Sitting in my hotel's dining room this morning in Bordeaux, France, watching residents drink impossibly small espressos, I likely gave an audible sigh of relief when my server offered me a large coffee. I'm not sure if it was my North American accent that tipped her off to the fact that a) I had no idea how to operate the complicated looking coffee machine that seemed to result in only two ounces of a dark sticky liquid being dispensed or b) the bags under my eyes that threatened to pack themselves up at any moment if they did not get an adequate shot of caffeine. Nonetheless, I was grateful and offered up my own mercy merci.
As I lifted the relatively humongous coffee cup to my lips, I paused to think about the "re-sizing" of the Tim Horton's coffee cup which was just announced in Canada last week. A "small" coffee would now be a "medium," and they would resize their way right up to the coveted "extra-large" (with most opting for the infamous "double double"; if you don't mind -- we're Canadian). Similarly, I had been travelling in Florida the week before, and a bucket sized cup of coffee was de rigueur at many a fast food road stop in the Supersize Me United States as well.
What made me pause as I sipped my treasured brew was that while the size of the coffee cup was infinitesimal here in France, the amount of time enjoying and appreciating the coffee was in direct opposition to the gulping down, on-the-road, style of coffee drinking that we do back home. Europeans are known for lingering over their Lilliputian coffees while we slam our Big Boy Brew in the minivan's plastic cup holder and gulp it down en route to the ubiquitous hockey arena or road trip up north.
The larger the coffee, it seemed to me, the less time spent actually enjoying not only the beverage, but the experience of having the caffeine wash over you; a restart button at any point in the day.
Travelling through France several years ago, my husband and I searched high and low on a French highway to find a 'to go' coffee. Spotting a roadside stand, I walked past many people just sitting enjoying their coffee -- imagine sitting and enjoying, when you could be driving. I ordered deux café... plus lids? The French do not know what coffee lids are -- I offer that up to you as pertinent travel advice. Ah well, the dark thick liquid sat only half way up the cup so it would surely not spill out of our rental van cup holders at any rate. If our minivan had come installed with cup holders. It did not.
Clearly, coffee 'to go', let alone 'to let go' in a minivan cup holder was not going anywhere here.
Now, as I hastily drink my own large coffee in a room full of teeny-cupped espresso drinkers, I have to remind myself that it's not the destination we North Americans have to worry about. Sometimes it's the fuel of inspiration and reflection that gets us there.
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