Thursday, September 1, 2011

Not Your Average Joe

 I have discovered Cambodian coffee with a fury; I feel an addiction coming on. Until this point I had sipped coffee here politely in cafes, clinking the ice cubes in my simi-strong brew that arrives in a tall, sweaty glass. But little did I know that that stuff is not Cambodian coffee. Flagging after a long day dealing with visas and work yesterday, I decided to delve into the world of street coffee to discover it is as thick and grungy as it sounds. On my way back to the dorm from work, I squawked at my tuk tuk driver a request to pull over when a beverage pushcart came into view. As stops are par for the course here, he pulled over and patiently waited as I timidly strolled over to a Cambodian lady in a massive straw sunhat. "One coffee?" I entreated, not sure if she'd understand. She squinted at me hard, nodded and set about mixing the drink. She dumped enough sugar to bake a cake with into a plastic cup then cracked open a re-purposed water bottle with something black lurking inside. She then commenced to pour into my cup a mixture that looks closest to what I imagine a cocktail of tar, diesel petrol and Kahlua to look like. It reluctantly sloped into my cup which was filled not even half way with the stuff. My barista then shoveled chipped ice into the vacant space, slapped a top on and demand 1,000 Cambodian Riel. I happily gave her the equivalent to 25 cents and made off with my brew. Upon returning to the tuk tuk I plunged my orange straw into the bosom of the lid and took my first sip. The taste was electric. It was the most shockingly wonderful thing to ever pass through  a straw. It was thick and rich and I had to remind myself that there was in fact no alcohol in it, so intense was the bite. A few sips gave me a physical jolt so I savored the cold drink the whole ride home, nursing it slowly least an excess send me into heart failure or a diabetic coma. I watched the shack and stalls go by as we dodged speeding motos, dogs and children. Drinking my newfound beverage of choice I remembered a whole different world. It reminded me of a Turkish proverb painted above a coffee shop register in Chattanooga, Tenneessee. Coffee, the Turkish and evidently Chattanoogans say, should be
Black as Hell,
Strong as Death,
Sweet as Love.
Given my experience here thus far this is an apt saying; an appropriate mixture. The death that screamed so loudly in S-21 and the love that I feel every day from the young people who fill my life are certainly defining elements in my time here thus far. I wouldn't say Hell has anything to do with being here though the dregs of my coffee are certainly very, very black and it was Hell to see the bottom of my cup.


John said...

There's an awesome coffeehouse in the StL that has a similar quote supposedly from Ethiopia. I like the sentiment a lot.

That coffee is delicious, and I'm still trying to figure out the difference between Vietnamese and Kampuchean coffee (right now operating on VC having condensed milk instead of the truckload of sugar in KC). Either way, fantastic addiction, and the ice is a godsend.

I just ran into your blog, so I need to scroll back and check out your S-21 post, but I feel for you. Cara and I strolled around there and I couldn't talk for pretty much the whole visit. It was painful.

E in Atlanta said...


Steppe Up said...

JOHN! Glad you found me. :-)

I'd love to hear about your adventures in Cambodia. I'm sure you did a lot fueled on their coffee.

Yeah S-21 was rough. I'm thinking going by yourself a day after you've arrived is a bad idea. Oh the lessons we learn.

Hope all is well with you and Miss Cara!

Linda Davick said...

I loved reading about that coffee!