Over the years, I’ve done my fair share of travels, and I’ve met a lot of coffee drinkers. This means I’m no stranger to the stereotypes about coffee-drinking Americans. That drip stuff? Ugh. We’re basically drinking coffee-flavored water, right?
Ugh, not all of us.
In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting in Cafe Frutos Selectos, a local Colombian-owned coffee shop in my neighborhood, sipping a sugar-free vanilla latte (yep, I’m one of those people) with something that looks like the stem of a plant swirled into the milk.
I specifically come here because the coffee—and the coffee shop itself, actually—is imported directly from Colombia, the country I first learned that shots of espresso could be taken without diluting the entire thing in a glass of milk and sugar. The coffee here, which is thick and viscous, is made by pouring the beans into these gorgeous hour-glass shaped pour-over coffeemakers. It’s basically the perfect beverage for keeping me buzzing during afternoon writing sessions.
I should begin, I think, by stating that I didn’t grow up loving coffee. As a kid, I would retch at the smell of roasting coffee beans (it kind of reminded me of steaming dirt). It wasn’t until I started traveling in my early twenties—and realizing that our wonderful world caffeinates in so many curious ways—that I learned to love coffee. The innocuous brewed stuff offered insight into the daily rituals of people in ways that nothing else could, not breakfasts, not naptimes, not happy hours. It was coffee.
During my college years in Spain, I followed the lead of my Spanish roommates in the dorm and ordered bonbón, a shot of steaming espresso with sweet condensed milk, every morning from the café. A year later, working in Malta, I discovered the beauty of having a thick, frothy cappuccino in the late afternoons while watching the Mediterranean Sea from my balcony. A year after that, I visited my first coffee farms in the hills outside Medellín and ordered sweet espresso (no milk, no sugar, just the good stuff) from local vendors while I waited for the bus to take me to my teaching job.
I returned from these voyages with a new-fangled love for coffee, simply because it had been such an indelible part of the way I’d lived there.
Years later, on my honeymoon in the cloud forests of Costa Rica, I visited an organic coffee farm run by an eccentric woman named Roxana and her pet goat and learned how to grind coffee using a metal hand crank affixed to the table. I learned it was called a chorreador.
While on a press trip in the chaotic streets of Bangkok, I watched a man dance as he brewed oleang in a sock-shaped cloth filter and then poured it, delicately, over giant cubes of cloudy ice. In Little Havana in Miami, I succumbed to ordering a café Cubano from an outdoor kiosk while watching serious-faced Cuban men play dominoes in the park because they were all drinking one, too. And in Tel Aviv, I sat at a café on a busy side street and gulped down the thickest, darkest, creamiest coffee I’ve ever had, learning that Middle Eastern coffee—and maybe all coffee in general—should be, as the locals say, “black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.”
What all these experiences taught me, other than you can really taste a place by diving into its coffee scene, is to experiment. Try variations on a theme. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And above all, remember that coffee is one of those staples that, although it’s not consumed everywhere, is a pretty perfect beverage.
My advice? Take a moment to enjoy these last days of summer with a coffee you love, however you take it. Now, back to my latte.
Post and photographs by Kristin Winet.