Coffee and travel have always been intertwined for me.
I’m not a girl that caffeine does any favors for. Give me a large latte and you’ll be peeling me off the walls, only to see me crash in a deep slumber 30 minutes later. Sometimes I don’t think I even like the taste that much. So if I don’t really like coffee, and it doesn’t really like me, then how can I say that I love it?
Oh, but I do! I really do love it! I shouldn’t be trusted with the stuff but, oh, when it’s good, it’s very, very good. I am fascinated by coffee, the history, the agriculture, the politics, the commodification, and the culture of coffee. And whenever I travel, I can't help but seek it out.
Second only to oil for international trading, to know coffee is to know the world. No treat, no drug, no product seems to be as universally loved. I've only started drinking coffee – in limited doses, for everyone’s safety – in the past few years. Despite this later in life revelation, the coffee and café scene have been a mainstay of my travel experiences.
When I was 16 and living in Bavaria for the summer, I was offered a morning cappuccino by my host family. Desperately wanting to appear worldly and cosmopolitan, I accepted. It was so bitter! I kept slipping in teaspoons of jam when no one was looking, hoping to sweeten it up. I’m sure the family were bewildered by the layer of raspberry seeds when they went to do the dishes!
That early experience didn’t leave a lasting bitter feeling – I was still enthralled with the sophisticated world of coffee and visiting cafes around the world became a bit of a traveling tradition for me. I fear, however, that my traditional order of hot chocolate may have tipped the hat that I wasn’t quite suave enough for espresso just yet, but it didn't matter what I ordered.
I was just happy to curl up with a hot, sweet drink, a good book, and a journal, watching the world go by, and creating my own cozy nook to regroup, relax, and recharge. The affordable cost of a hot chocolate bought me hours of luxury and the European habit of adding shaved chocolate to the top and maybe a finger cookie on the side, made hot chocolate a far more decadent choice than coffee could ever hope to be!
Ireland seemed to be the rare exception to this rule. There were plenty of pubs, and beer, and tea, but a serious lack of cafes and coffee shops. My lack of tea drinking continues to be a source of bafflement and shame to my Maritime family, and Ireland didn’t convert me. Traveling throughout the rural parts of the country, I was missing my familiar cafe routine.
When I finally arrived in Glasgow, I was struck by how many Starbucks there were. I stocked up on sugary treats and sugary drinks – and even splurged on a huge Starbucks Scotland mug to mark my return to civilization! And when I reached Edinburgh, I became a firm fixture at the Elephant House, the familiar haunt of JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, and Ian Rankin.
On safari in Zambia, hot chocolate seemed too heavy and sweet an option for the sticky heat and I got in the habit of drinking Ricoffy in the early morning, watching the sunrise over the river, with the distant sounds of lumbering hippos as my background noise. Ricoffy is instant coffee, chicory, and mystery ingredient blend that is quiet palatable when doused in hearty amount of cream and sugar. To me, it seemed like the kind of thing a traveler would do, as I locked my hands around the warm mug and watched the world come to life around me.
When I returned to Canada, I discovered a boy and he helped me discover real coffee again. While Ryan, with an iron stomach and nerves of steel, swills black coffee from sunrise to sunset, he benevolently doesn’t judge me too harshly for adding in sugar and our life is a happy roadmap of car rides and coffee mugs. When we took our first trip after being together Ryan made sure to install a second cup holder in his old car to make sure I wasn’t left out of the coffee parade – that’s true love!
Our second big trip came with a new car and a new focus – driving to Nova Scotia to get married! Along the way, we had an ill-fated stop at a campground where the musical theme of “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” blared on until 4:00am. By 5:00am, we knew there was no chance of rest, and we hurriedly packed up. An early morning Tim Horton’s run saw us spend over $20 on coffee and breakfast (this may seem unremarkable to the rest of the readers except the Canadians, who know just how far $20 went at Timmy’s in 2006!).
As I gulped down a gallon of their generic French Vanilla Cappuccino, I was exhausted, and happy, and in love.
Now, we travel with our own double walled thermoses and Ryan’s has a built in French press. They keep our drinks piping hot and are an essential packing item. They proved invaluable in Hawaii, as we trekked to the top of Haleakala and Mauna Kea.
The freezing temperatures of the Hawaiian peaks were no match for our hearty Canadian constitutions and our steaming hot drinks! And there’s nowhere on earth that produces coffee like Hawaii!
Discovering Hawaiian grown coffee was a revelation for me. I had never experienced coffee like that – local, fresh, roasted in small batches, with crema half an inch thick. Unlike Ryan, I can’t be tempted by the horrific swill that passes as coffee in much of the world’s cafes, restaurants, and truckstops. I’m a full out coffee snob and, much to the dismay of our household budget, I really only love rare peaberry coffee we have shipped in from Hawaii.
If you’re a member of the TurnipseedTravel community and have the chance to visit Ottawa, I know of the BEST hidden place to get the most incredible vanilla latte in town -let’s go out for a warm drink! (And we’ll save the raspberry jam for your scone!)
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. How do you take your coffee?
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