Coffee as Language of Communication

I never thought I’d write a post about coffee, but I love it too much not to. As my friends can tell you, over the last few years of traveling, the one thing that I can always count on in each place I visit is enjoying a good coffee. My favorite thing to do when I travel, especially when I’m solo, is to find a local cafe and savor a cappuccino or iced latte depending on the season. Sure, I love the taste of a roasted espresso with milk (preferably vegan), but it’s more than just a taste. I’ve come to realize that coffee is a tool of communication for me. It’s a window into another culture and memories of the past, a glimpse into the local life of that place, a fractional understanding of the everyday routines of the people who live there, and a means to slow down and enjoy the simplicity of life.

My friends always make fun of me when I travel because I prioritize finding a good cup of coffee above everything (and am grumpy unless I have my coffee). Before I arrive in a city, I google “best cafes in x” and research which cafes have a balance of local appeal, aesthetic decor, and most importantly, good coffee reviews. I bookmark about 5-10 cafes on Google Maps throughout the city so that I am always within 10 minutes walking distance to any (the plus side of this is that I always know where to find a bathroom!). To me, there’s something so satisfying and familiar when I walk into a cafe after exploring a city – the smell and aroma of the coffee brewing and the sight of locals and other travelers reading, chatting, and just going about their everyday life. It’s a scene I’ll never get tired of.

The more cafes I visit, the more I wonder why I love coffee so much. I could sit in a cafe all morning or all afternoon, with company or without. Sure other people love coffee too, but there’s something different about it in my world. For me, coffee brings back memories.

I smile as I think back to the moments when I was a child and my elder father would pour me a little sippy cup, filled with three sips of his morning coffee. I think of the joy this must have brought him, the joy of being retired and having a sixth little girl to take care of and raise in his old age. Those simple mornings where he’d be drinking coffee with this precious and unexpected daughter that I’m sure he never imagined having.

I think back to sitting at the breakfast room table in my childhood home years later, and watching my mother brew her morning coffee in her plaid nightgown. I imagined all that was going through her mind, coming to realize that her morning coffee would be the only quiet and peaceful time she would have throughout the day before she hurried to work as the provider of the house, and adding on the role of my father’s caretaker.

I think about the moments in high school when I was late as usual, would throw on my uniform, and run out the door as I texted my best friend to pick me up an iced coffee before class, knowing I would return the favor for her the next day. I think about going to a cafe after school when I was falling in love with a boy over a shared coffee, a boy who would become my first boyfriend and a romance that would define my first experience of what I thought love was. Those special moments with him, and the moments with friends who brought me a coffee and restored faith in the young, strong woman I was and who I was going to continue to be after it all ended.

I think about the coffee runs I made as an escape from reality in college, as an escape from the fear of losing both my father and beloved brother as they battled cancer at the same time. The parking lots of the cafes turned into my sanctuary, the one place I could let it out and cry so deeply wondering how I was going to live life without the two most important men in my life, the place I could be angry with God and question Him, and the place I would later mourn and pray over the loss of my brother, my best friend, and my second father.

Most importantly, I think about the moments of my life abroad as I began to call new places my home, of those special months and years that healed me and made me remember who I am and who I want to be. I’ll forever cherish the moments spent exploring undiscovered places and sharing coffee with new travel friends, some of whom I would never meet again and some of whom would become lifelong friends, of the moments when it was just me and my journal against the world, of the moments when I saw local people drinking a coffee and realizing that maybe, just maybe, we’re not all that different in this big world, of the moments knowing that I wanted to continue to journey like this for the rest of my life.

If you’re reading this, do me a favor – find a cafe, slow down, and enjoy all that a coffee can bring you.

To my beloved brother, I love and miss you forever.