A Travellerspoint blog


Five Best and Worst Coffee Experiences

sunny -1 °C

I love coffee! Check out this rundown of five experiences, good and bad, that sum up my relationship with the beautiful bean...

5. Best - Coffee outdoors

Coffee on Curracloe Beach, Ireland 2008

Coffee on the Seine gazing at the Eiffel Tower, 2001

While the arrival of summer may make many people think of sport and adventure activities, I have to say sunshine - much like cold or wet weather - generally just makes me want to sit around! With the possible exception of beers in the open, there's no better way to do this than to grab a coffee and sit outside and watch the world go by. You can do this equally well with friends or by yourself with a iPod and something to read, and it's a pastime you can set up in seconds almost anywhere in the world (see no. 2).

4. Worst - The corporate Starbucks counter

(Photo: hartini)

I have nothing against Starbucks per se: in fact I find it quite tasty, especially Pike Place brewed coffee. Moreover, in some parts of the world it's the best coffee going (see no. 2). But some of their mini-counters within corporate buildings don't have any brew coffee - at least not in Ireland - and instead they just sell pretty insipid americanos, lattes, espressos etc. Needless to say, the effect of joining a lukewarm espresso shot with searingly hot water does not produce nice coffee. Plus in place of a nice coffee smell, the counter will probably stink of vanilla, yuck.

3. Best - Coffee at the cinema

(Photo: Anubisis)

Generally, most representations of the cinema involve people going to see a film in the evening. And that's great, but if you ask me the best time to go to the cinema is during the day, a weekday if you can. The theater will most likely be empty, so you can slouch into your seat in whichever way seems best to you and while away the afternoon in a complete daydream. Essential to this experience is a good strong coffee. One of the first times I moonlighted as a film critic in Dublin I was allowed to bring in my coffee - with china cup and saucer, no less - into the movie, which the IFI doesn't allow regular patrons to do. A great way to start the day!

2. Worst - Coffee in China

The worst thing about coffee in China is, well, there is no coffee in China. Picture a two-horse town where there's only bad, weak, lukewarm instant coffee for sale - if you can even find it - and then multiply that by like 100 million: that's China. Unlike in normal times when Starbucks is the fall-back option, if you are in a metropolitan center of China that has a foreign population large enough to sustain a coffee house, you jump at the chance to drink one - look how ridiculously happy I am in this photo!



We did have an Italian stove-top coffee pot in our apartment in remote east China (above), thanks only to my wife's foresight and my personal importation of same. If that place had burned, I would have left everything except my coffee pot! If that sounds a bit extreme, I once paid about $13 for a quite small cup of real-ish coffee in Hangzhou International Airport - and you know what, it was worth it!

1. Best - American brewed coffee


When it comes to stereotypes about coffee, most will probably picture an artsy cafe in France or Italy complete with fresh baguettes and outdoor seating. As nice as that does sound to me, it's not the best in the world: American coffee is. This is simply a question of method - the filter process just makes better coffee, period. I don't know why espresso-based coffees are considered gourmet and are served in fancy restaurants and hotels around the world when regular brewed coffee tastes way better.

And best of all, it comes in plentiful quantities - no frantic looking around to catch the waiter's eye in order to pay again for a second cup here! My favorites include Seattle's Best, Flying Star (a cafe chain unique to New Mexico) and Dunkin' Donuts, but almost anything that isn't Folgers will generate a delicious brew. In fact, until next time dear readers, I'm going to go make a fresh pot right now...

Posted by BillLehane 12:06 Archived in USA Tagged food Comments (8)

An Intercultural Christmas

Two kinds of Indian in one day

semi-overcast 2 °C

'An Eagle Ceremony At Tesuque Pueblo' by Gustav Baumann, 1932

A few days before Christmas my friend Paul, a videojournalist from Dublin, commented that if I had been told a year ago that in 12 months' time I would be married and living in America, I would have laughed.

