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  • Felicia

Cool Beans

There are an elite few who navigate the trials of life without the almighty aid of coffee. If you are one of those transcendent folk, then this post may not be for you. I am a mere mortal. Although, I am in good company because approximately 70% of the American population enjoys at least one cup a day. Some take it hot, some take it cold, some brew from home, some never miss the drive-thru on the way to work (I feel a little like Dr. Seuss right now). The point is, there are a multitude of ways to get your daily dosage at home, but our options when traveling aren’t always as plentiful. This is a good thing though! Coffee has been embedded in different cultures in different ways for centuries. So, what you might view as just your morning caffeine fix, is actually an opportunity to add to whatever adventure you may be on next.

Yes, traveling can be overwhelming so I completely understand the allure of wanting to default to tried and true coffee giants. Starbucks sells cool, location-specific mugs, and McDonalds has a price tag that is hard to beat. I would be lying if I said I was never overseas, extremely fatigued, and overjoyed at the sight of the golden arches and smell of the McCafe inside. On my most recent trip to Thailand, I actually camped out in a McDonald’s on the island of Koh Phi Phi for 45 minutes because it was the only place on island (that I could afford) with air conditioning. Still, while there is a time and place to enjoy western comforts, there is so much more out there!

Europe is known for its cafes so I probably don’t need to convince you to give those a try. A cappuccino by the Colosseum or a Café Au Lait with a fresh French pastry are a dream for most travelers. But, be warned, while you may think you know what you are ordering when traveling abroad, every café is a little different, so be prepared to be surprised. Sometimes you may think you are getting drip coffee and are served espresso instead. Other times you may ask for cream or milk and end up with whip cream in your drink. Terms like “black” or “regular” may not pass the language barrier and saying “American Coffee” leaves far too much open to interpretation. In my experience, picking the first drink on the menu or relying on eenie meanie miney mo have proven simplest and easiest.

On the other hand, my mom usually likes to gamble on getting her preferred coffee at least once a trip. One time we stumbled upon a Dunkin in Barcelona and my parents were so excited to finally get their regular orders after drinking nothing but espresso for two weeks. Instead, they ended up with a weird mix of coffee and ice cream. Believe me when I say it sounds good until you try it!

Thankfully, we had better luck in Australia. After a very long travel day, my mom and I arrived in Sydney exhausted and in need of some caffeine to get over the jet lag. We started walking the docks at Sydney Harbour in search of something to quench our thirst, and found a little coffee cart by the Opera House. There were only two options which made things easy, and so flat whites became the staple drink of the trip. The frothed milk in a flat white tastes good and is perfect for milk mustaches if you are tired, delusional, and in need of entertainment.

Some of the best and worst coffee that I have ever had was in Vietnam. As a former French colony, it is full of cafes and various types of coffee for as little as 80 cents a cup. From drip coffee mixed with condensed milk to salted coffee that tastes like salted caramel to coconut coffee brewed with fresh coconut shavings, I couldn’t drink enough. I probably had at least two cups a day and bought plenty to take home to my family. However, one day in Hanoi I opted to try Vietnamese egg coffee. I was hesitant because egg coffee sounds crazy, but every other drink I’d tried was phenomenal so I was feeling brave. In hindsight, egg coffee is as bad as it sounds.

While the French were in Vietnam, the people developed a taste for cappuccinos. But, when the French left and years of war followed, hunger did as well which limited access to the ingredients necessary to make a cappuccino, namely milk. Ingenuous, the Vietnamese crafted an imitation drink out of drip coffee, whipped egg, and cocoa powder. They would hand stir the egg until it was frothed and creamy, so cafe owners developed a reputation for being disproportionately strong in one arm. While I greatly respect the creativity and commitment, I think it’s an acquired taste. Although, when in Vietnam, it’s a must try! Who knows, maybe you have better taste buds than I do.

Whether you drink a cup or a pot a day, coffee adds value to a trip beyond the caffeine. It also provides opportunity for you to meet new people and imagine what your life might be like in another part of the world. In Tanzania for example, one night we slept in tents on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. To stay warm after dark, everyone sharing the campsite would go to the little dining hut where we would hover around lanterns, eat soup, and drink instant coffee. It sounds a bit rugged, and it was, but we laughed so much that night as our guide told us wild stories from his time spent in the bush. We talked and laughed and kept filling our canteens with watered down instant coffee. When it was finally time to go to bed, we walked out of the hut only to see two zebras staring at us because they were gnawing on the grass by the bathroom because the light kept the lions away.

In the end, when you can’t have your regular order, coffee is only as good as the memories that come with it.

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