by Martin Mills
Never take a decent brew for granted.
|There are some things you should never take for granted, and a good pot of strong coffee is one of them. It took two years of living overseas to teach me this, as I quickly learned not everyone in the world shares my passions.
Let's skip the twelve steps. I'll just come out and say it: I'm a coffee addict. It occurred to me when I had lived in Korea for only a year and already knew how to admit my problem in two languages. I might not be able to understand directions or say "exact change", but I can explain why the tall, wide-eyed white guy seems so blurry when he zips by everyone.
Koreans don't drink strong coffee and usually prefer instant to brewed. There was a time I would have considered this sacrilege, but I've learned to adjust to the culture. Five scoops of instant coffee will usually do the trick.
Most of the instant coffee enjoyed by Koreans is sweet. Sugar is used sparingly for food in order to contribute to the worthy cause of sweetening up the coffee. Not minding a nice gulp of hot sugar-water every now and then, again I adjusted.
It has become much easier to cope thanks to the coffee houses in Korea.
In all my journeys so far, I gained a new respect of and wondrous awe for Starbucks. There are several handfuls of them in Seoul, with at least two in most malls and shopping areas. The prices are higher than in the West, but when you walk in you can smell the caffeine. How can you put a price on that?
The three-story Starbucks buildings are the best. They afford you the rare opportunity to sit in front of a window and gaze upon the passers-by below with caffeinated wisdom. This experience also is priceless.
There are other small "Western" style coffee houses in the area where I live, and I'm grateful to them all. We used to have one across the street from my house, in a time I refer to as "the age of enlightenment." Unfortunately it went the way of many small Korean businesses from time to time. I still have a picture affectionately tucked away in an album, and the "In Loving Memory" T-shirt is pending.
One difference many Asians claim in regards to Westerners and our diets is that we smell like cheese. It's true that in addition to traditional Korean food I enjoy a good pizza, but I'd think the coffee breath would hide the evidence.