As most of you know, I recently spent a week in Croatia, in Zagreb. I used to live there a hundred years ago. It was there that I learned to love coffee, strong, thick Turkish coffee with the grounds at the bottom of the cup. It’s still my favorite. I can’t go to Croatia and not think of coffee, and not take every opportunity to partake. Since that time, coffee has always been much more to me than just a caffeine fix. Coffee is a ritual, a symbol of hospitality, friendship, creativity, laughter and all that makes our connection with each other such an important part of our lives. For in introvert, that’s sometimes a difficult connection to make. Coffee definitely makes it easier.
When I was in Zagreb this time, I was reminded once again of just how much of a ritual sharing coffee still is. Croats can linger over coffee for ages. It’s an art form. It’s a national treasure. It’s a way of making time for what matters in a world that doesn’t do that nearly often enough. That ritual was one of the first things I learned when I came to Zagreb all those years ago, long before I learned my way around, long before I learned the language. A part of being welcomed into anyone’s home was always the serving of coffee poured from a jezma into demitasse cups. To this day it just feels wrong to drink coffee from a paper cup.
Sitting in the sun on the terrace of a coffee shop near St. Catherine Square taking in the city below, I found myself listening to people chatting over coffee. I felt a sense of continuity, something unbroken that connects me to the girl I was, the girl who came here so many years ago. When I met friends and made new friends it was over coffee, coffee that we lingered over, coffee made all the better for the laughter and the good company.
There are many things that connect me to those years in Zagreb. There are some memories that hurt bone deep even now. But there are so many more that make me smile, make me so glad for my time there. That coffee tradition is one that I took with me, a ritual that evolved and changed became my own wherever I’ve lived since.
I dated my husband over coffee in Croatia – long lingering cups of strong coffee with whipped cream. We still have quality time over coffee – cold brew now, or Italian mocha. My early mornings are always best with coffee in hand before I set down to write. I equate coffee with opening the creative gateways inside me. I equate coffee with preparation for amazing things.
On the long cross-country walks Raymond and I have done, no matter the weather, we always carried a flask of coffee. I equate coffee with sitting on the top of a high fell admiring the breathtaking view below with a biscuit and a shared cuppa.
I equate coffee with quality time spent with my sister, who has always loved coffee. Even when we Skype, I make sure to have coffee at the ready so we can share that experience, even if we are half a world apart. Come to think of it, I equate coffee with quality time spent with many of my good friends. The two seem to go hand in hand.
I equate coffee with quality reading time stolen in quiet coffee shops. In those times I make it a point to embrace the Croatian practice of lingering, making my Americano last as long as possible so I can steal just a few more minutes lost in a good book.
Friends, laughter, conversation, creativity, love, adventure – coffee has come to be associated with all of those things in my life. For me there are no coffees to go, no coffees gulped mindlessly. There are other drinks for that, but never coffee. It’s not a drink to be rushed. It’s an experience to be savored, an experience rooted in memory at the heart of me. A week in Zagreb brought it all home to me again – something that is so much a part of my life, something that is one of the best gift I took away from those years in Croatia – not the coffee itself, but the depth and the vibrancy of what it represents to an entire culture and what it has come to represent in my every day life.