I’m a coffee drinker, an addiction that I purposefully nurtured in university. No kidding. There was a cafe across the plaza from the movie theatre I was managing, back in the day when Starbucks were few and far between and espresso was still eyed with a little suspicion by drinkers of a regular cup of joe as a fou-fou drink.
I had never been a coffee drinker but always enjoyed the smell. My earliest coffee memory was when I was about five years old. I was visiting my paternal grandparents back in Kansas City and my grandfather and I got up early one morning to drive the two hours down to Cole Camp, Missouri, to visit my great-grandmothers. As was their morning habit, my grandparents had a percolator going, coffee bubbling up into the glass handle on top of the lid and the aroma filling the house.
My grandfather filled an old red plaid Thermos with the black coffee and we set out down the highway. Somewhere along the way, he asked me to pour him a cup of coffee while he was driving. I made a comment like, “Smells good!” and so he offered to let me taste it. All I can remember is that it was as strong as iron and as hot as sin, so hot that I actually burned my tongue and had no taste of sweet for several days.
Needless to say, I didn’t have coffee again for a long, long time.
Some fifteen years later, a few years after my grandfather’s death from cancer, I started nursing a coffee habit. Recognizing that espresso drinks were becoming more common, I decided to build up a taste for espresso. I started with vanilla mochas with whipped cream, a drink that leaves unmasked only the slightest hint of coffee flavor.
Then, methodically, I worked my way to less adulterated beverages: Eventually the mocha went away, leaving me with vanilla lattes. Then the vanilla went away, replaced with lots of sugar. Then I cut back on the sugar until I could enjoy my latte unsweetened. To this day, nearly twenty years after starting the process, I rarely drink my coffee black and only take my espresso straight if it is really tasty. Otherwise, at least a little sugar has to cut it.
Throughout Southeast Asia, sweet and strong coffees are common. There’s the white coffee of Malaysia, the Vietnamese coffee – slow drip espresso served with sweetened condensed milk, and there’s caffe boran – literally, “ancient coffee” – here in Thailand.
Caffe boran is the coffee sold by street vendors (well, the ones who don’t use Nescafe, which is something of a national habit) and it involves very strong but not terribly good quality coffee which is steeped for an hour in a pantyhose-like sleeve. This sludge is then poured over ice with a large dollop of sweetened condensed milk and then some evaporated milk tops it off for richness.
Needless to say, despite its cheap price (10 to 15 baht, about 30-40 cents), it isn’t the most refined way to get your coffee.
Nonetheless, you can now buy Ivy brand caffe boran in aseptic boxes in your local Thai supermarket! To advertise the launch of Ivy caffe boran, this display was set up at the Asoke BTS Skytrain station, showing an ancient Thai warrior (who seems dressed to do some muay thai boxing) roasting the coffee beans over the fire, while two Thai maidens (notice the fair skin) hold boxes of the coffee.
It is so wonderfully kitschy!
I haven’t bought any Ivy yet. It seems that if I’m going to buy caffe boran, I might as well support one of our neighborhood street vendors.
What’s your coffee story? (I already know Meg’s!)