The power of traditions: Turkish coffee vs. Nespresso

I love coffee…

With World Barista Champion, Raul Rodas in Guatemala

Now when I say I love coffee, I don’t mean I have an average addiction to a shot of caffeine in the morning- I mean I love everything about coffee. For example, I own five different coffee-making devices, I wrote a blog about coffee, I worked in cafes just to get access to top quality espresso machines, and I traveled to Central America to visit coffee farms and learn from the World Barista Champion. That’s what I mean by ‘love’. I mean study with passion.

I guess that’s why I can’t stand Nespresso machines. Okay, I get it, for just $100 you can have your own little countertop lamborghini, with capsules of all colours of the metallic rainbow, and it’s so damn easy. But it tastes like shit.
What really gets to me is that it’s all superficial image and no quality. Just think about it for a minute- Nescafe has never been known for quality beans, they are definitely not freshly ground, and the cheap machine doesn’t get anywhere near the 9 bar of pressure that top quality expresso machines must to extract the best flavours. How good could it be?
So if you like Nespresso- are you tasting the coffee or just savouring the latest fad?

Turkish coffee vendor in Istanbul

On the other side of the spectrum, the Turkish have this long tradition of coffee making. It’s not a fad. And it’s not quick. In fact, making a small cup of Turkish coffee takes a good five minutes of simmering over hot coals. It’s neither fast, nor super-sized. It’s just quality.

First coffee shop in Istanbul: 1554 (it’s a long tradition)

This exemplifies the difference between traditions and fads- quality, refinement, pride- coffee is just one example which happens to be meaningful to me. The same applies to food and drink in general: are you drinking to get wasted, or do you appreciate a fine wine?; is your preferred meal heavy in carbohydrates, sugar and salt to fill you up and inundate the tastebuds, or is the meal crafted to be balanced yet surprising?

This is not actually personal. Most of our food preferences come from our upbringing- we like what we know– so it makes a tremendous difference whether you come from a traditional culture such as Mediterranean Europe compared with the New World of the USA, Canada or Australia. I have witnessed debates between Spanish about exactly how tomatoes should be spread across fresh baguette to make pan con tomate, and actually had an Italian pizzeria owner refuse to mix olives and anchovies on the same pizza because “it would not be traditional”. Meanwhile, American burger joints are mixing everything they can to make the most innovative, fusion food imaginable. Somehow the original hamburger warped into a sushi-fondue-burgerette.

So it the traditional always better? No, of course not. Personally, I would choose Italian over American food six days of the week, but there’s always room for a good burger on Sundays. And there’s also a reason why America is the capital of innovation- it not only embraces, it celebrates the new, without loyalty to what has gone before. It’s definitely a two-sided coin. Ideally, as geo-arbitreurs we will pick and choose the best of the Old and New World. As the late great Leonard Cohen said,

“It’s coming to America first,
The cradle of the best and of the worst”