COFFEE-CULTURE AND COFFEE IN CULTURES


It’s a long way, physically and mentally, from the warm cups of coffee that my grand-dad used to drink, sugar cube between his front teeth, in Norway, to the coffee with ice that we often drink after a summer lunch in Spain. Or to the Nespresso in the image of George Clooney and John Malkovich.

Common to all cultures and countries, though, it seems that the coffee has a double, or even triple function: 1. Foodstuff; 2. Social alibi; 3. Stimulus.

What clearly varies is the quality of the coffee, the way it has been toasted and grained, very often with the intention of pleasing the local preferences for taste and flavor.

Coffee is a many splendoured thing

Coffee is a many splendoured thing

EN KAFFEKOPP IN NORWAY

The “Italian” methods for coffee-brewing, water at the point of boiling filtering through the coffee-grains, is spreading in Norway too. And since the mid 1980 many places have specialized in coffee, even hiring specially trained people, called barista, to prepare the coffee that they serve.

However, the traditional way of preparing has been by boiling water and then having the grained coffee soak for a while in the water, inside a classic coffeepot. Then most homes got the electrical coffee-machine came, the one that filters the hot water down through the coffee in a conic filter, dripping into the “pot” made of glass. A bit to my disappointment, a lot of people actually prefer (at least that’s what they drink most) the instant-coffee, hot water poured over the powder instantly dissolving into coffee.

Generally speaking, the Norwegians have preferred a coffee, less strong than by the Mediterranean. Being mild, and rather thin in character, you can easily drink 3 or 4 cups without getting too nervous of it. If you are invited home to someone, you would experience that the host will offer you cup after cup, and refill of your coffee cup as you go eating either open sandwiches for lunch, or together with cakes or sweets at some point of time during the day.

Coffee is also commonplace when hiking, either in thermos or freshly made on the bonfire, or camping-gas.  I remember very well outings in the forest, sleeping out in tents or primitive sheds… at night it was so cozy to sit around the campfire and drink the “forest-coffee” (Skau-kaffe).

Also, the coffee has been a camouflage for drinking the home-made liquor (HB  or Hjemmebrent). Especially in rural Norway, people mix and drink the illegal liquor when at parties, a drink that’s been called “Coffee Doctor” (Kaffe-dokter), recalling the healing effects of (some of) its ingredients…

UNA TAZA DE CAFÉ IN SPAIN

The Spanish way of coffee is similar to the Italian way, being the espresso-varieties and stronger bases, and in lesser quantities, the preferred ones. Nevertheless, the Italian ristretto is not common. The Italians claim the best and purest coffee is the in the first few drops, maybe one centimeter in the cup, that drips down from the filter. (What comes later is residual stuff, not pure coffee). The Italian definitely prefers the more intense enjoyment of coffee: you’ll commonly see them pop into a coffee-shop, order a ristretto (say, 1 cm of coffee in the bottom of the small cup, not more), drown it (with or without sugar), and being out on the street again after only a few minutes.

In Spain, typically, in a group of several persons in a bar or around a table, ordering their coffee, it is very likely that the waiter will take note of as many types of servings as there are people in the group. Black espresso (café solo), with a little bit of milk (cortado), with milk (café con leche) – in which the milk could be required to be poured either steamed hot, tempered or cold –, with additional water (Americano), with ice…

And then you have the regional varieties, like in Valencia where many people like the café bombon (50% really sweet condensed milk), or like in Galicia, particularly on the country side, the coffee-pot boiled variety called café puchero, or café de pota.

In colder periods of the year, a nice coffee to drink is the warm and nice “carajillo”, a cup with brandy in it…(Similar to the Norwegian Kaffe-dokter).

What’s also interesting to note is that the coffee-shops (Bar or Café), more than the plain “Cafeterias”, have been important meeting places for the country’s intellectuals, writers and poets who met to talk and exchange ideas in groups called “tertulias” .

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