Malta has a long and rich history of coffee culture. You can still see this thriving today, not least on the streets of the capital, Valletta, where coffee shops and cafés are a constant presence as you explore. After trying several of them out ourselves, from the classic 19th century cafés to the more modern and stylish outfits, in this article we will share with you the best coffee shops in Valletta, Malta, to visit on your trip.
Coffee in Malta: the history and culture
The history of coffee in Malta stretches back nearly 500 years. You might not immediately associate the country with coffee, but the Maltese islands were actually the first place where coffee was introduced to Europe, decades before it famously landed in Venice.
The 16th century in Malta saw the beginning of the long rule of the Knights of St John, and they played a crucial formative role in shaping the country as we know it today. Their legacy lives on in the stories and architecture of the capital Valletta, and it was during the early years of their rule that coffee culture made its way across the Mediterranean from the Middle East, and began to take root.
During the Great Siege of Malta, in 1565, the knights captured Turkish muslims and imprisoned them as slaves in Valletta. These Turkish slaves brought traditions of coffee-making with them, and so it was they who first introduced the concept to Malta. The knights developed a liking for this exotic bitter-tasting drink, and ordered the slaves to increase production.
Coffee became a popular drink with the upper classes in Malta, and its popularity grew. The import of coffee accelerated and cafés began to open all over the main island; but it was the capital, Valletta, that quickly became the heart of the coffee scene.
Valletta was a coffee capital of the world
By the second half of the 17th century, coffee culture had spread across Europe. But even then, in the 1660s, Valletta had a third as many coffee shops as London, which was many times its size.
This made Malta’s capital city one of the most concentrated hubs in the world for coffee consumption. The proliferation of coffee shops in Valletta during the 17th century made it available to wider society, and coffee culture became firmly embedded itself in Maltese traditions.
The coffee scene is still a thriving part of life in the city today, and exploring it is one of the best things to do in Valletta to get to know the place.
Maltese coffee: a unique blend
While coffee in Malta was originally rooted in the traditions introduced by Turkish slaves, a unique Maltese variety of coffee was soon developed.
Traditional Maltese coffee is actually quite hard to find in any cafés in Valletta or elsewhere in Malta, as classic international styles have proved to be more widely popular.
Maltese coffee, or kafe msajjar as it is known locally, is made with a blend of spices not dissimilar to those used for mulled wine. It is brewed with chicory, cloves, aniseed and orange zest, which gives it a spicy, fragrant, almost festive flavour.
If you want to try making Maltese coffee for yourself, you can find the spices in various traditional old grocery shops in Valletta. In our selection of the best coffee shops in Valletta below, there’s one place where you can make a special request to try it.
Classic cafés in Valletta
1. Caffe Cordina
The most famous coffee shop in Valletta is Caffe Cordina. This vintage old place was opened in 1837 and is in fact one of the oldest cafés in Europe. It began as a family business and is still run by the Cordina family today, five generations on, and the old traditions are still a part of the fabric.
Caffe Cordina is situated in the heart of Valletta, opposite the Grandmaster Palace Courtyard. The café has become a tourist attraction and is typically busy throughout the daytime. If you want to get a table, it’s best to visit outside peak lunchtime hours. Arrive early if you can.
Set inside a classic Valletta palazzo, the interior of the café is majestic. The high arched ceiling is adorned with grandiose golden decorations and hung with magnificent chandeliers. It really does feel like you are stepping into high society in a bygone era. Make sure you drop in at least once during your Malta itinerary.
The coffee is excellent at Caffe Cordina, but the real highlight here is the incredible selection of cakes. The café actually began its life as a confectioner, and it remains a great place to visit if you have a sweet tooth. Try a classic espresso with one of the delicious handmade pastries.
Caffe Cordina is also a restaurant, boasting a menu packed with traditional Maltese dishes. Come on a summery evening and you can enjoy live jazz music in the courtyard outside.
2. Capri Caffe
When the sun is shining in Valletta, Capri Caffe is a place where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack while surrounded by the city’s historic sandstone buildings.
This old café is somewhat of an institution in Valletta, nestled on the corner of Jean De Vallette Square, between the Teatru Rjal open-air theatre and the Museum of the Fine Arts.
On a particularly bright Saturday morning in Valletta my visit coincided with the opening day of parliament, and so the area was swarmed with Maltese guards wearing traditional white parade uniform. Capri Caffe seemed to be a real favourite for them!
Capri Caffe opens absurdly early, at 5:30am on Monday to Friday and 7am on Saturday. This makes it a great little spot to grab an early breakfast. Snacks and sandwiches here are very reasonably priced, and perfectly paired with a classic cup of coffee.
3. Cafe Capitolino
Cafe Capitolino is perched on the busy thoroughfare of Republic Street, just a few paces away from Caffe Cordina, in the liveliest part of Valletta.
