At first glance, this appears to be a boring topic. Yes, I can tell you that my seasonal preference is for decaffeinated Earl Grey tea, lightened with eggnog, but how interesting is that? Not very. Than, as I begin to consider the opportunities I have had to enjoy these beverages in different settings and in different cultures, I am flooded with delightful memories, which I am happy to share.
I’ll begin with the story of my first date with my husband. We were to go out for Sunday brunch and I invited him in first for a cup of coffee. He accepted and proceeded to drink almost two pots of coffee! He insisted that he was not affected by the caffeine, which didn’t sound plausible to me. As our relationship developed, I learned that, despite his insistence that it had no effect on his sleep patterns, he was unable to sleep more than two hours at a time. Eventually, he accepted the fact that caffeine was indeed affecting his sleep. He now drinks one or two cups in the morning and that’s it. Nevertheless, we have shared some exquisite moments over coffee.
In the 90’s, we spent a couple of weeks in Turkey, where the Muslim culture of gracious hospitality creates a setting for shopping experiences to be leisurely. In fact, in the smaller villages, outside of bustling Istanbul, when we stopped in to look at the beautiful handmade wares, we were offered chai, their tea, in small glasses. I often accepted and enjoyed this ritual, but Paul was not a tea drinker. Sometimes, he was offered a coffee and our host would send someone to a neighboring shop to secure a cup of their muddy version for him.
One shop in a village on the coastal road from Istanbul, south of Izmir, stands out in my mind. We wandered the little streets, enchanted by a shop with bright-colored silk quilts, where several men were hand-stitching patterns on the silks, filled with pure cotton. Paul and I agreed that we would consider purchasing one of quilts. When we asked the price, these hand made beauties were about twenty five dollars! So we enjoyed our cups of chai and coffee, while we watched them work and picked out the one we liked best. We chose one that was hand embroidered with peacocks on aquamarine silk. It has hung over the head of our bed for decades and the silk’s color has faded. However, the memory of that day, that shop, and that Muslim hospitality has not.
Another Turkish memory from Istanbul was wandering around the streets, so foreign to us, then coming across a McDonald’s. Paul was ecstatic, having not had an American cup of coffee for weeks. When we travel in the states, he can always count on a good cup of coffee at McDonald’s, but what about in Turkey? Sure enough, we stopped and he relished every drop of that cup.
Another sparkling memory, in part because of a picture that captured it, is of having cappuccino in Croatia. We’d planned to spend a couple of weeks in Venice, then altered our plans to include a side trip to Croatia, a country that has been invaded by multiple countries over the centuries. One of the positive side effects is the lasting influence on their cuisine, especially Italian. During our several days in Croatia, we enjoyed many cups of cappuccino for me and coffee for Paul.
An outstanding memory from my travels in Palestine involves tea, which is frequently served there with either sage or mint, typically with lots of sugar. My special memory is that we were invited into a cave where Bedouins actually lived and were served sage tea in little glasses by the light of their stove. There are so many ways to enjoy coffee and tea, but the ingredient that makes it outstanding is hospitality, whether at home or in a foreign country.
More recently and closer to home, I enjoyed high tea in Salem with a dear friend. I had just heard about a tea shop, Jolie’s, that had moved to a nearby, larger location. They’d added high tea to their menu. I called Fran, one of those friends who I can count on to accept any interesting invitation. She accepted and we planned to visit Jolie’s the next day, where we were served a lovely array of tiny sandwiches, scones, and pastries with two pots of tea. It was a perfect afternoon, made special by a good friend, beautiful food, and delicious tea.
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