For many, that first cup of coffee can make or break the start of the day.
For our language students, a stop at the coffee pot before class is an important ritual.
Coffee is rarely just a stiff shot of caffeine.
For one, coffee contains a complex mixture of bioactive compounds - antioxidants, minerals, niacin, and lactones - that can affect health positively.
In international trade, coffee has historically been the second most important primary commodity, after oil. In more than forty countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, at least twenty-five million (mostly small-time) farmers and their families are dependent on coffee for their income.
Different countries – Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Ethopia, Yemen, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Hawaii, Vietnam, and India - produce different coffee. Due to the differences in climate, elevation, soil, and water, as well as variations in weather from year to year, each nation's coffee has a distinct character. Indeed, each region within a coffee-growing nation can produce its own signature bean.
Different countries also enjoy coffee differently, and studying the differences can be a key to understanding different cultures.
As Bryant Simon surmises in his treatise on Starbucks in "Everything but the Coffee," the company "pinpointed, packaged, and made easily available, if only through smoke and mirrors, the things that the broad American middle class wanted and thought it needed to make its public and private lives better.
"Studying Starbucks, therefore, tells us what millions of Americans, in the last days before Lehman Brothers imploded, cared enough about to pay extra to get."
While America has turned Italian espresso into an opportunity for reflection, in Venice itself, between the myriad masquerade masks, "on-the-go" coffee shops sell small shots of espresso that are expected to be consumed quickly.
Turkish coffee is the diametric opposite of the Venetian espresso. It is slow-cooked in a coffee pot, with water and sugar. The Turkish delight with which it is usually served is another incentive to stop and relish the break.
Dark, rich, and sweet, with an earthy note created by the addition of roasted corn and roasted sesame seeds, Thai coffee powder is a Chinese legacy and is often referred to as "oliang," a Chinese dialect name for the flavored powder, as well as the beverage when served cold and sweetened, but without milk.
The Thai version, with a luxurious crown of evaporated milk cascading into the dark iced brew, is extraordinary. Thai coffee is prepared using a "tungdtom" (Thai: ถุงต้ม). The tungdtom is placed atop the coffee cup. In this pot, ground coffee, cardamom, and water are added. The coffee slowly seeps through into the cup which already has ice and condensed milk in it, creating a very aromatic coffee.
Don't be surprised when you receive a bonus iced tea. The Thai serve iced tea with everything - even coffee.