Sunday, April 27, 2008

Universal drinks

There is a universality to coffee/tea. I haven't been anywhere yet where people didn't engage in some sort of socializing that centered around one or both of these drinks. In England, whenever I entered any sort of dorm/home/flat someone, no matter what, offered me a cup of tea. And if anyone was upset, then tea was absolutely necessary. In France one could sit and watch people and chat with friends for hours over a single espresso. Coffee drunk closest to the street cost more, because it was closest to all the people there were to watch. Italy, it could be an espresso, or a cappuccino. In Austria, coffee served with water to combat dehydration. In Turkey, a strong cup of thrice boiled thick coffee mixed with cardamon. Go farther east in the same country and the coffee becomes as thick as oil.

In Senegal we had three cups of tea after lunch and dinner. The first was strong; the second, made using the same tea leaves as the first, was much sweeter; the third was practically sugar water. This progression of sweetness symbolized how friendships grow sweeter over time. It took between one and three hours to get all three glasses. To leave before the second cup was rude.

Here, guests are always served tea, it's normally basic black tea with two scoops of sugar. If you are lucky, you get mint. Women, tea ladies as we call them, set out stands and sell tea. They make a fantastic tea with milk, which I rarely drink because normally only men sit in public like that with tea. Too bad for me.

American culture has it's own way of expressing this tea/coffee social experience. The coffee shop culture is in. And, we don't just have tea with a few variations, one lump of sugar or two; we have all kinds of drinks, lattes, macciatos, caramel macciatos, iced blended beverages, iced beverages. Some are borrowed, some are variations of the borrowed and some are so far from the original I feel just fine calling them our own as much as anything else could be. Yes, our culture loves having options, and in that, we have made this universal of coffee and tea our own as much as anything else. We also love other cultures, and that is obvious in the myriad of coffee shop options as well. Just read the backs of all the Tazo Tea boxes.

Perhaps this anthropological playground shows us a few things. One, we need people. Truth is, we can drink this stuff on our own, but we like to drink it with others. We like to sip, and take our time, savoring taste and relationship. We like to talk while holding a hot drink, laugh with something in our hands. We like the community built around it. We like going to a cafe where people know our names, where we feel familiar and comfortable. We like being able to sit and relax in public, not just our homes.

Inuit peoples have 26 words for snow. I think that we should develop more words in our vocabulary for coffee. To be sure, we have quite a few already, but we can do better. It would make life easier for a coffee shop employee if he could call out a vanate instead of vanilla nonfat latte. And to any major corporately owned/former employer coffee company reading this, this blog is time stamped. You'll need to pay up if you want to use it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


I watched TV today at my friend's house. Normally we watch English TV, but today it was all Arabic. I thought you might be interested in what we watched. We started with the Martha Stewart of the Arab world. She taught us how to prepare a WHOLE sheep. So she had an entire skinned sheep on her counter. To keep from getting her arms dirty, she wrapped them in tin foil. I imagine that if I had been at her house that night, I would have loved the meal that she prepared. But, my eyes are not conditioned to watching that kind of cooking on Jaime Oliver's show (my favorite cooking show).

Then we watched a soap opera from the UAE.

Then we watched Egypt's old movie channel, though I did not know there was one. We watched some movie from the seventies about a young engaged woman who wanted to be a singer. She somehow got on some kids' show dressed up as a kid, but fell in love with the producer of the show (also engaged). It was.... interesting.

Then we watched a soap opera from another country.

Then we watched the cooking lady make juice.

Then we watched Tom and Jerry.

Then we ate. I LOVE local food.