czech culture,  Czech Republic,  Expat Life

Coffee in Czechland

this morning, i had my first cup of coffee in almost a year.

okay, maybe that’s a bit over-dramatic since there’s been cups of nescaf instant, plenty of espressos and cappuccinos, and an iced latte or two in the summer. but this… this is my first black, freshly brewed from grounds, american style cup of coffee in way too long.

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the last time i had freshly brewed coffee was in scotland (above, isle of eigg), when we were still living the high(lands) life and staying with some wonderful and generous hosts with french presses in every kitchen. good brewed coffee left our life with our departure from the glorious british isle. i’ve had a lot of cappuccinos while living here but there’s only so many espresso drinks you can have before you tire of all things espresso. with my extensive background, knowledge of and enjoyment of coffee, i have quite been missing the experience of brewing up a fresh cup… something i’ve done for years, especially working at starbucks. and the availability of decaf coffee (often my preference over full-caf) is slim.

one time, i was told of a cool cafe in krumlov that serves single origin blends. so alex and i paid a visit last spring and realized that, sure they brew single origin blends, but they brew it through the espresso machine! not what i was hoping for.

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seeing how it way “pay-day week” after long last (!!!!), i figured it is time to finally upgrade our lives, since we have just been through a (great) summer of using all available funds to travel and had been scraping buy on vegetable soups and the like for the past month. no more holy socks! no more burnt out light bulbs that don’t get replaced! i think we deserve to drink freshly brewed coffee, especially with the recent cold snap, which i am told is a typical czech autumn: literally freezing mornings, nice sunny afternoons.

so after receiving a notice of late cancellation from a student at 9:30am leaving the rest of my day entirely free, i was feeling particularly jolly. i rode the bus straight to senovažne namesti and took a stroll down lannova trida, the busy but pretty and colorful avenue of commerce in české budějovice lined with fountains and benches. familiar names line the streets (h&m, mcdonalds, new yorker) along with local, unfamilar czech named shops. i popped into marks and spencers, a bastion of all that is british and right with this world here in the czech republic. this place is my SAVIOR. it stocks everything you can never get at other shops, as long as it is non-brand name (trader joe’s style). the quality is high and the prices are normal for american standards, but a bit higher than average by czech standards.

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upon scouring every shelf for canned pumpkin (no luck), i happened upon a wall of fair-trade ground coffee of all kinds. then. THEN…. i discovered the only bag of ground decaffeinated coffee i have seen in the city. columbian roast. spectacular! upon checking out, the clerk, speaking only czech informs me “you know you are buying bez kofeinu, right?” (decaffeinated) “ano, ano”, the only affirmative reply i can muster. this lady is only trying to help me out, something to the equivalent of You Are About To Make A Huge Mistake.

this example rightly shows why this is the only ground decaf blend i have been able to find in the city. to czechs, decaf is useless. it serves no purpose. it is widely known that there is no point to drinking this sort of coffee. but this isn’t the only cafe culture difference. now that i’ve taught at least three focus groups (errr… lessons) in which the topic of coffee was discussed in depth and being in this country for almost a year now, i consider myself somewhat well-informed in the coffee habits of the czechs. they do love their coffee and enjoy their cafe time. usually with an espresso, cappucino, or a turkish coffee– strongly brewed coffee with the grounds in the bottom of the cup. most households and businesses are stocked with instant coffee– something i thought laughable a year ago before i realized that it’s probably more widely drank in europe than regular brewed. weird, right? and nobody has a coffee maker a la USA. mixing in the grounds with the water seems the most popular and easiest brewing style.

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the idea of takeaway or to-go coffee is not popular with the +30 crowd, and the few places that sell to-go coffee really only cater to tourists. walking around with or driving with a travel mug in the cup holder is basically unheard of.

however, some of my students seem to think that a company like starbucks would do rather well in south bohemia… a foreign, exotic way to have coffee compared to tradition. they seemed to think that the brand would simply sell itself, as people here like to have new, fancy things and show them off. especially here in south bohemia, where it is wealthier that many other parts of the country. although some may hate me for it, i would be for this development. what can i say, you know how i feel about starbucks. and as my students said, everything that is popular ten years ago in western europe or U.S. ends up coming here eventually!

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(above, christmas day gingerbread latte in the malostranské náměstí starbucks, prague, 2012)

addendum: i brewed the heck out of that decaf columbian, a bit turkish style: i put the grounds in a small ceramic pitcher, added near boiling water, and let stand for four minutes. after, i poured directly into two cups, trying to hold back the grounds the best i could. this was enjoyed with brioche, marmalade, and grapefruit. happy friday, indeed.

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