Scandinavia doesn’t know shit about coffee, but they sure can design a cracker.*
seriously. it wasn’t until Utrecht (a beautiful town, although one does get the feeling that one might get disappeared into the canal by some secret police if one hung about too long) that i had a half-decent espresso,** and it wasn’t for lack of trying. (mind, we skirted France entirely, and only spent a day in Italy, holed up in a squatted vegan villa [aptly named Villa Vegan] drinking homemade liqueurs)
i fared much better during my post-tour sojourn in London, where two (potentially significant) things happened: 1) i enjoyed coffee with milk in it, 2) i enjoyed a coffee that was not espresso-based.
as to the first item, although i now and then will order a macchiato, this is usually a gesture of appeasement to my body that sometimes quails at the thought of unadulterated espresso; milk in coffee kind of makes me gag, but what are you gonna do? quite inexplicably, however, the flat white (an Australian import, increasingly popular in London, that is almost indistinguishable from a latte), which i tried only out of a sense of obligation to cultural literacy, was actually quite to my tastes. rest assured that i will never mention this again, because there is basically nothing more tiresome than publicly pining for a voguish coffee product that one tasted in a larger more cosmopolitan city.
as to the second, while i acknowledge that coffee does not always need to be bitter, robust, and impenetrably black, my experiences with pour-over, even prepared by the most well-meaning and adept acolytes of the new coffee culture (can we call it “haute drip”? ‘cos i’m gonna) have historically left me feeling like i was still just drinking weak coffee/warm water. at my London host’s urging, however, i stopped by Monmouth and ended up trying their Finca la Mina, which had an amazing brightness and almost lime-like freshness; even from a french press, as we were to drink it later, i couldn’t help appreciating it as a real beverage in itself. it was like a really good tea that kind of tasted like coffee, or perhaps, ultimately, like coffee as it is meant to be appreciated. i don’t know if i’ll go out of my way to find a really nice roast and start drinking coffee in this manner again, but it was a welcome interruption of my private conviction (an impression rapidly ossifying into a prejudice) that all coffee could or should be dichotomized into either espresso or some form of watered-down espresso.
funny that i can come back from London saying “oh, the beer was boring but the coffee was really good.”
* the cracker pictured here admittedly tasted like poppy seeds, cardboard, and dust, but that was more or less what i expected it to taste like. i considered that a success, however bitter, bland and dry (i insist it was both bitter and bland.). what was actually delicious though, and may well be inching up on the croissant as my new favourite pastry, was the frøsnapper – a twisted length of puff pastry with an almost imperceptible smear of marzipan (which i generally dislike, but this was so slight as to merely suggest, rather than proclaim, its presence) within, topped with a mix of poppy, sesame, and flax seeds. i fail to understand why the pastry of the frøsnapper was so masterfully turned whereas all the croissants i tried in Denmark were miserable, but perhaps it has something to do with a technical and symbolic diss of the French, whilst exalting the Danish? (that Danish pastries, aka wienerbrød, may actually be Austrian, and that this attribution is probably apocryphal, are irrelevant. it just demonstrates the weird and uneven ways by which nations materialize themselves as such). i also tried one from a 7-11, and it was surprisingly good, save that it had way too much marzipan and was clearly made with shortening in lieu of butter, and consequently left a sick film on the inside of my mouth, not unlike one of those honey buns from the dep.
** although they too served it to me in a paper cup, which i hate. in part because i am convinced that it tastes different, and because i rail spiritually against the idea of a world where people are in such a rush that they need to take an espresso to go.