I’d say I became a coffee drinker in 2014. Growing up around a lot of old people, I had drank coffee sporadically throughout my life. But never to a degree where the quality of the coffee was important. It was more of a morning ritual and utilized for it’s caffeine. After visiting Costa Rica, though, I was sold on the entire culture of the roasted beans.
Coffee is a great drink in itself. Drink it black, with milk, sugar, or not — the drink is amazing. What can be even more interesting is the culture that develops around the drink. Much in the same way as cigar culture varies among locales, so does coffee culture. From where coffee is consumed to how it’s prepared, as you travel you’ll see how things vary.
I’m not some renowned world traveler, or even especially well-traveled, but I do like to immersed myself in the local ways of life when I do visit a place. And when I go for the coffee experience I prefer the local cafés to the large chains that serve passersby or tourists. Out of all the places I’ve been, I’d say I was immersed in coffee cultures in 3 distinct places: Costa Rica, South Florida, and Morocco. Each is very distinct from the others and each was a special treat for me.
So I cut my coffee teeth in Costa Rica. My experience was limited as I didn’t arrive as a coffee drinker, but without this experience I wouldn’t have become one. Coffee was a staple for breakfast. Each morning my host mom served me black coffee with sugar and milk on the side along with fresh fruit, cas, and breakfast food (eggs, sausage, pancakes, etc.). They routinely drank their coffee black and extremely hot, something noticed by other first-time visitors. Coffee was a pretty much available everywhere, but I didn’t indulge much. After I visited a coffee plantation everything changed. In addition to learning the process of seed to cup the tour included free samples of almost all the coffees produced by the company. For the first time I was able to taste differing flavor profiles in black coffee and I was immediately hooked. I bought bags of the samples o liked and found out that this was the coffee my host family had been brewing the entire time. From then on, I didn’t turn down a cup of coffee. Besides the coffee itself, the brew method that seemed to be fairly common was unique. I’d be remiss not to mention the chorreador. A very simple device, it looks like a sock hanging from a wooden pole. But this was a normal way of brewing a single cup. I’ll be indulging soon in my abode.
Miami was a whole nother beast. Espresso and the ventanilla rules the coffee culture of south Florida. A friend introduced me to cuban coffee my first week of being in Miami and I wasn’t a big fan from the jump. I had began to drink my coffee with milk and no sugar and the sweetness threw me for a loop. A few days later another friend took me to the Versailles’s ventanilla and we had a colada and I was hooked. The ventanillas are perfect. With the weather almost always being perfect for an Arkansan who loves the brutal summers of the state, walking up to a window and ordering una colada and sitting to drink and converse with friends or strangers was perfect. I remember sitting and talking while having coffee and a cigar plenty of times. Sometimes I may not talk, just people watch or read. There’s no comparison to the dark and sweet richness of a cafecito or the creamy goodness of a café con leche. South Florida’s coffee scene is unique and an at home feeling for me.
The final location I want to talk about is Morocco. Now Morocco was a little weird for me. One, the famous mint tea dominates. I’m not a tea drinker at all, but I did appreciate drinking a few glasses of the aromatic, sweet tea. Two, the coffee itself was like nothing I’d had before. No matter the setting, the coffee was thick — with or without sugar — leaving your mouth with a texture as if you should have to whipe your teeth. Coffee was mostly served with a sugar cube on the side and in contrast to my other experiences, I was ordering cafe au lait instead of café con leche. I was able to visit a shop in Fez that we’d call a hole on the wall where I’m from and it may have been my best memory. The barista had mint piled up on this work station for tea and had several open fires going to heat water. He handled the hot, all metal containers with his bare hands as if he’d been doing this his entire life. There was only enough seating for 4 people. We were served coffee in glass cups that were sat inside metal containers. Thick, rich, and sweet was the profile. I must also say that I’ve never had darker tasting coffee anywhere in the world than Morocco. Its a deep, dark taste, almost like an abyss. The Grand Cafe de Paris in Tangier also became a favorite spot of mine during the 3 days I spent there. You could feel the energy of Tangier’s wild past and its present there. The coffee was excellent as well. It reminded me a lot of the ventanillas in Miami, except grand and indoors.
The coffee scenes everywhere are strikingly different. But they are all similar in the effect of community, routine, and familiarity they breathe. I have high hopes for experiencing more in the near future. Fingers crossed.