Feb 19, 2009

How to make cowboy coffee

If you ever travel to Chinese cities outside of Beijing and Shanghai, the so-called second- and third-tier cities, this is a useful video. It's a little clip on how to make "Cowboy Coffee". Essentially, you dump your ground coffee into some boiling water in a tin cup, wait for the coffee grounds to sink, and then you can drink it.

Why is this applicable to traveling in China? When traveling outside of the largest coastal cities, you enter the Real China, where coffee is hard to come by. Yes, there are more are more SPR coffee shops (the Chinese knock-off of Starbucks) springing up in the smaller cities, but they're not open early in the morning. And when they are open, you need to wait for a half hour to get a simple cup of espresso, and it's going to cost you double what you'd pay in the US.

All you really want when you're traveling is to be able to wake up in the morning at your hotel and have a nice cup of joe. Of course, in China, all you can at the hotel buffet is rice porridge and soy milk. In your hotel room all they have are tea bags and an electric hot water kettle.

When I travel outside of Beijing, even if it's to the Beijing suburbs overnight, I make sure to bring some instant coffee. To me, the ubiquitous soy milk tastes like latex paint. I just can't get used to it. I tried it for the first time back in my college dorm cafeteria, and I try it every so often in China. Instant coffee, as you may know, tastes inferior to the freshly brewed kind, and the caffeine content is noticeably lower.

Next time I travel, I'll not bring my instant Nescafé, but instead a little bag of Dunkin' Donuts coffee or some other drinkable brand. When I'm in my hotel room in the morning, I'll plop some grounds and water into the electric kettle, turn it on, and five minutes later, voilà, coffee just like home. I suspect it may be a little gritty tasting, but it's a reasonable compromise.

Now, the next guest that stays in that hotel room might complain about a coffee-like aftertaste to their boiled water. However, I would argue that I should get a little leeway seeing as I've put up with the stains on the bedspread and cigarette burns on the carpet.


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