Musings: Around the World in Coffee

By Krishna Pamidi

Quenching my inquisitive thirst


Caffeine is celebrated so religiously in America that popular businesses continuously reflect the funny truth about it. You know what I’m talking about. ‘America runs on Dunkin’? You can’t walk a few hundred feet without tripping on a Starbucks in the U.S., the country with the second highest number of Starbucks outlets for every one million people. I find it really fascinating that this drink serves as the lifeblood of this massive industrial country.

I’ve heard the simple phrase, ‘I need coffee to function,’ so often that it is basically second nature to a majority of us. And it is so true! I grew up disliking the taste of the coffee my dad drank, but four months into college, I discovered that I could no longer imagine a day without the angelic, bitter taste of coffee. I cannot imagine properly waking up and being even remotely being in the mood to look at work without my first cup of joe.  

And that’s where it starts. The nuances of coffee. A cup of joe isn’t exactly universal, is it? Cream and sugar, black, cold, frappuccino-- these are just some of the variations that we invented for a simple single drink that ultimately serves to stimulate the mind. Moreover, I think America is just such a big consumer of coffee that the consumer base has allowed coffee to turn into something more than it is.

More than just variations or flavors, Starbucks has turned coffee from being a necessity to being a thing of style. Admittedly, the unsettling woman with the two-tailed mermaid logo on the styrofoam cups did creep me out. I mean, the world already has a famous lady with a cryptic smile. The third cup, though, turned the creepy logo into the face that made my day. Even the ambience and the community that is now associated with coffee only serves to validate the role of it. And I embrace it. I embrace the ambience, the flavor and everything between opening the door to the chaotic world of a coffee chain and closing it behind me. The double-sweet-choco-mocha-caramel-frappe-macchiato is just so tasty, but is it the only thing out there?

The main point of this musing is coffee. From the ingredients, to the grind, to the people who drink it and everything in between, it is pure. I genuinely feel like the moments after we get our fix of it, we can become our true selves, set our workaholics free and thrive in the moment.

Going back to my original point; surely there must be different ways to enjoy this sacred drink than just how the creepy mermaid lady serves it, right? Turns out I’m right! Surprise, surprise. Around the world there are many variations to this beverage, each variation reflecting the people who drink it. The Irish, for instance have a whole different approach to coffee.

Coffee in Ireland was born around the necessity to warm freezing passengers at the Foynes airport back in 1943. Chef and bartender Joe Sheridan knew where the answer lay: Irish Whiskey to go along with their cup of hot coffee. Irish whiskey, coffee, sugar and either cream or hot milk to top it off: Sheridan concocted this recipe on the fly and it still remains a delicacy all over the world today.

It is a drink that people enjoy at any time of day. Best served hot and made supplementally better with good company, the Irish coffee was made to literally make you feel better.

But not everybody likes to be hammered as they read their newspaper and sip on their coffee at 8 a.m. The Italians certainly don’t. That’s why they invented the espresso. An ultra strong caffeine-fueled drink that ought to get a grandma give Usain Bolt a run for his money.

The espresso is a drink of beauty and the culture that surrounds it is equally interesting. We all know just how much Italy has done for the world. If not for Maranello, my future car, the 1964 Ferrari 250 swb would never have existed. And if not for Sicily, where would Don Corleone hail from?

The mystique surrounding espresso is similarly filled with passion. Every good cup of the one-ounce beverage is tailor-made for your taste buds, like the gods of coffee had intended. And what’s more? You don’t order coffee at the local coffee shop. You order it at the bar, at least according to Business Insider.

Another aspect which interested me about espresso is just how culturally central it is to a typical workday, even with its intricacies— like the fact that you’re never to drink a shot without the frothy lid ‘crema’ which holds all the aromas in. It is a daystarter much like Starbucks’ version, but it is so much more than just the drink. It is the experience of walking up and making conversation with the barista while he prepares your shot. Nuances like that are what make the espresso so much more than just a brown Italian Red Bull.

But if you are that one rare being who finds that Italy lacks culture, then boy am I going to make your day. There is a country far away from anywhere you’re reading this article: Ethiopia. And let me just say, the Ethiopians have a whole other thing going on.

To best get my point across to you, I am going to borrow a theme from Jeff Koehler, who wrote the book Where the Wild Coffee Grows’. In the book, Koehler points out the whole stigma and attraction behind American coffee consumption. He states that American coffee shops are based around the idea of solitary consumption. You can get whatever you want tailored to your taste. Get soy or soy-free, large or small, milk or cream, sugar or none: it really is up to you because you are presumably the only one to enjoy that cup of coffee.

In Ethiopia however, they make the Buna: Ethiopian coffee. And it is so much more than just coffee. First of all, let’s discuss the experience. Here, coffee is made for the community. You don’t get to pick the size of your cup, or your dose of caramel or mocha frappe. No, here you get whatever the men and women next to you get. It is an exercise that reinforces people to become part of the community.

As one of the largest coffee bean producers in the world, it is understandable why coffee is so staple to the countrymen. And their take on this beverage is just as awe-inspiring. Salt instead of sugar. Yes, the Ethiopian Buna is made with salt instead of sugar and with a healthy dollop of butter to go along with that.

Coffee quirks don’t end there: in Turkey, the beans are ground into a fine powder, which is then also infused with cardamom. An old Turkish proverb says: coffee should be as dark as night and as bitter as death but also as sweet as love. Beautiful, isn’t it? Here, it isn’t just a novelty. It is a way of life, a celebration, if you will.

The next time I go to Starbucks, I know, I’m supposed to be spoiled for choice, but really though, at the end of the day, I am not. With these various delicious iterations representative of the world, I learned that there is hope in the world— or at least a secret between the beans and me—beyond the double-sweet-choco-mocha-caramel-frappe-macchiato.

In “Musings,” sophomore Krishna Pamidi shares a new adventure every week about the grand modesty that is called life by exploring the global twists to universal experiences.