For the past 25+ years I have worked in the countries of Eastern Europe, Eastern and Southern Africa, North Africa, the Caribbean and briefly, the South Pacific.
In a previous post I noted that I was first introduced to café con leche in Colombia and have been a fan ever since. In Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania I experienced excellent, strong coffee and in Ethiopia the smoothest, flavorful coffee ever. I have other memories about coffee – most pleasant and all interesting.
- In Latvia, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and while Russian troops still occupied the country, I was working at the Ministry of Finance. I had an office to myself (the Ministry clearly didn’t know what to do with me and shoved me down the hall) when, at my first coffee break, a young woman came in with a cup and saucer on a tray. She placed them on a white napkin – the cup first and the saucer on top of it.
- When I went to remove the saucer, she said I must leave it on for another 2-3 minutes and then my coffee will be ready. The brewing method was to place a spoonful of coarsely ground coffee in the cup, fill it with hot water, place the saucer on top of the cup and let it steep for 4-5 minutes. The saucer was then removed and the cup gently tapped to settle the grounds and the correct order of saucer and cup restored.
- French Press without the press!
- In Bangladesh, at the Foreign Trade Institute, coffee (or tea) was made for the executive and professional staff by one of three peons (the official name of someone we would call a gofer). My first mug was a muddy brown (I asked if I could have milk in my coffee), hot and very sweet. The taste vaguely resembled coffee but it was a struggle.
- Coffee at the BFTI was so-called instant coffee, i.e. very finely ground coffee, not the freeze-dried version we have in Canada and the milk was canned, sweet, condensed milk.
- In Eastern and Southern Africa I have never had a bad cup of coffee. They tend to drink it black and it is usually only in hotels that one can get fresh milk for one’s coffee.
- My hotel in Trieste was very close to the harbor. Every morning I went for a walk along the harborfront promenade where I joined locals at one of the many kiosks as they were rushing off to work. I learned why you get a glass of water with your (usually) Ill.
- In Jamaica one night I had dinner at Usain Bolt’s restaurant in Kingston. To finish, my companions had different coffees and I selected the “special” – Blue Mountain (what else?) coffee, Sangster’s Rum Cream, Appleton’s rum and whipped cream on top. I had two and was glad that my hotel was an easy 10-minute walk from the restaurant.
- In Vanuatu after dinner one night I was persuaded to have kava, which I thought was a local coffee but actually is a non-alcoholic drink with a mild sedative and euphoric effect. I had no trouble falling asleep that night. A few days later, the director of the ministry I was working at said we should knock off early as he wanted me to experience kava in the local fashion. We drove to a secluded cove where we sat on a small dock, slowly sipped kava and enjoyed the quiet and the scenery.
- In Egypt, at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, my colleagues and I were fortunate to have a small kitchen on our floor where the support staff ran a small coffee shop (they are paid so poorly they have to run a business on the side). Sami, the leader, came to our offices every morning with a cup of coffee to each individual taste. Over four years, Sami and I worked out a routine. When he saw me arrive in the morning, he would have a cup of Egyptian coffee (aka Turkish coffee) on my desk some 10 minutes later and a second cup about an hour later.
- After I had been there about a year, I found out I was doing it all wrong. Foreign experts (“executives”) are supposed to drink a special coffee, i.e. Nescafé. Occasionally I would have it and because I didn’t have a grinder in my apartment, I drank Nescafé at home on the weekends (Friday and Saturday).
- In Ethiopia I had the best coffee ever and also participated in a coffee ceremony. More on that in another post.