Like many of the traditional coffee shops in Valletta, Cafe Capitolino has a cosy indoors with a more spacious seating area outside. Hospitality in Malta is designed to maximise the warm climate!
A benefit of Cafe Capitolino on sunny days is that it doubles up as a gelateria. You will see queues of people here in the height of the afternoon waiting for one of the city’s most renowned ice creams.
Cafe Capitolino also serves alcoholic cocktails, so while it has the feel of an old-school coffee shop, it has branched out to become more of an all-round café and bar.
Coffee shops in Valletta with a modern feel
4. Coffee Circus Lisboa
Coffee Circus has cafés in six locations across the main island, and has become the king of freshly ground coffee in Malta. I first visited their coffee shop in Gzira, just outside Valletta, where they have a whirring coffee grinding machine integrated among the seating.
Most of the Coffee Circus cafés are given a name that reflects a coffee destination somewhere in the world. In Valletta it is Coffee Circus Lisboa, which is a stone’s throw away from St John’s Co-Cathedral, the city’s centrepiece.
Despite the central location it feels refreshingly low-key, accessible via a subtle entrance on a side-street. Upon entering you descend a steep flight of steps into an intimate vaulted cellar, which is where the magic happens.
The menu at Coffee Circus is a mish-mash of speciality coffees from all over the world. The staff were happy to give me a recommendation, and I enjoyed a mug of Colombia Excelso with a tasty, deep-filled club sandwich for lunch.
Lunchtime is always busy in Valletta, but I was actually able to find some peace and quiet down here in the cellar at Coffee Circus Lisboa. Despite the cosy space, there was no shortage of vacant seats.
Coffee connoisseurs will love this place for its variety of brews and the rich ambience to match.
If you prefer cafés with a more creative, modern vibe, then Kunċett might be the best coffee shop in Valletta for you. “Kunċett” is Maltese for “concept” which is an apt name for this offbeat art café.
Situated on the legendary Strada Stretta (Strait Street), but on a quiet little corner, Kunċett is a world away from the tourist-strewn passageways around Republic Street. And when you step inside, it’s a completely different atmosphere to the city’s elegant old palazzos.
One wall of Kunċett is dedicated as an exhibition space for local artists, with a different artist featured every fortnight. The Exhibition Wall, as it is called, displays ten of their chosen works.
Kunċett has a rustic feel with plain floorboards, sparsely laid mosaic rugs and thick wooden tables. There’s a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, and it feels like the kind of place you can happily while away a few hours. There are plug-in points if you want to charge your laptop or do some work.
I tried a delicious house latte with a general piece of red coconut cake, which has become a popular delicacy in Malta, with origins in Australia. Read about more of that kind of thing in our guide to Maltese food.
Hidden gem coffee shops in Valletta
6. Café Micallef
It’s easy to find coffee shops in Valletta because there is one around every corner you turn. But some of the best Valletta cafés are not in plain sight, and it took a local recommendation for me to discover Café Micallef, a modest-looking little place on St Paul Street.
On Google Maps you will find this place listed as “Micallef Confectioner”, probably because it is also renowned for its tasty sweet treats and cakes. I was introduced to Café Micallef on a Valletta street food tour, and this is where we were able to try the famous Maltese coffee.
Maltese coffee isn’t actually on the menu here, but if you ask the staff nicely they will be happy to make it for you. It’s best enjoyed with a piece of Maltese honey ring, a biscuit-cake filled with honey treacle that is popular at Christmas.
It was lovely and peaceful inside the café even on a Saturday morning, so you’ll probably always find a seat here. There are plug-in points as well if you need to charge up.
7. Cafe Castille
From the outside, Castille Hotel looks like a typical Valletta hotel in one of the city’s 16th-century residences. The left side of the building on the ground floor conceals an inviting little café.
The interior of Cafe Castille has retained many original features of the old building, with stone-slabbed walls and thick wooden ceiling beams keeping that vintage atmosphere alive. Two large glass cabinets inside are crammed with sandwiches, pastries and delicious-looking homemade cakes.
Cafe Castille blends its historic charm with subtle touches of novelty. The iced latte I ordered (it was a hot mid-afternoon) was served in a large glass jar, the kind you might expect to see in a trendy hipster bar. A bookshelf on one wall, surrounded by an ornate golden frame, invites you to “take a book, leave a book”.
Perched right next to Upper Barrakka Gardens, this is a lovely spot to cool off for a while or have a snack while you’re out sightseeing in Valletta.
Map of coffee shops in Valletta, Malta
You can see the locations of the coffee shops in Valletta we’ve featured in this article on the map below:
Have you tried any coffee shops in Valletta or elsewhere in Malta? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.