Coffee, No Shrugging Matter

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Coffee Break, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

One of the primary experiences of travel is trying new foods and beverages. Culture has many expressions that stimulate our senses. We travel to see and hear things that are different from our daily lives. We also savor tastes and smells that are new or distinctive. They are part of the adventure.

But we take our preferences and habits with us. There are certain things that we are used to or that we feel we need.

For me, one of the important things is coffee. Not everyone likes coffee and they may strive to find the beverages that they are used to.

When I travel I drink more coffee than I do at home. For one thing, it is just better tasting (most of the time). It is also a social way to experience a new place. Sitting at an outside table listening to the conversations around you, watching people walk by, planning the next activity, or just resting up from walking around town, coffee provides a reason to linger. Sometimes it is just an excuse to claim a table with a prime view.

At other times it is critically important. The morning coffee in a new country can be interesting for the first couple days. As with all menus it takes some time to figure out names and customs for the local beverages. You know what you like but you don’t know what they call it, and there might just be a local preparation that is even better.

In Spain I learned that the cortado doble was perfect for me. It is a double espresso cut (cortado) with steamed milk usually served in a short glass. It is like a short caffè latte but with a higher ratio of espresso to milk. Perfect.

In Italy a caffè latte is served as a small pitcher of strong coffee with a small pitcher of steamed milk so you can make your own mixture. If you order simply a ‘latte’ in Italy you get a pitcher of milk, as you requested.

The group of women in this photograph had met for coffee at a small neighborhood shop. Perhaps they met every morning. It wasn’t a fancy place, but it was ‘their’ place. Maybe it was the closest place to their homes or perhaps it was far away from their neighborhood and they met here so that they could talk freely. Maybe they knew the owners or maybe they used to work here when they were younger. Their table overlooked a busy boulevard and a fountain.

The waiter seemed to know them well. I don’t know what they had teased him about, but his gesture looks as if his reply was, “Hey, what can I say, huh?”

Little differences in social convention and ceremony add up to a rich cultural experience, if you watch for them and enjoy them.

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