Feeding My Coffee Addiction, One Espresso (or Turkish Coffee) At a Time

I really need to start writing about things and places other than Kurdistan.

Let’s start with my coffee addiction. It started with a childhood spent in one of the world’s best producers of coffee beans – Kenya. Sadly, though Kenya produces some of the best coffee beans in the world, there isn’t much of a coffee culture. Chai, or really sugary, milky black tea, is the drink of choice. A lot of that has to do with colonial policies: Kenyans, though they grew the coffee that was drunk by British colonials people around the world, were not allowed to drink coffee themselves. All the beans grown in Kenya were destined for export, not domestic consumption. So instead the tea culture took root. I wonder why tea was not as hot a commodity as coffee? Perhaps because the British Empire had India for tea.

A coffee-drinking culture is finally growing in Kenya, slowly but surely. First with Java House, with its chains across Nairobi, then Dorman’s and now ArtCaffe makes a decent espresso. My long-suffering days of mediocre filter coffee are over!

Espresso at Artcaffe, Nairobi

Espresso at Artcaffe

Artcaffe, Village Market, Nairobi

Artcaffe, Village Market, Nairobi

Well, now I sound like a coffee snob. And I am a coffee snob. Growing up drinking good coffee at home, surrounded by cafes in Seoul every summer, and living with baristas can only spawn a coffee snob. I will gladly fork over $5/£3 for a sublime long black (and yes, coffee can be sublime). But I’ve also drank my fair share of large cups of joe *shudder* and sometimes I find myself craving really bad filter coffee. It reminds me of America. Ha.

Given my coffee addiction predilection, where do I end up? In another tea-drinking culture, where coffee means instant ground coffee mixed with powdered milk.  Sacrilege!

At least there is the Turkish influence here. Turkish coffee, I can drink. It’s ironic that a few of my colleagues talk smack about Turkey (and rightly so, given the government’s oppression of the Kurds) and boycott Turkish goods, but also love Turkish coffee and culture. Well, as one of them says, it’s not the Turkish coffee that is bombing the Kurds. Truth.

Anyhow, ever since I got to Kurdistan I’ve been having coffee withdrawals, and in constant search of a place with a functioning espresso machine. I’ve found a few:

Espresso from NWA Cafe. Though sometimes they get espresso and Arabic coffee mixed up.

Espresso from NWA Cafe. Though sometimes they get espresso and Arabic coffee mixed up.

NWA Cafe, the best (and only) place in Rania to get coffee that isn’t instant Nescafe sh*t. It’s a bit generous to say the espresso is actually good, but considering the alternative, I’ll take two.

Yes, the name of this cafe is really NWA. Giggles.

Yes, the name of this cafe is really NWA. Giggles.

This past weekend we went to Erbil (Hawler) for the day, and ended up at Family Mall.

Family Mall is a monstrosity of a building, all shiny and new and full of overpriced shops where no one buys anything and cafes where people sit and preen for others to see. Because half our group was boycotting Turkish goods, and the other half was too broke to buy anything, we ended up at one such cafe where Erbil’s high society go to flash their oil money. Where a Turkish or Kurdish coffee costs 6,000 dinars ($5) and a simple cafe/bistro meal costs 35,000 ($30!) – you’re clearly paying for the real estate, not the actual quality of food and drinks.

Ada Cafe in Erbil's Family Mall

Ada Cafe in Erbil’s Family Mall

I tried Kurdish coffee… which was presented very nicely, but didn’t taste very nice. Too much coffee grounds, with an aftertaste of something herby and unpleasant. But the apple-flavored water and traditional Kurdish sweets were a nice touch.

Kurdish coffee. Looked much prettier than it actually tasted.

Kurdish coffee. Looked much prettier than it actually tasted.

So to get my caffeine fix, I had a 5,000 dinar espresso. That’s about $4, which is pretty ridiculous considering it was good, but not $4 good. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Espresso from Ada Cafe. It was actually pretty good! Coffee addiction, fed.

Espresso from Ada Cafe. It was actually pretty good! Coffee addiction, fed.

I’ll end with “The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like“, for all you naysayers who think too much coffee and caffeine is bad for you.  Did you know that most of coffee’s supposed negative effects have now been disproven? In fact, new research on the benefits of coffee suggests that its benefits extend from preventing Alzheimer’s disease to protecting the liver. Say what? Protecting the liver? Another espresso, please.

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