Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Coffee Conundrum

If you are like me you like a nice cup of coffee in the morning, and one midmorning and maybe one in the afternoon, oh and one in late afternoon. Drinking coffee is as American as apple pie and is thus a ritualistic part of everyday Americana. In fact if it weren't for the high prices of tea we wouldn't even have the beautiful country that we drive today. The founding fathers took time out of their busy lives to throw all of the corrupt British tea into the ocean and stand up and say "Too heck with this I'm switching to Coffee". Come to think of it, it is downright patriotic to drink coffee and any red blooded american should have a significant amount of caffeine goodness running through their veins at various times of the day. Given the importance of Coffee to the diverse cultural background that I have come from it is no wonder that I am currently upset.

You see when I travel away from home there are a few things that I consider to be necessities with my travels. One of these is of course my cup of coffee in the morning. As someone that suffers from crippling headaches from the lack of caffeine on a daily or even hourly basis the ritual cup of joe in the morning is a cure to what ails me. How hard is it then that I be able to find a place that can provide me a decent cup of coffee for a low price such that I am to remain in a blissful state. It turns out that it can be very difficult. To date there are only to places in the Jiuzhaigou area (my own unique Chinese experience area) that I have found that serve what I consider to be a good cup of coffee. While they both have proper coffee makers one dares to offer espresso style drinks on the menu as well. I'm no ethnocentrist and can appreciate the different types of coffee the world offers. In fact I may even consider myself to be somewhat of a connoisseur of Coffee. As long as being a connousseur means that I drink coffee that does or does not have milk, sugar, foam, whipping cream, ice and occasionally foofy flavors like vanilla. Assuming these things meet the criteria then call me captain and give me a hat.

Being the self proclaimed connoisseur that I am it often surprises me what people will try to pass off as coffee or better yet how the name a drink gets doesn't actually change the content of the cup. In some parts of China my experience has been that the product one orders and the translation that is on the menu do not add up. Take for instance the place that sells espresso style drinks, on the menu one can order an espresso, cappucino, latte, mocha, or a mochacino. Now I am not particularly sure what a mochacino is but my guess is that it is similar to a mocha or a capucino both good drinks on their own. However when one orders a mochacino they get a latte, that is coffee and milk. Similarly when one orders a mocha they get a cup of strong coffee.The speculation here is that one can buy a bag of coffee beans that say mocha on the label. Does this mean that the coffee that one produces from these beans is thus a mocha, unfortunately no. The product that you get is in actuality a strong cup of coffee, as I stated previously. How do we rectify the mochacino situation, simple it is a capucino made with mocha beans and milk. Since capucino's and latte's are similar, meaning they have coffee and milk, they are obviously the same. Therefore mochacino is a latte made from the beans that came out of the bag that says mocha.

Problem solved and now I know to skip all of the formalities and price increases and go straight for the cup of coffee. There is one problem here, that is, when is a cup of coffee not a cup of coffee? When it is made from Nescafe or some other similar product. Strangely I have become accustom to the flavor of Nescafe (seriously look at the beautiful people who drink the stuff) in its pure form, i.e. the instant coffee flavor not to be mistaken with its evil brother. Every once in a while this intruder finds its way into your cup for more than I would pay for a donut from Winchell's let alone a substandard cup of coffee. While I am willing to use the "Nesc" in emergency situations and with a generous amount of water to tone down the gourmet (burnt) flavor it is a bit of an insult to be told that the coffee that you just ordered came out of a packet and that it is the same thing. Nevertheless this is a risk that one takes when traveling.

Along the hierarchy of acceptable coffee the evil brother (heretofore referred to as the "2+1" from now on) is the lowest level as to acceptable (read as "drinkable" without spitting it out immediately and screaming "oh my god what is this thing that I have put into my mouth!") coffee. Few things are worse than the dreaded "2+1" what they are I don't know as I am unwillingly to try them. However the top of the travelers scale of coffee is "Starbucks". This may seem a bit unacceptable to some from the western part of the United states where coffee shops grow on trees and are cultivated by friendlyish tattooed baristas with hairy armpits. But when traveling abroad (aka Asia) it is the "Starbucks" that offers the only consistency that I have found. Sure there are other good shops where one can get a good cup of coffee, Holiland in China generally offers a decent cup at a very good cup for a low price.

That is not to say that a good cup of coffee is impossible to find, it just means that you are likely going to have to make it. Every morning we get up and have a cup of coffee from a decent (simple) coffee maker. Why do I like this coffee maker? Well it has a metal reusable filter that is nice and only requires a rinse before each use. Good quality beans are readily available and can be had at a fair price. However when outside of any area besides a major metropolitan center things become more difficult. Which kind of summarises all of China.




1 comment:

  1. Hahaha. This made my day when I first read it, and again just now.