Monday, January 12, 2015

A Seattlite rediscovers coffee

It may be an oversimplification to say that Seattlites love their coffee, but it is true. I never liked coffee until I lived in Seattle. In fact, I hated it. My first sip of coffee came as a young girl. It was a cold and rainy day and I was playing goalie in an Under-8s soccer match. As I stood guarding the goal, I was freezing prompting me to ask for mom for a sip of her coffee. She obliged and it was the most disgusting and bitter thing I had ever put in my mouth. That was the end of me and coffee for more than two decades.

In college in San Luis Obispo, I worked in a coffee shop on campus. There were three positions in the cafe: cashier, barista and ice cream duty. After a couple days, I was banned from the barista job. I didn't know a drip from a mocha and I was constantly burning myself on the steamer. I did, however, get strong muscles from scooping ice cream and I loved handling the money end of the operation. Luckily I also delighted in free pastries and the Turkish Coffee ice cream, so the job still had its perks for me.

A few years after moving to Seattle, I found myself working for the Mayor in City Hall. That's where I got hooked on coffee, specifically iced mochas. Every morning before work, I would stop by Noah's bagels to pickup a pizza bagel and then stand in the queue with half of the city's staff at City Grind to get my iced mocha. (This was before I learned I was allergic to both gluten and dairy.) That job was one of my favorites and I definitely developed a soft spot for City Grind's coffee which stuck with me well beyond my days at City Hall.

Fast forward to present day (well, actually a few days ago but let's pretend) and I am standing in a cafe in the smallish town of Otaki on New Zealand's North Island. It is hot out and I am tired. I need an iced coffee. As luck will have it, it's on the blackboard menu. I order one with soy milk and Josh picks out a gluten-free brownie from the case that's large enough for us to share. I think everything is going my way, but what I don't realize is that while New Zealanders speak English, some things are still lost in translation.

Iced coffee in New Zealand is not coffee over ice. Instead it is a shot of espresso lost amid a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cup full of milk topped with whip cream. It's the whip cream that tips me off to the miscommunication. As the girl hands me my paper cup overflowing with whip cream I dumbly ask, "is that dairy-free whip cream?"

She looks at me like I'm an idiot. "No, it is regular whip cream. You asked for soy milk; I didn't know you didn't want dairy," she tells me perplexed.

I am confused. In Seattle if you ask for soy milk, no one tries to give you whipped cream. They understand that you don't want any cow milk products in your coffee. She asks if I want her to remake it, but Josh offers to eat the whipped cream off the top so we think I'll still be good to go.

As Josh is eating the whipped cream off my iced coffee, he uncovers something that seems to be solid in my iced coffee and it's not ice. It's vanilla iced cream. I am flabbergasted. What is ice cream doing in my iced coffee?! I don't believe what I'm seeing. I take my to-go cup back into the cafe and wait calmly in line for my turn to ask the girl behind the counter what exactly is in my iced coffee.

Clearly, New Zealand and Seattle do not speak the same English. I return the coffee shake to Josh and sit down defeated. He convinces me to go back in and ask for what I want. When I do, the girl tells me they don't have ice and so cannot just pour some espresso over ice. And it is times like this that I really miss Seattle where an iced coffee is just that: ice and coffee.

P.S. I do eventually get my iced coffee later that day in Whanganui at a small cafe. I ask for "long black over ice." Long black is New Zealand code for a double shot of espresso topped off with water, better known back home as an Americano. Out of curiousity, I ask this barista about the "iced coffee" on their menu. It also is made with ice cream, further proof that New Zealand and Seattle are very far apart.


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