12 November 2008

"Prosím si kavu"

This topic was bound to come up eventually, no? The truth is, I don't really drink a lot of coffee here, but today as I was waiting for the train I got some because I was eating something rather sweet but fruity (lunch leftovers!) and the taste was too complementary to pass up. Normally in the convent I drink weak tea with meals (weak tea is a really common way of serving tea here, not just in the convent) and in the zbrovňa I drink Earl Grey as strong as I can make it.

But coffee the world over is a varied, but ritual act.

Here, when one goes out for coffee (Slovakia is rather blissfully void of Starbucks), the nicest choice is a kaviareň. This is a coffeehous where one gets coffee and effectively rents space in a pleasant 19th century type of environment to gather with one's crew, drink coffee, and perhaps nibble on some pastries. A good choice in a kaviareň is a Viennese coffee (we are, after all, in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire).

At a bufet, which is often a kiosk on the street or a hole in the wall of the train station, where one can buy shots of alcohol, sandwiches and other small food items, but also sometimes at home, the common method for making coffee is to put ground coffee in a glass and pour hot water over it. This results in the so-called classic style, a non-nuanced version of Turkish coffee. Thus, when one goes to a kaviareň and seeks to avoid such a thing, it is appropriate to ask for an espresso.

In the zbrovňa, the overwhelming favorite is instant coffee, though nearly everyone drinks both coffee and tea, depending on their disposition and also quite possibly, the weather. The refrigerator usually has some dubiously fresh milk, though sometimes there are also individual creamers, whcih are UHT milk and therefore not likely to be of dubious freshness. Usually each teacher keeps their own coffee, tea and sweetening agent, though morale and camraderie are high so sharing occurs rather liberally. For example, consider the following dialogue which took place today between two normally-tea-drinking colleagues:
Colleague A: Did I have some [instant] coffee here (in this cupboard)? I can't find it.
Colleague B [across the room]: I think I have some Popradská coffee here somewhere. [Colleague B digs around by her desk.] Here! I found it!
[Colleague B holds the coffee package out to Colleage A, who is still across the room.]
Colleague A: Oooh, could I have some?
Colleague B: No, I'm showing you that I have some but I'm not giving you any!
Colleague A: That is communism!
[A big collective laugh as Colleague A makes her coffee.]
In the Prešov apartment, there is an American-style coffee maker in which I make Lavazza coffee and add in some nice heavy cream (7.5% fat) which is marketed as coffee creamer and which really does stand up to the nice robust coffee. This goes well with bacon and eggs when I occasionally make it, though the more I eat of local, homemade, Slovak bacon, the less satisfied I am with Amero-Hungarian water-infused, vacuum-packed bacon. Last night, the evening food was rye bread, butter, and bacon -- soooo good.

Wow. Look how quickly I get off track and on to bacon! Finally, there's my big guilty coffee pleasure, which are the delightfully utilitarian automat coffee machines. They are delightfully utilitarian because it is obvious that the coffee formula has been scientifically standardized to create a near-unanimously agreeably favorable taste.

So alas, a visual summary (as always, click to enlarge):

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