Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cuppa' Caribbean Joe

The DR is a coffee producing country. For most of my life I drank tea and then somewhere (i.e. grad school) I began drinking coffee. I love coffee. I was very much looking forward to being in a coffee producing country. But alas, my coffee journey has not turned out to be exactly what I had expected (silly expectations).

But first, some back story. When we first learned we would be posted to Santo Domingo and we read about the frequent power outages we decided to go power free and switched to a French press. That was step one in the major coffee transformation. There was no going back - the coffee just tasted so much fresher and fuller. Then, we decided to invest in a little grinder (yes, it requires electricity, so we kind of balanced out in the end). We came to love, love, love grinding our own coffee. It all seemed like it would work out so perfectly.

The French press and grinder had won the coveted spot of suitcase transport (over HHE and UAB) for the very reason that we would have, above all else, perfect Dominican coffee brewing within hours of arrival. We arrived and went shopping. Imagine our shock that we weren't able to find whole bean coffee. We decided that we might have to shop around a bit, but settled on the Santo Domingo Coffee (the Dominican favorite in a simple red and white bag). We brewed our first cup and our hearts sank in disappointment. It tasted burned and stale.

I then began my journey to find whole bean coffee. Store after store resulted in dead ends. Finally, I learned that the Embassy store was selling some through a Peace Corps volunteer project. We tried it. It was good. We were happy. But, inevitably, we would run out and find it to be a hassle to go to the Embassy for more (parking, traffic, store hours). We debated our next steps. This went on for months. Then, one night, after dinner at our neighbor's house we were served coffee. Rich, smooth, chocolaty coffee. Perfect. "What kind is this!?" I asked. "Oh, just the Santo Domingo," was the reply. I couldn't believe my ears or taste buds. What had happened? How could I like something that I had hated merely months ago?

I was tempted to try that ground, stale, super-cheap stuff again, but couldn't quite bring myself to do it despite the positive experience I had had that night. And, I still really wanted to hold out for whole bean...and then again, it was so good that night. I just couldn't make up my mind. I bought more of the Embassy kind. Then last week we decided on a whim to try out a grocery store we hadn't been to before. We strolled through the less than fabulous, slightly rundown aisles and sub-edible, fly-filled produce section thinking it would be our last trip. Then, I saw a clerk pouring whole bean coffee into a grinder. Jeremy and I looked at each other and scrambled to see where it had come from. There, in the midst of the produce section was not one, but two kinds of local whole bean coffee. And just days later we are floating on a sea of island, caffeine satisfaction.

We don't drink it like the Dominicans (very, very strong, black, in tiny cups and with tons of sugar), but we are converts. Or, reverts…or something. It's strange, we had tried Dominican coffee back home and liked it, but I was once told during my coffee search that what stays here isn't as good because the best stuff is exported. Now I think it's just a matter of taste. It's that view of what's normal. It's the acquired taste of things. Either way, it seems like another way in which we just keep discovering and that never gets old. Reminds me of why we do this.


  1. I've heard the same thing about the produce in Hermosillo. They only sell the American-rejects at the local stores leaving some rather poor quality stuff.