Throughout high school, I never touched a drop of alcohol because I lived in fear that addiction was like a man in a dark trench coat, stalking me, waiting for me to get off the well-lit sidewalk and step into an alley. I had seen that alley.Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi
My high school friends can attest: I did not touch a drop of alcohol in high school, just like Gifty from Transcendent Kingdom. And like Gifty, I knew what that alley looked like.
Because my dad was in it.
Like many children growing up with addiction in the home, I really didn’t understand it. I would get so angry at my dad for what I interpreted as “choosing” alcohol over his family. When I became a mouthy teenager, I would tell him just that. He’d shrug.
And speaking of mouthy teenagers, one of them, one day, slouched in the back of one of my English classes, listened as I (then an adult and the teacher) told my students about how I was a teetotaler. I didn’t touch alcohol. I’d never been drunk. This teenager — his name was John — shouts (shouts!), “WHAT A LOSER!” The class, myself included, burst into laughter. I couldn’t believe this kid! It took a hot minute to calm the class down after that. John reminded me a lot of my high school guy friends. They were always making fun of me, always trying to get me to drink. But I loved them. And I loved John, too. He is a great human with a good heart. And if not-drinking makes me a loser in the eyes of teenagers, I’m A-OK with that. Makes me chuckle just writing it. Sweet teenagers.
Sweet teenagers that certainly didn’t know my dad and his proclivity for alcohol.
My mom, though, didn’t touch the stuff. Her beverage of choice?
Coffee — cream, no sugar.
When I was 27, I lost my mom; at 34, my dad. Naturally, I find myself trying to stay connected with my parents in whatever ways I can.
So I drink.
Two cups a day — cream, no sugar. I still don’t touch the alcohol. My dad drank coffee every morning, too, without fail, so I do feel connected to both of my parents through my making-coffee-every-morning ritual. I have fond and bittersweet memories of drinking coffee with both my mom and my dad. My mom — on her balcony in Sunnyvale, CA. My dad — out in his front yard on old camping chairs. My mom — when she was sick and staying in our guest room in Florida. I’d bring our steaming cups into her room and sit next to her as she sipped in bed. My dad — when he was in the hospice unit at the Palo Alto VA Hospital. One day a week, his floor would get the Keurig machine, and I’d take a couple of mugs I had grabbed from his house and fill them with the finest K-cup coffee. We’d sit together and look out his window at the mountains.
So it’s coffee for me, and now I live in the coffee belt here in Quito. I know my parents would be thrilled. But when I first got here, I was dismayed to learn that Ecuadorians don’t tend to drink much coffee, and the coffee they do drink is (it’s difficult even to utter…) instant coffee.
Whaaaaat? I was not expecting that. We have access to world-renowned, award-winning coffee here. Search “Ecuador” on coffeereview.com, and nearly 40 results come back with coffees scoring 90 points or above. And yet it’s fairly common in a restaurant to be brought hot water or milk with a little container of instant coffee, instant barley drink (cebado en polvo, I’m told to make your coffee “fuerte“), and sugar.
I had great expectations of cute little local coffee shops run by Quito hipsters or families who’ve been in the coffee business for generations lining the streets here. That is not the case.
Enter my friend Dion. Dion is a human who appreciates coffee. And he lives in Quito! He buys from a local coffee farmer in Playa Rica, roasts at the Perla Negra Farm, and bags it up in his own home here in the city (conveniently, he lives only a couple blocks away from me). His “Dos Hemisferios” single-origin coffee scores over 80, which makes it a specialty coffee (which simply translates to a great cuppa).
And a great cuppa is what I’m after. More good news is that since moving here, I have found some cute coffee shops with delicious coffee. Last week, two friends took me to Cafe Traviesa in Cumbaya for my birthday. Just today, my family and I were walking through a (ritzier) part of the city we hadn’t been before, and I saw quite a few cute coffee shops (Kofi Time, Cafe Europa, Pulcinella, Magic Bean — all on Avenida Repulica de El Salvador). Things are looking up.
Now I just need to learn how to order. The last time I tried to order a coffee with cream (what I would normally call half and half), I got coffee . . . with whipped cream on top. Whoops. The boys got to enjoy that.
I’ve learned that if you want to drink like the locals, it’ll most likely be instant and maybe with some barley powder. But just go to a different part of the city, and you’ll find your cute coffee shops. All is not lost.
So maybe I am a coffee-drinking loser, but I sure do love my life. And now that I have great coffee at home (thanks, Dion) and am finding more and more coffee shops that serve good quality drip coffee and espresso (read: not hot milk with a jar of instant granules), life is even better. Call it an addiction if you will, but I love my two cups of coffee a day.
And if some sketchy, trench-coat-wearing dude appears and starts beckoning me to the coffee alley, I’d probably go.