Java Enabled: Have Coffee, Will Travel

One of the things I love most about travel is getting the chance to try new cafés. (As I wrote last week, some coffee aficionados base entire trips on this premise.) But even when your travels won't lead you to some undiscovered java gem, you might not want to sacrifice the comfort and security of a good cup of coffee.

I found myself in this very position over the Fourth of July when I was on holiday with my extended family. Food has always been very important to my family, but this affection had never really found its way to coffee. Coffee was always brewed before dinner was served -- before the salad was plated -- and then sat idly by while we finished the meal (and maybe an argument). Decaf was the lingua franca, but never flavored.

However, there have been high points of coffee sophistication. Remember when there weren't Starbucks on every corner? While the closing of 600 underperforming stores might have stolen the chain's thunder, there was a time when its coffee was coveted, especially here in the Midwest. An uncle in Seattle used to ship my grandparents pounds of the dark-roasted beans, and they would present them to dinner guests with an air of "Starbucks proudly served here."

click to enlarge The Omaha skyline - User "Mawhamba," Wikimedia Commons
User "Mawhamba," Wikimedia Commons
The Omaha skyline
This time, though, we were at another aunt and uncle's, a lake house outside Omaha, Nebraska. I don't want to undersell the coffee scene in Omaha, but let's be honest: The city's not exactly known for java. Yet another one of my uncles (there are ten brothers and sisters on my father's side, so there's going to be a lot of family here -- try to keep up) recently became a devotee of coffee from Northwest Coffee Roasting Company and had brought several pounds for the long weekend. At any given time, there were about fifteen people having breakfast every morning and somewhere closer to twenty for dinner. To say the least, we drank a lot of coffee.

I applauded my uncle's foresight in bringing reliably good coffee on vacation. For most, coffee is a central part of the daily routine. Why leave that to chance? Plus, you're on vacation to enjoy yourself. Why not indulge in something as simple as your favorite coffee? Whole-bean coffee is already packed and ready to go. Try a cup at a local place -- maybe you'll discover something great -- but have a contingency plan. What's the worst that could happen? You leave your host with a nice parting gift.

But the coffee my uncle brought did more than satisfy my taste -- it became a topic of conversation. As I said above, coffee had never caught my family's attention, but now, for some reason, everyone was abuzz about it. Breakfast was almost more about the coffee than the food, and when I learned that my cousin had become a coffee-drinker, it connected us in subtle, silent equality.

But this isn't a post so much about family vacations as it is about how food -- or, in this case, coffee -- can bring a group of people together. I was proud of my uncle for bringing "the good coffee," allowing the rest of the family to experience a quality cup.

Zach Dyer is a writer living in Saint Louis. He did his thesis research on coffee farmers in Southern Mexico. Since then, he has visited coffee plantations in Costa Rica and Mexico as well as roasters and cafés across the U.S. He blogs about coffee for Gut Check every Wednesday.
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