Today, I received my newest issue of Barista Magazine. My first thought was that the guy on the cover looked very familiar, but then I realized it was Hiroshi Sawada, not hermitudinous. I read magazines much differently than I read books. It is physically impossible for me to read a book any other way than from beginning to end. Magazines, however, I read based on my personal interest. So, I browsed through the issue and noted some interesting features: Prima Coffee‘s ad staking claim to all coffee equipment business east of the Mississippi, a troubleshooter for latte art, yet another article about how to utilize manual brewing methods in a shop, and an article about Hiroshi Sawada and the Japanese specialty coffee scene.
The article that most interested me though was about another culture’s coffee traditions. The article was simply entitled “Bosnia.” This was an unexpected geographic locale to pop up in a coffee snob magazine. One would expect an article on Ethiopia (which directly followed the Bosnia article), Guatemala, Kenya, or even Norway for that matter. But, Bosnia???
I do not really know anything Bosnia. I know some awful, awful things happened there in the 1990s, but other than the quick reading of Wikipedia I just did, I know next to nothing about Bosnia’s culture or history. I was intrigued then by this coffee article entitled “Bosnia” by Alon Halevy. Halevy writes about the central place drinking coffee plays in Bosnian culture. Halevy summarizes, “in Bosnia you simply do not rush through your coffee and go. Tradition and custom dictate that people linger for a few hours sipping coffee. Anything less is an insult” (22). This article speaks a bit about Bosnian coffee in strict “coffee talk,” but the major theme of the article is the role coffee plays in the Bosnian culture.
I found the cultural differences thought-provoking. I think it is interesting that in the U.S. we seem to be more concerned with getting our coffee as fast as possible than we are about simply enjoying it. American homes have Mr. Coffees and Keurigs, because coffee – in the American mindset – is meant to be available immediately and imbibed quickly so that our precious stimulant that is caffeine may be absorbed. This is probably why the majority of Americans mispronounce espresso as eXpresso. In Bosnia waiters tell you to get lost if you drink your coffee too quickly (read the article and you’ll see what I mean). The coffee snobs out there struggle against this American need for immediate gratification with their emphasis on the need to take time making and enjoying coffee.
I am a proponent of manual brewing, and I try to convert people to drinking real coffee. Yet, I think that there is a danger in making coffee an end in and of itself. Coffee is a great thing, and I am an advocate for the proliferation of good coffee. I fear though that many people in the specialty coffee scene have turned coffee into an ultimate goal. This is really ridiculous when you pause and think about it. Do you really want to devote your entire life to grinding beans and adding water to them?
I think many in the world of coffee snobbery can learn a lesson from Bosnian coffee culture. Coffee is great, but people are more important. Halevy says, “[In Bosnia] You never prepare coffee only for yourself; even if you are alone at home; you will always prepare enough coffee for another person just in case a friend drops by” (22). I think this is a good practice. When I think about my journey into drinking real coffee, it was all about people. My affinity for coffee correlates directly to my friendships with people that love coffee.
So, I encourage you to drink some coffee with friends soon. Think about the things in your life that consume your thoughts (and budget). Are they worthwhile? Do they deepen your friendships or estrange them? Take a break from all the things you think you need to do and spend time with people, and don’t let the means become ends.
Until later friends…
- Barista Magazine (The online version – “Bosnia” pg. 22-24)
- Bosnia-Herzegovina Tourism (If you visit Bosnia, set aside a couple hours for coffee)