How I traded my pumpkin spiced latte for Turkish ground coffee:
I was never a coffee drinker, until I came to Croatia that is. I never fully understood America’s Starbucks obsession and only really started to drink coffee in college. I would force myself to drink half a cup when studying, while enduring the jitters and restless nights.
Things have changed. I write this now while sipping a cup of Turkish coffee, which I now can’t imagine my mornings in Croatia without.
Coffee, cigarettes and cafes are the building blocks of Croatian culture. From Dubrovnik’s antique Old City to the funky streets of Zagreb, coffee culture truly embodies the relaxed and social mentality in Croatia. Not only have I acquired a taste for coffee, the culture has taught me to take time to relax, let go, and sit still.
The role coffee plays in American culture could not be more different. In the United States, coffee is associated with productivity. Most people get coffee to go while heading to work or school. The others that actually stay bring their laptops with headphones to catch up on work. Especially in Chicago, local coffee shops are filled with people in their own worlds, working individually.
The times in America I had coffee with someone else it was almost always work related. I’ve had several interviews, meetings, and study sessions over coffee, but rarely to socialize. Though it’s common to say “let’s grab coffee sometime”, it’s usually a way to initiate a friendship instead of maintaining one. I never went out for coffee with any of my close friends, instead we would go out for drinks, food, or do something active. Rarely do you see people relaxing in coffee shop for hours, and those that do are what we call hipsters.
In contrast, coffee in Croatia is associated with leisurely socializing. No matter the season, the weather, or the day, people can sit for hours with a cappuccino in hand at a local café. Bars become engulfed with hazy smog as people alternate between sipping and burning through cigarettes. Locals chat for hours, but aren’t uncomfortable when conversation runs silent.
Even in the home, coffee is the first thing offered during the morning or afternoons. My boyfriend’s mom is always inviting her friends over for a coffee, as a way of catching up with close friends. It seems Turkish coffee is most always served, which may taste like dirt for anyone accustomed to caramel Macchiatos. Not only is the coffee much stronger in Croatia than in America, it actually tastes like coffee, not some sugar-free venti extra-whip soy milk vanilla latte.
Drinking coffee is not the hard part for me anymore; it’s learning to actually sit still. Though some Croatians trade tea or juice for coffee, everyone is seemingly comfortable sitting for hours on end. I once had coffee with five of my Croatian friends and after sitting for a half hour I asked, “So, what’s next?” They all looked confused. “What do you mean what is next? Just this.”
Even for Europe, I would say Croatia moves at a leisurely pace. People seem to be generally happier with a simpler lifestyle and coffee and cigarettes go hand-in-hand with this mentality. Coming from an action-packed life in Chicago where I was always moving, it’s taken a lot of getting used to. At times, Croatia’s slower pace has driven me to near insanity, where I feel like days will easily slip away from me without getting anything done.
But the culture here has also made me reflect on my own. In America, we use coffee as a catalyst to fuel our obsession with productivity. Even if we actually sit for a coffee, our phones are buzzing and beeping, while we are half listening to our friend, and half going over our daily to-do list. We often are always thinking about what’s next, without looking at what’s in front of us. It then all transforms into internal noise. I see this mentality, still, deeply engrained in myself.
Perhaps America can learn a thing or two from Croatia. I respect the mentality of slowing down, blocking out the chaos, and truly enjoying the company of another. Maybe coffee should be less about doing work and more about being present with the moment. Perhaps our problem is that no one has time to slow down and listen.
However, Croatia hasn’t completely changed me. I still will never smoke cigarettes. I will always choose being outdoors on a beautiful day over sitting in a café. But I’ll gladly trade a pumpkin spiced latte for a simple Turkish ground coffee any day.
Alexandra Schmidt, also known as The Mindful Mermaid, is a globetrotting writer and travel blogger, who finds her self always coming back to Dubrovnik. She was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota and later moved to Chicago to study at Loyola University. She first came to Dubrovnik when she studied at Dubrovnik International University, and has returned to Dubrovnik several times since. She’s a mermaid-obsessed yogi, who passes her time playing guitar, exploring the great outdoors, and planning her next adventure. To find out more about Alex, you can visit her website or Facebook page.