Coffee, Bread, and Beer

October 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

I studied social work in college.  As part of the coursework to complete my degree, I needed to do an internship at one of the social service agencies in the city where I went to school.  So I was fortunate enough to spend a summer working at a refugee resettlement program in Harrisonburg.
I knew enough Spanish that they had me work with the Cuban population, along with another guy who actually knew what he was doing.  So I got to know a handful of the warmest, nicest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met.  I took them to appointments, I tried to translate with billing companies, I even went to court once.
But the best part of getting to know these people was the coffee they made when I went to their houses.  I’d stop by to drop something (or someone) off, or to pick something up, and before I knew it I’d be sitting down and they’d bring me a tiny cup on a tiny saucer, along with a tiny spoon.  It didn’t matter if it was a man or a woman, whether they were young or old, whether I had really helped them or not.  They knew how to make a cup of coffee, and they knew how to welcome a guest into their home.
It wasn’t until just recently that I realized what they were serving me was espresso.  I found a pot at a local hardware store that looked just like the thing they used in their homes, the thing they poured their coffee out of.  Sure enough, for a few bucks and a little bit of time, I too could make that same syrupy-sweet hallmark of Cuban hospitality right here in the comfort of my own home.
My brother was just telling me that he’s had similar experiences with some Bosnians he knows.  They serve the same kind of coffee, from the same kind of pot, in the same kind of little cups.  They talk to him about what they miss from their home country.  They miss knowing and talking to their neighbors over good, hot cups of coffee (cups of espresso).
They make fun of our ‘American’ coffee.  They also make fun of what we call bread…and beer (not that I can comment on that last one).
Something interesting that I just learned about espresso is that it’s a process, not a roast.  You can make espresso out of regular coffee–you just need a way to force the hot water through the grounds under pressure.  The result is really good.  Perfect for breaking the ice and getting to know someone a little better.
I have a suspicion that somewhere along the way, we Americans traded quality for quantity, ritual for efficiency, and fellowship for comfort.
Coffee, bread, and beer (so I’m told) are three things best when time is taken to prepare them with the best ingredients in the hands of people who know what they’re doing.
Community is the same.
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