Dirt, and Grandpa's Ashtray

You never forget your first sip of coffee. There are no subtle notes of roasted almonds or garden peas. There is only dirt. And grandpa's ashtray. My first taste of coffee happened in an unlikely place. I was a college sophomore, traveling with friends to the small Arab country of Qatar. I had been told that if anyone offered you something to eat or drink, you were supposed to consume it with a smile on your face, no questions asked. It was the polite thing to do. The culturally sensitive thing to do. But when we visited a poor shepherd's house in the countryside, and I faced down my first cup of Turkish coffee, I wasn't so sure. 

If you've never had Turkish coffee, let me tell you about it. Coffee beans are roasted and ground and then boiled in a pot with water and sugar. It is then served in a cup, where the grounds are allowed to settle at the bottom. As I held the cup of coffee in my hands, the only thing I could think was that it wasn't normal to have stuff floating in it. I stalled as long as I could, making small talk with our interpreter, smiling at the children running by, commenting on the lovely coffee set. However, you can only stall so long before everyone notices that your coffee cup is still full. 
Our host commented, "You don't like coffee?" I looked at my friends whose smiles and glares told me, "Drink it." I smiled back nervously.

"Oh no, I do. I was just waiting for it to cool down." Now I had the attention of the whole house as I took my first ever sip of coffee. This was not ideal. I raised the cup of liquid and grounds to my lips and took my first sip. As hard as I tried - and I tried hard - my polite smile still gave way to a slight grimace. My friends, old and new, laughed as we all finished our drinks through the late afternoon. 

Today, as I sit here writing, I can't help but want to be in that tiny shack in the dusty countryside of Qatar again. I want to savor that coffee as I breathe in the rich culture that swirls around me. I want to smile for real this time, thankful for the poor shepherd who invites us to his home and shares his hard-earned pot of coffee. 

Instead, I'm at my favorite coffeehouse with my laptop and an americano, where a sip of coffee can still transport me thousands of miles to a gathering of new friends around a Persian rug in the middle of nowhere. For me, coffee is about a shared experience. It's about the places it is enjoyed, and the people you enjoy it with. 

My hope is that you relish your coffee experience today, whether it be near or far.

Andrea Giordano loves coffee, no matter where she drinks it.  Andrea is the creator of ESLbasics.com, a place where anyone, anywhere can learn English.