#032 - Coffee

Jan 23, 2022

Originally Published November 17th, 2021

My first experience with coffee in Europe came the morning after arriving in Germany in August 2004. I was staying at a friend’s house and wandered like a zombie into the kitchen. Simultaneously exhausted and unable to sleep, jet lag is so fun.

His mom showed up after a bit and asked if I’d like some breakfast. It sounded fantastic and she went about getting things set up. “Coffee?” Absolutely, please, and thank you.

She started scooping grounds into the coffee filter and asking about my trip. I mentioned the mystery chicken pasta contraption they had handed out over the Atlantic. She kept scooping. I talked about the helpful stranger in Paris as I tried to find the next leg of my flight. She kept scooping. I brought up how easy Düsseldorf’s airport was to navigate. She kept scooping.

After depositing the final scoops, she swung the cover shut, snapped the coffee maker on, and it gurgled to life. In the minute or two of small talk that followed, the entire kitchen was saturated with coffee smells. She poured a comically small mug and pushed it across the table. Plain is fine by me so I took a sip.

I exited my body. The four dimensions of time and space compressed into a flat circle. I peered through it and saw a meadow. Juan Valdez appeared and shook my hand. I followed him through the porthole of the tesseract and into the center of the meadow. My friend’s kitchen stood there like a Kubrickian obelisk. We opened the door together and I sat back down at the island.

“Do you like the coffee?” she asked. “I’m Dutch so we make it a little stronger than the Germans do. Maybe it’s a little too much for American tastes, sorry.”

“No, it’s perfect!” I said, sneaking a picture of the coffee beans. “Can you get these in town?” I asked over my shoulder while copying the coffee machine’s make, model, and serial number.

Coffee in Europe is different than coffee in the US. Of course, thanks to coffee snobbery becoming popular, you can now get absolutely everything everywhere. So let’s focus on baseline coffee here. What will you see on a daily basis?

The coffee capsule revolution has also hit Europe. It makes pretty decent coffee and George Clooney is a rather charismatic gentleman. While lots of people have capsule machines, the cost and waste associated with them is a turnoff. Some simpler, cheaper, more sustainable options remain popular.

A step up from capsule coffee is an all-in-one coffee machine full of proper German engineering. Put your beans in one side, water in the other, and it will take it from there. Beans ground, espresso brewed, milk foamed, et voila. A fantastic beverage. Just cross your fingers it doesn’t need to be serviced often.

The Moka pot, a stove-top espresso maker, has been around since the 30s. I’ve used them in dorm kitchens, fancy-pants kitchens, and on camping trips. They’re foolproof, easy to clean, leave no waste, and make fantastic cups of caffeine.

Note that like most European caffeination technology, the produced product is espresso, not coffee. So is that a big problem? No, just add water. What we Americans typically consider a cup of coffee is just a watered-down version of the European equivalent.

The next time you’re in a Starbucks, request the ingredients for the fancy-sounding Americano coffee. It’s espresso and water. As much as I enjoy an impromptu astral projection to start my Thursday, being able to casually sip several cups of flavor crystals planted firmly on Earth is nice too.

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