To this quite true observation I added the fact that on that day last year, I was getting ready to take my then girlfriend, now wife Megan to an Irish family Christmas in Rathfarnham, Dublin. A year later and I was getting ready to celebrate Christmas Day at a dance and feast day at a Native American Pueblo!

And so it was, very enjoyably so indeed. Myself, Megan and my mother-in-law Patricia glided up a near-empty Interstate 25 past the snow-dusted Sandias from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. By the time we got there, notwithstanding our final destination of a feast, we were already in need of some lunch.

As our server noted on our way out, it was the only restaurant aside from fast food and Starbucks that was open in Santa Fe on Christmas Day. The funny part was that it was an Indian restaurant - as in New Delhi, Calcutta and Mother Teresa. While the buffet lunch was delicious, the stop was especially worth it for the even more delicious double entendre!

Suitably stuffed, we trailed down the 285 past some spectacular snowy scenes to Tesuque Pueblo. We first met some very helpful Tribal Police who guided us to our hosts. There we found an adobe dwelling that was just like any other American home on the inside.

We were treated to some tasty posole and other local treats too spicy for this writer, as well as some more familiar turkey. Five minutes later, and we were joined by the same two policemen, who sat down to eat and were quite fascinated to be in the company of an Irishman! We traded questions about international and Native American cultures in a very friendly and equitable exchange - what could be more in the spirit of Christmas!


The dance we saw was the Deer Dance - as represented by the figures on the right of this old postcard (credit). While it was brief, we were quiet glad to get in out of the sub-zero temperatures. The only drawback of the day was not being able to visit the church within the square of the pueblo - innocently, it was just closing, but perhaps it was not a great omen for Christmas Day!

Our trip was bookended by two more conventional celebrations that combined with Christmas Day to create a very enjoyable holiday season - drinks in at our new place on Christmas Eve with our friend William, and food with family for what I still know as St Stephen's Day at Megan's aunt Jane's house.

So until we meet again in the new decade, dear readers, consider that the Christmas spirit can be found and enjoyed in the most unexpected of places. Happy New Year from New Mexico!

Posted by BillLehane 17:18 Archived in USA Tagged postcards Comments (3)

A Home At The End Of The Madness

Cosy and warm in snowy New Mexico

snow 2 °C


Hi folks. Well, it has been a long time since my last entry. Which is surprising since during this hiatus, I have been working less than I have at any time since July 1999. I figure this since I have been either in full-time education or full-time employment - often 1.5 of these - for pretty much all of the last decade.

Nonetheless I have not been idle: a small and - believe me - painstakingly generated string of offshore freelance writing and copy editing jobs; house cleaning, housesitting and petsitting; gathering paperwork for a Green Card; as well as expanding my website have all kept me busy over the past few months. Add to that the fact that myself and Megan have moved four times since September, and have lived out or half-out of a suitcase for most of that time, the amazing generosity of Megan's relatives notwithstanding.

To my great delight, the trunking has come to an end with the beautiful new pad (pictured above) we've got ourselves in the student district of Albuquerque, New Mexico. We chose it because it's more classic bungalow than modern stack apartment - the perfect home for two writers, in other words. Moreover, we have significantly more space than we did in Dublin - the fridge is comfortably four times larger, for example - and we have significantly more ways to use our space than we did in China. There it was a case of 'this room is unbearably hot and has no aircon', 'that room has a live bat circling in it', you get the idea.

We've already had the chance to celebrate with a small but hearty Housewarming, and have especially benefited from the good nature of friends, relatives and Freecycle to fill what is, unusually for me at least, an unfurnished home. Now we can be snug for the snowy winter and continue to have fun with the considerable range of things there are to be enjoyed around Albuquerque, except now largely on foot or via surprisingly cheap public transport.

Before you go, dear readers, have a peaceful and happy holiday season. And do check out the sister blog post to this one, 'A Home At The End Of The Randomers', in which I documented the diverse range of lodgings I held around Dublin town during the bulk of the noughties. At this end, I'm thinking that the warm glow of a happy new home is one of life's great feelings :-)

Posted by BillLehane 18:41 Archived in USA Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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