They say the great affair is to move. That discovery and expansion, both in and out of ourselves, happens in our leaving. With travel we are made soft and more attune to the flickering of new dreams. So, when life calls you to move, you must dance. I can trace all of my own swaying across four different cities with four cups of coffee, each sweetened with wonder.
My first cup I had was soon after I watched my parents at the table for breakfast in Riyadh. They had just brewed themselves a fresh pot and warmed a few bread rolls in the oven. Pan de Sal, they're called in the Philippines. My mum tore one in half, slipped in a thick cut of cold butter. She'd fold it shut and dip the roll into her coffee. She repeated the ritual, again and again, distracted by a newspaper. I watched her for a while then looking up from her paper, she sensed my curiosity. She tore another one open. Cut butter, fold shut. After I had a bite, I was ruined. I was five years old. Mornings after that, the two cups on the table turned to three and mine would be the one still half-full at the end of breakfast.
It wasn’t until some time after, I stayed in Northern Spain, a small town called Jaca, that I started straight drinking the stuff. Until then, it featured to my first love, bread. But in Jaca, I had it every morning and often in bars in the afternoons with savoury croquettes. These cups were something else. Heavy, sexy. The flavours were bold, like eyes locked after a slow lean in kind of bold. How Spanish! One breakfast, our coffee was served with biscuits and as ritual, I slathered it with jam and dipped. The oils and sugars swirling on its dark skin. A Spanish friend watching me, laughed, "How Spanish!" before dipping his own slathered biscuit.
A few years later during a visit to Manila, I learned my uncle would wake up long before the sun and disappear while the rest of us slept until breakfast. While I'd still be rubbing the sleep from my eyes, he’d come back beaming with two crumpled-shut paper bags of the chewiest Pan de Sal still hot from the oven. Filipino breakfasts are already about indulgence. Pickled beef, garlic fried rice, chopped tomatoes and green onions! Fried fish, corned beef and sunny side up eggs! Mangos and bananas from the yards for fresh smoothies, just add ice! But no matter the menu, there were always fresh buns served with a porcelain teacup on its saucer, all ready.
Now home in Toronto, I look for whole beans to grind and to use just for the day. The French press or the stovetop moka pot make me wait but I never mind. The time it takes to boil or steep is almost always enough time for my mind to settle into the new day. The slowness and the intention required to make something so early in the morning is a great teacher.
Travel teaches too and every time I look back, I see how I've opened or kept myself shut. People are bound to culture and each take time to decode. But the best thing about leaving is it calls attention to the all of the things that are the same. Travel underlines the things I’ll find in every city if I stay long enough like a great friend and a good cup of coffee.