We love coffee. The first thing we do when we arrive in a new place and have found a hotel is to look for a coffee shop. In fact it often happens that while one of us scrolls through cheap hotel suggestions, the other one is scrutinising cafe reviews. It’s quite an occupation. When we find a review that looks promising, we make our way there either on foot or using the local three-wheeled form of people mover, depending on how far our chosen accommodation is from our promising cafe. On arrival, Matt will generally do a visual reconnoiter – what does the coffee machine look like? Do they have a coffee grinder? Does the barista look like he knows what he’s doing? If the reccy goes well, he will walk on in and we will follow. If I see his eyebrows converge above his nose, I wait for him to look at me with a slight shake of his head and we continue walking, hopefully without the barista having noticed our retreat.
(You may have determined that my husband is the true officionado. Although I really enjoy good espresso coffee, I can still drink the instant variety. In fact the other morning I thoroughly enjoyed powdered coffee, powdered milk and sugar all mixed together and poured from a packet into a paper cup with some reasonably hot water.)
We have experienced the entire spectrum of highs and lows in the search for coffee since we left, and when we find a good one we stick to it. By the time we left Bangkok the staff at Jaywalk Cafe knew our order before we sat down. The girls know and accept the routine without question – well, maybe one question. “Can we get a hot chocolate?” Good sweet treats is another selection criteria, although much further down the list.
We love tea too. At home we have ritual to our tea making that produces a consistent, strong hearty brew and I’m sure there’s more than one family member who has had to answer the question “did you warm the cups?”.
We got used to black tea across Indonesia. Fragrant, incredibly sweet, luke warm. By Singapore I had bought a box of Lipton bags and a bottle of milk and was using the hotel kettle. Without these facilities in Thailand, we were both getting pretty desperate. Desperate times call for desperate measures! Plastic cups from seven-11 filled from the boiling water tap the locals use for their noodle cups, fish a tea bag from the day pack, a slop of milk from one of the girls’ breakfast bottles and there it is – seriously one of the best cups of tea I’ve had in months. Probably the best cup of tea I’ve had since we paid $11 each for a pot of specialist tea in Singapore, chosen from a tea menu that was 20 pages long. Hundreds of teas, brewed according to the individual requirements of each, served in terribly delicate fine bone chine tea cups.
Of course, so much of the joy of a cup of tea or coffee comes from those with whom it is shared. Matt, the girls and I certainly enjoy having a slow cuppa, watching the passing parade and remembering where we are. I must confess though, that when I get a pang of homesickness what I am really wanting is a cup of brewed coffee sitting at my friend’s outside table in Altona with the dog and the chooks, or a cup of Irish or English Breakfast at either one of my sisters’ kitchen benches, or a flat white after school drop off with my homies.
Sister Srey Cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia showed us what else coffee can do. Two sisters from Melbourne (Geelong actually) were travelling through 3 years ago, fell in love with the place and stayed. They opened a cafe serving the best coffee we’ve had in a long time and food you could eat all day. Their motto is ‘Life’s too short to drink bad coffee’. Who can argue? But the core purpose of their cafe is to train their Khmer staff in hospitality and barista skills. The cafe is a place of empowerment for young local people. And at any time on a weekend you have to wait for a table! They’re doing a great job.
Tea? Coffee? (any other hot beverage?) They are, it could be argued (probably just for the purposes of this post!) two things that bring us together – as people, families, societies, cultures. Their growth, production and trade are almost as old as civilisation itself and still their consumption brings great joy and often companionship to imbibers around the globe. But no matter what we encounter in cups and mugs around the world, nothing will be so good as the first cup of tea we have from our own teapot shared with those we have missed whilst away.