“Do you want to drink a coffee?”
Seems harmless enough, right? Well... not for me! While some girls can’t hold their booze, I can’t hold my caffeine. It’s embarrassing really. Within an hour or so… those around me are subject to rapid-fire questioning: Whatareyoudoing? Wannadosomething? Letsdosomething. Whatshouldwedo? Whereshouldwego? Letsdosomethingfun. Whatdoyouthinkwecoulddothatisfun? Whatareyouthinking? Some of you out there have been subjected to this, for which I apologize. But in Albania…coffee SIMPLY IS culture. And finding decaf is “needle in a haystack” difficult… Shume e veshtire!
I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker. I figured if I was going to start it would have been in college – late nights finishing a presentation or cramming for a final. My first attempt was a convenience store-machine Vanilla cappuccino from RJ Profits (Shout out to Pollack Halls at Penn State) when I was writing a history paper due the following day. It was 9pm. The caffeine took hold around 10:30 and with it came boundless inspiration. I knocked out the paper by 1am feeling pretty proud. This coffee thing might have some merit! However… at 5am, as I lied awake, toes wiggling, staring at the ceiling from my loft bed (Shout out Sara McFadden) I started to have 2nd thoughts about this magical drink.
But I’m convinced, if you took coffee away from Albania… life would stop. Similar to most Americans, Albanians are like zombie’s before their morning coffee. Mid-morning coffee breaks boost employee morale (although not necessarily productivity,) encourage business negotiations and help to seal deals. In the afternoon, friends meet for coffee to gossip/vent/bej llaka llaka about their days. Want to watch the big soccer match/ndeshje e futboll? Meet me at the café! And if you’ve got your eye on a young lady prospect…inviting her to coffee shows you are ready for a serious commitment. (if that’s not a reason to be wary of coffee, I don’t know WHAT is!) Once engaged, a young woman is often scrutinized in her attention to detail during “coffee service” with her soon-to-be In-Laws. Again, coffee IS culture.
The mode of choice: kafe turk apo kafe espres. Turkish or Espresso. Sometimes with a little steamed milk, most always with sugar! And they may be tiny in stature, they make up for it in punch! Average costs range from 50-80 cents in US dollars. It might sound like a bargain, but drink 5 in one day and you’re creeping on Starbucks-level investments. “To-go: is extremely rare – no grabbing a cuppa Joe on your way into work. And to the disappointment of many volunteers… no Dunkin Donut franchises are in the works YET!
My Albanian friends, who’ve now seen some of coffee’s effects on me (speed talking above and beyond my natural gift for gab, dancing around the office conference table, etc) have started to let me off the hook. Now, its becoming acceptable to order an uje me gas/sparkling water while they sip macchiatos. From time to time…I dabble. And every time… the result is the same. Today, I met a friend for coffee at 1:30pm. It’s now 2:00am and I credit the caffeine, still coursing through my veins, for inspiring this post. But when I crash, rendered useless for much of tomorrow…will it have been worth it? Well… I had a great time with a new friend, so Yes, absolutely!/Po, sigurisht! Thank you, Elda… see you again soon!
Peace, Love and Decaf
PS: Dear Chai Tea lattes, Don’t worry, you are and will always be my favorite drug-of-choice. I miss you and eagerly await our 2013 reunion.
PPS: Oh, and some of the men, in the evenings will drink kafe me bisht/coffee with "a tail" meaning raki. Think of it like a coffee with a moonshine chaser. That'll put hair on your chest!