Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway advised aspiring writers to “write drunk, edit sober.” Whether or not the legendary novelist ever actually said this (he probably didn’t), it’s true that as a writer you pretty quickly learn the value of cheap beer and a good cup of coffee. Stimulant, snack, cheap rent for office space… it’s up there next to pens, paper and decent wi-fi on the list of writing essentials.
The truth is, without coffee shops writing for a living would be a quick way to go mad. And I don’t mean the “charmingly quirky” style of mad that comes with having too much money and a few eccentricities. I’m talking tea parties with door mice, 20 years in a wedding dress, hard core bonkers.
It’s because this is such a solitary profession, one that requires long hours in front of a laptop struggling to turn a phrase just right, but at the same time one that demands a people person to pull off. You need to be able to connect with the wide world to get the story, then spend days alone figuring out how to talk about it. That’s a lot easier when you can at least go somewhere out of the office and talk to someone else, even if it’s just to place a coffee order (and convince yourself that the cute barista was totally flirting and definitely not glancing meaningfully toward the tip jar).
Which brings me to a few of my favorite coffee countries around the world.
Getting a Roman espresso is a spectator sport. When Italians go to the espresso bar they down their scalding shots like slamming tequila. I almost expect them to lick sugar off their knuckles. It is positively baffling. I don’t understand how it’s physically possible to grab a few ounces of hot liquid, pouring it down one’s throat and then carrying on without a care.
It’s a positively incredible, biologically improbable cultural habit.
I tried it once, boldly muscling up to the bar and downing my espresso like a man. In order I: choked, sprayed hot liquid on the counter and cried a little. Carry on you brave Italian lunatics…
Having a Turkish coffee is an event.
That’s not to say that people in Turkey don’t like their instant or a trip to Starbucks. This isn’t Disney World, they value convenience and reliability as much as anyone. You can grab eight ounces of drip or a quick latte on your way through Galata, but get a good cup of properly made Turkish coffee and it will come thick and dark and silty. It is heavy, sweet and meant to be savored. Grounds and sugar mix on the bottom of a cup in a paste that (much to the annoyance of your server) can later be used for fortune telling if you’re so inclined.
A Turkish coffee may be little large than an espresso, but make no mistake: this is a sipping drink. It’s a slow burn while you feel that delightful, caffeinated buzz spread from limb to limb and conversation with strangers winds its way through the Ankara afternoon. Besides, those grounds at the bottom of every cup would make downing it a very bad idea.
The latest trend in hip coffee shops is the cortado, a latte-like drink that cuts way down on the milk to make for something more than an espresso, but less than a latte. It’s espresso cut with milk; literally, that’s where the name comes from. This is an import from South America where, from the massive, iron pots of Peru to Colombia’s legendary beans they really have a handle on this whole “coffee” thing.
For me, though, there’ll always be a special place for Brazil. You can spend entire afternoons in its sprawling city markets, nibbling (or gorging) on esfihas and sipping on small cups of strong coffee. As someone who prefers his served strong enough to singe the cup, I can’t think of many better ways to spend the afternoon.
Even the instant is great.