Ok. I have a thing for coffee. Friends do not suggest Starbucks to me, either because they don’t want to see the expression that flashes across my face, or because they have already heard me expound too many times on how it is only good as a transitional (or as I usually say, gateway) coffee for those who are first venturing into the world of espresso. I did drink Starbucks in 2004 when I drove across Canada with my two children on what they sometimes refer to, affectionately I tell myself, as “Mom’s search for a latte on the Prairies.” (Spoiler alert— when you can see the next Tim Horton’s before you’re fully past the last one, the odds are not good.)
I often traveled with my own stovetop espresso pot. It’s been to Mexico, Hawaii, England, across the US, and has even gone up mountains and on portages. I know where the “good” coffee places are along my usual travel routes and in airports around the world.
If I had a motto, it might have been, “Life is too short to drink bad coffee or cheap wine.” My drink of choice has been a skim milk latte for over twenty years, with the only variation a switch to a stronger, organic coffee bean when that became available.
This year, that changed. Not that I looked for bad coffee or wine, but my priorities shifted, and getting exactly the beverage I wanted became less important. Leaving home and trying to recreate it; I might have done that in 1985, when my partner and I were in London, contemplating a move. And, to be fair, at that time in England if you ordered a coffee you were pretty much guaranteed a Sanka, sometimes premixed, sometime the coffee crystals in the jar beside the cup of hot water. But I remember being surprised that I was the type of person who would scour the city looking for a decent cup of coffee. It was the same in Helsinki in 1998; there was one coffee shop near the train station that made espresso and lattes, run by expat Canadians, and I visited almost every day before my classes.
This year, I became less fussy. It wasn’t a conscious decision at first. In the Middle East, I drank the strong, thick, Turkish coffee that I had been introduced to by Syrian friends. Hiking above Petra I was offered Bedouin tea, and that sweet, spiced drink was warm and delicious in the unseasonable cold. In India, I delighted in the show of milk and boiled coffee poured together from a height. In Japan, I ordered coffee from a vending machine, dancing along to the song it played, and bought preheated cans of coffee from shops, never knowing quite what I was getting until I opened them. A year into my travels, even when espresso drinks were available I drifted away from lattes to cappuccinos, and then cortados.
When I think about 25 years of skim milk lattes, it occurs to me that it was simply part of my comfortable life. Why try something different when you know what you like? But how do you know that’s what you truly like when you never try anything else?
In December, on the Inca Trail in Peru, our early morning wake up was coffee delivered to our tent. On a tray were mugs of hot water, powdered milk, sugar and, yes, Sanka coffee crystals.
And it was delicious.