Ancient Coffee

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!)


0 thoughts on “Ancient Coffee

  1. Oh… that Thai warrior will look great in my condo. My first memories were those coffee pots that have this glass top and you could see the water percolating over the coffee grounds. I loved the smell but hated the taste. I couldn’t understand why adults drank it. I only started to drink coffee when I worked night shift. It was from a vending machine and was gross. But I needed the caffeine.

  2. Where’s the ancient coffee?Shinning takes coffee or espresso black with very little sugar.It tasted like burnt bean water to me…ick.I usually drink with French vanilla, hazelnut, or mocha.I feel like I am one of those high school kids drinking wine cooler next to a guy taking straight tequila shots.well…I rarely drink coffee anyway…more of a tea guy.@ElusiveWords – That’s pretty much me too. After 2 days of cramming books, I would buy coffee at school cafe that tasted horrible only to get caffeine.Did you work the graveyard shift for an IT job?

  3. I recently gravitated towards Vietnamese coffee after W bought a few sacks from Saigon. He’s now brewing freshly grounded coffee every morning before leaving for work. My first coffee encounter was when my parents brewed coffee with this Italian brand coffee pot in HK, smelled great to me though.Ahh…is that how they prepare coffee during the ancient times in The Land of A Thousand Smiles? *skeptical looking face*

  4. I’m a tamilian, so basically from the southern part of India. We here are extremely proud of our coffee culture too. Thanks to our accent we call it Kaapi. It’s a housewife’s pride to make good strong coffee. While we don’t roast the beans or grind them at home. We have small shops at every corner that do it and each family is very particular about the beans that they chose and the flavour that is added. The powder is then put into a tall steel cylinder with a strainer and hot water is added (It’s a lot like the french press). The water drains down and is called a decoction (yup, its true). That is added to 2/3rds milk and sugar. It’s very important that the milk is boiling hot. It’s like a latte but its not really. The taste is something else and no tamilian would start a day without it. Just thought I’d share. 🙂

  5. Ah coffeeeee! I’m sipping my cup of oat-milk latte at the moment while I type this…I gave caffeine up completely when I was pregnant with Sam. But was almost in tears when I had my first real cup after he was born. I don’t remember how my love for coffee came about, but I sure can’t imagine life without it. Our MOST expensive appliance in the kitchen is our Meile built-in coffee machine. I think we went over board when we bought it, but happy that there’s no turning back.My poison is the latte. I was really sad when I thought I had to give it up forever when I found out I was extremely allergic to dairy. Soy lattes just didn’t cut it. But after I discovered oat milk, I was in love again. Thank goodness for dairy alternatives! haha!

  6. @Soul_U_Shuns – Thank you for sharing.  I can barely begin to tell you how good kaapi sounds.  So much so that I think I need to book a trip to southern Indai, just to try it.@tehls – Oat milk?  Have never heard of that.  I wonder if it is available here?  I have oatmeal for breakfast every morning, so maybe I can just take my own oats and make milk out of them?@beowulf222 – Well, remember that we’ve had espresso drinks together, so you’re tainted, too.@curry69curry – Vietnamese coffee is fantastic.  I rarely have the patience to wait for it to finish dripping, though.@Wangium – Wine cooler guy?  Ha ha!  There are enough different types of coffee (and tea – our tea cabinet looks like a miniature version of the one in the movie “Go Fish”) to suit every taste and style.@ElusiveWords – Well, I’m heading back to North America next week.  You want me to see if I can slip him into my suitcase?  I’m sure nobody would notice.@TheLatinObserver – My friend and former roommate in SF would visit Miami regularly, bringing Cafe Bustelo back.  I don’t know how authentically Cuban it is, but her Cuban-American friends loved it.  That was seriously good espresso.

  7. @tehls – Hey decided to reply here after reading your comment. I’ve had to give up coffee as well same reason as yours and I have about a month to go. SO I’m TOTALLY counting down. Just the smell gives me such a high its funny.

  8. @christao408 –  Yeah … Bustelo is definitely popular with Cubans. If you ever go to Miami or have a stop over at the airport the restaurant called La Carreta has an “express” or “takeout” section which sells a very nice cafe cubano.

  9. My mom drinks it a lot and I would drink coffee with her after dinner sometimes growing up. Then I started liking the taste too. Then I needed the caffeine to study. Now it’s more of a habit haha.

  10. one cup a day but I heard a cute joke yesterday -for father’s day the little boy took the dad a cup of coffee and there were two plastic soldiers in the bottom of the cup,”the best part of waking up is soldiers in your cup”

  11. My day doesnt start without it. Also a few years ago I used to be into white mochas and fraps. I may sound like a snob, but I really don’t consider that stuff coffee. I like just regular coffee. 1 teaspoon of sugar and two half & halfs.

  12. I brew a pot of Peet’s Coffee Major Dickesen’s blend every morning. I pour it into my thermos and head to work. By lunch I have pretty much finished the thermos. Black, neat. yummmmmmmI have been known to slam down an espresso occasionally, and I do still love my fat free sugar free vanilla latte from Peet’s. Starbucks often over roasts their beans so I detect a slightly burned taste in their coffee. Peet’s is far superior in my opinion.My story: My mother used to drink her coffee with milk and sugar and she would occasionally allow us to finish the last sips in the cup. I actually liked it. So my first coffee was always with milk and sugar. When I was a home show demonstrator when my kids were young the hostess would often offer coffee and I didn’t like putting them to the trouble of getting the milk and sugar out so I learned to drink it black. The rest is history…

  13. I love the smell of coffee. To me it’s a comfort smell because Mom’s kitchen always smelled like coffee first thing in the morning when I was a kid. And the smell of coffee in a car is a wonderful smell to me… makes me think of family vacations, road trips and camping. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately) I never developed a taste for it. To me, coffee doesn’t taste the way it smells. Every coffee I have ever tasted has been overly bitter to me and unpleasant. To this day I still don’t like it, even a fru-fru drink where a seasoned coffee drinker might say, “I don’t even taste the coffee.” I can still taste it. I don’t even like coffee ice cream. I’m happy to just enjoy the smell.

  14. OMG I love coffee. Want to be my friend?I started when I was 12. My parents were (are) coffee addicts. It has been passed down and nurtured with enthusiasm.

  15. @albertmoore – They knew they would be selling coffee so they made themselves up!@Agent_Eric – Don’t tell that to the Italians!  =D@stebow – Interesting, you developed the habit of drinking it black out of courtesy to others?  Very thoughtful of you.@alextebow – That’s interesting, Alex.  Even as a coffee drinker, I have to agree with you, it doesn’t taste the same as it smells.@amygwen – Wow – twelve years old!?

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