India’s milkshake. Honourable national drink mentions here must also go to Ireland (Guinness) and Italy, which recently applied to have espresso granted Unesco cultural heritage status.

Signature drink and national cocktail, sunset-coloured rum punch is the thirst quencher of choice for Jamaicans. Meanwhile, Japanese fermented rice wine sake is served to seal business deals and for toasting newly married couples, to observe the changing seasons and even at funerals. Don’t pour your own glass, it’s considered bad form.

An alcoholic drink made from a dairy product rather than fruit or a grain, kumis is a Kazakh pick-me-up made from fermented horse milk. It has been described as tasting like champagne mixed with sour cream.

Kumis is a Kazakh speciality made from horse milk. Photo: Shutterstock

According to World Health Organization figures, in 2019 Latvia consumed more beer per capita than anyone else. Problem was, excise duties meant that neighbouring Estonians and Lithuanians were travelling to Latvia to bulk buy on the cheap, which skewed the stats.

Tequila is Mexico’s national drink and one of the ingredients in a margarita, the world’s favourite cocktail. In Malaysia, teh tarik is a creamy hot drink prepared by a server who theatrically pours black tea blended with condensed milk between two metal containers held up to a metre apart.

Rugged, outdoorsy New Zealanders probably prefer to think of themselves as hardcore beer drinkers in the Czech Republic mould, but they are also fond of a certain sugary soda. Lemon and Paeroa is a fizzy concoction that any kiwi will tell you is “world famous in New Zealand”.

Lemon and Paeroa is New Zealand’s favourite fizzy drink. Photo: Shutterstock

Laban is a salty drink enjoyed across the Middle East. The Omani version combines yogurt and buttermilk, with mint, cardamom or cumin.

They love their San Miguel (beer) in the Philippines but are also partial to a glass or two of tubâ, a creamy drink made from palm-tree sap. Fermented for days, even weeks, the exact alcohol content is something of a mystery.

Boil up a blend of tea, evaporated milk, water, sugar and cardamom, simmer at a low heat and you have karak, Qatar’s national drink.

Vodka is definitely Russia’s favourite spirit, accounting for 70 per cent of the nation’s alcohol consumption. Photo: Shutterstock

Vodka makes up 70 per cent of all alcohol consumed in Russia, either served neat or in cocktails (Bloody Mary, White Russian, Harvey Wallbanger, among others). Government efforts to cut consumption by increasing taxes and banning television ads appear to be working, according to improved life expectancy stats.

Every second, 40 bottles of Scotch whisky are shipped to 180 markets around the world. In 2020, this trade was worth £3.8 billion (US$4.7 billion) and accounted for 75 per cent of Scottish food and drink exports. Honourable mentions for the letter “S” go to Spain (sangria) and Switzerland (hot chocolate).

Turkey is the world’s largest tea-consuming country per capita (China leads the way overall) but rather than calculate how many Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth the Turks get through annually, let’s give another national drink a mention. Raki, lovingly nicknamed “lion’s milk”, is a traditional Turkish tipple that fits into the same aniseed-flavoured spirit category as pastis, sambuca, aguardiente and ouzo.

Bourbon is the go-to spirit in the US. Photo: Getty Images

In 1964, Congress adopted a resolution that recognised bourbon as a “distinctive product of the United States”. As a result, the oak barrel-aged corn whiskey must be made in America if it’s to be called bourbon. In reality, the iconic spirit is almost exclusively produced in Kentucky, where blue limestone-filtered water adds minerals such as calcium, and removes impurities including iron, which ruin the taste.

When they are not quenching their thirst with sugar cane juice, the Vietnamese are drinking lots of green tea. No occasion or ceremony of importance takes place without a pot of the antioxidant-rich drink to hand.

Kava, known as ’ava in Samoa, is the tongue-numbing sedative of choice across the South Pacific, and an integral part of ceremonial and social life. The root of a pepper plant is pounded, water is added, and the resulting brackish liquid is sieved through cloth to remove impurities. Then the “grog session” can begin.

Queen Elizabeth drinks kava in Western Samoa during her Silver Jubilee tour of the South Pacific in 1977. Photo: Getty Images

No country begins with the letter ‘X’ but residents of the Xishuanbanna region of China are partial to pu’erh tea, which grows in that corner of Yunnan province.

Alcohol was available in South Yemen during British occupation (1839-1967) but no longer. These days, qishr, which is made with coffee husks, ginger and spices such as cinnamon, is the drink of choice. By using husks instead of the beans themselves, qishr is cheaper to make and although it is known as ginger coffee in Western countries, it has a tea-like consistency.

Served in milk-style cartons, batches of Chibuku, Zimbabwe’s best selling beer, vary in quality. The cloudy, sorghum-based drink becomes stronger the longer it is left to ferment and has sediment at the bottom of the carton so requires a thorough shaking before opening. Some say Chibuku smells similar to home-brew that’s not quite ready to drink. Rather you than me.