Blog by Adventure Travel Writer/ Photographer Breanna Wilson
Brewing coffee isn’t just a morning habit, it’s a way to connect with people – even if they aren’t coffee drinkers.
During my travels around the world I’ve eaten, drank, and been offered just about anything and everything you could imagine. Sheep’s eyeball, anyone? Or, maybe you’re more of a fermented mare’s milk (in Mongolia it’s known as airag) kind of guy or gal.
No matter how tame or unexpected the offer, these are always the experiences I remember. These are the ones that have stuck with me for their hilarious results, the awkward moments that turned into bonding experiences, and the connections built that were deeper and faster than I’ve ever been able to establish any other way. Quite simply, it’s my trick to integrating into a culture quickly and – usually – without fail. Sometimes at my stomach’s expense. (Sorry about that, body.)
Connecting over culinary traditions is also my way of sharing in a culture without having to share a common language. Through body signals and miming, you can get across just about anything you need to, no matter where in the world you are. Especially when you do something as simple as put out your hand and offer something to someone. It’s funny how we’re all so concerned about not speaking a language when we travel because there’s one universal language we all share. And that’s food.
And I don’t just mean food food. I include drinks in this category, as well.
How many rituals can you think of that revolve around food? There are plenty. Religious, daily, or otherwise. Or around drinking something. There’s a reason we all have a word for “cheers” in our respective cultures, after all.
But that’s even complicating things. Because many of us wake up around the world and do the same thing – we drink something. Water. Coffee. Tea. Hot water. Something. There is always something. Which I’ve found to be the best time of day to interact with people.
These morning moments are the ones I cherish. When I can get mom before the kids wake up. Before dad hurries off to find his herd. Before the noise of the world kicks up. Before phones start ringing and our attention is pulled in a hundred different directions.
So, whether I’m driving through the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, or fueling my overland car build out in Georgia (the country), or somewhere closer to home, these are the lessons I’ve learned on the road on how to connect over coffee.
Drink Local Milk
Like, straight from the goat (or camel or horse!), local. Ok, maybe we don’t always need to go that local, but try to drink whatever is locally resourced, made, or simply available when possible. Who said your morning coffee couldn’t be a culinary adventure of its own?
Look at it this way. How lucky are we to open our fridge and BOOM, milk is there ready to drink. Some women around the world wake up with the sun every day of their lives to provide this resource to their families.
Plus, chances are, if you really want to integrate yourself into a local culture, helping with this morning chore will be much appreciated.
Share the Love, and Your Love of Coffee
In some cultures, coffee isn’t their morning cup of choice. (Gasp, I know!) Especially when clean drinking water isn’t readily available, usually leaving them to drink what is available – milk from their herds. For example, Mongolian nomadic herders drink milk tea (tsai) more than they drink water, which they barely drink at all.
So, when you’re in a place where the culture is to drink tea or something else, share the brewing love. Offer up a pressure brewed cup of coffee to your host or local friends or simply brew them an espresso to try. It’s an opportunity to bond with and have a cultural exchange that you can both enjoy.
In these cases, just be sure to filter your water first – access to clean drinking water isn’t a luxury that remote cultures around the world share.
An Empty Cup is An Opportunity for a Full Cup
No matter what time of day it is, someone is always drinking something. Tea, coffee, water, compote or juice, or maybe something a little stronger. Don’t be afraid to put out your cup and partake – the result will always be a full cup.
Bring your Brew with You
When you want to mingle with the locals, but maybe you’re on a budget or you just prefer your own coffee because the local culture prefers something else, simply bring your brew with you. Doing this shows you want to be a part of the morning together while still allowing you to politely decline their morning drink of choice.
You can still share the meal in front of you, ask questions about what the other is drinking and participate without wanting to lose your mind because they simply don’t drink coffee the way most of us do – attached to an IV going directly into our veins (kidding, kind of).