I Like It 'On The Rocks'
A college student's plight with coffee in Europe.
Traveling to new places challenges you to go outside of your comfort zone. You're forced into new spaces with new customs and new behaviors. The food is different, the smells are different, even the sodas are different (if you don't believe me, take a trip to Coca-Cola's headquarters and taste the different flavors of the world).
I've never really had a hard time handling new surroundings. I moved a lot as a kid and my family travels pretty frequently. I consider myself to be an open minded person with no particular affinity for a certain type of anything, except for my coffee. God help us all if I can't get my hands on some good caffeine. The grumpiness, the headaches, the inability to function as a human, all of the typical symptoms associated with an addiction? Yep, that's met without a good ol' cup of Joe.
Well not just any Joe. I'm talkin' medium roast with enough cream to lighten the hot black liquid to a warm soft brown and a minimum of one heaping scoop of sugar. Pretty standard, right? Apparently not.
Coffee is very different on the other side of the world, and I had to learn the hard way. As it turns out, there'a about a million different ways to make coffee and a million more ways to customize it depending on where you go and what you order. Who knew? NOT ME. Not until I woke up one morning and realized I didn't know how coffee worked in Spain, much less how to order it in Spanish.
Now before we begin this "journey," let me just remind you that Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts don't really exist in Europe the way they do in the States. They're few and far between and they don't have the same menu offerings. Also, everything is ridiculously more expensive.
So, it's Day 1 and I realize pretty quickly that I'm up a rio sin un paddle. Thinking I'll be able to find coffee shop along the way to class, I turn down my host mom's invitation to make coffee for me. Mistake numero uno. As it turns out, coffee shops aren't really a big thing. Pretty much every dining establishment offers coffee, but not many of them actually specialize in it. So, in desperate need of caffeine, I stumbled into what probably was a bar and asked for "un café por favor."
I hadn't really thought the whole coffee ordering process all the way through, so when the barista started asking me questions about how I wanted my cafe, I looked like a deer in headlights. I ended up saying yes to a series of questions I still don't understand, so I decided to see what the end result would be.
I ended up receiving a tiny little to-go cup of piping hot black coffee with steamed milk poured over it. Unsure of how it was going to taste, I grabbed 2 packets of sugar and hauled it to class. Once I finally caught my breath, I took a little sip of what I had considered a failure of a morning. But to my surprise, it was DELICIOUS. I spent the rest of class trying to recall what the barista had asked me and what I had said in response, but it will forever remain a mystery ( I probably just ordered coffee with milk to-go).
Already in want of some familiarity, I decided to google the nearest Starbucks only to find that the nearest one was basically in the opposite direction of where I needed to go every day. "Screw it," I thought, "I need a piece of home." It ended up taking me so long to get there that I realized it wouldn't be feasible. More importantly, it wouldn't be authentic. And we all know how I am about authenticity.
I finally swallowed my pride and told my host mom I needed to make coffee at home in the mornings instead. That's when I learned Keurigs don't exist in Europe. Or if they do, not many people own them. This is what's used instead:
At first I was kind of intimidated, but it's actually pretty simple and I grew accustomed to it. It doesn't make as much coffee as I'm used to drinking, but I found out that's not necessary because the coffee is strong enough as it is.
As the summer progressed and my familiarity with my surroundings improved, I started to venture into different coffee shops in my free time to sample the local coffee offerings. It was also getting increasingly hotter, and I started to find myself in desperate need of cool beverages - namely, iced coffee.
It turns out that iced coffee doesn't really exist in Europe. Like ... at all. You can imagine my frustration when it was 102º by 10 am, there was no air conditioning, and the only coffee available came steaming. Their idea of iced coffee was to putting 3 ice cubes in a jug of piping hot coffee. The coldest caffeinated beverage I could find was helado con café which is basically a dollop of vanilla cream with a shot of espresso on top. Not bad, but not iced coffee.
One day, however, I stumbled across a McDonald's that had a sign out front saying it had Cold Brew. To this day, I remember exactly where I was standing when I saw it. I immediately rushed inside, ordered the biggest size, and tearfully sipped the first cold coffee I had had in 3 months.
It wasn't until my second-to-last week abroad that I was able to find iced coffee, and it came in the form of a cappuccino freddo.
I was in Italy, and I had gotten a coffee shop recommendation from our Airbnb host for a place with a great view. It took us almost an hour to find it, but boy was it worth it. I practically danced as I waited for the barista to hand over a tiny cup filled with the nectar of the gods. When I finally got a hold of it, I couldn't help but beam.
Terrified I would never see it again, I ordered one for the road.
When I finally returned to the States, my first stop couldn't have been in a more perfect location for a Dunkin' Donuts fanatic like myself: Boston. There was a shop conveniently located in baggage claim, so before I even picked up my luggage I sprinted over and ordered a large iced coffee. I still had another flight before I made it home, but this could not wait.
In that moment, I wasn't sure what I had missed more: English or Iced Coffee.