The Best Euro Life Hack for Coffee Drinkers
I am just back from an incredible trip to Montenegro, a tiny European country the size of Connecticut that used to be part of Serbia and part of the former Yugoslavia. It was a personal trip, my first plane ride since I spent a year solo in my New York City apartment. I went for love and came back with something almost just as good: a new way to drink coffee. (I also came back with love. He flew back with me and moved in. It was a pandemic romance birthed with a masked walk and nurtured via WhatsApp from 4,500 miles away. It’s a story for another time.)
They do coffee differently in Europe. In Montenegro, they don’t have tall, grande, venti. There is no Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino. And there are no to-go cups. Why would you walk while drinking coffee? How unciviled. In fact, there isn’t a Starbucks to be found. Not one. Yes, “Want to go for a coffee?” is an hourly refrain. Coffee houses abound. Even during the pandemic, most have outdoor seating and are serving small cups of joe all day long. But when I asked my new boyfriend why there are no Starbucks in the country, he replied, “We would never pay that much for coffee.” And they don’t. They drop a euro coin or two on the table to cover an hour of coffee talk.
What I found fantastic — and frankly life-changing for a guy with such a sensitive stomach— is that they serve their coffee with water. For every cup of coffee served, along with it comes a small glass of water. When I first asked “why,” I got that Euro look that says, “Oh, how cute, you…American. We also believe in train travel and universal healthcare.” The explanation was simple: they have been doing it for centuries; the water kills the acid from the coffee — or at least prevents the stomach attack that comes over me every time I guzzle a grande. The water kills the acid. Mind blown.
When I learned this, in a chill coffee house in Podgorica, their capital, I had the same feeling I had when I learned that SoHo means “south of Houston.” How obvious. How simple. How brilliant. I have seen an endless list of doctors for my stomach issues. The walk-in clinic gives me Pepto and tells me to follow up with my primary care physician. My PCP sends me to the GI specialist. I need a referral. It takes three weeks to sort the paperwork correctly. I pee in a cup. I leave a “sample.” A lab sends me an astronomical bill. Repeat every three-or-four years.
No one has ever found the source of my angry stomach. Stress. Anxiety. I explain both away: too much work, too much on-the-go. My sisters chalk it up to “our Italian-American stomachs.” My mother blames it on my father’s genes. It’s the coffee, damnit. It’s the acid in the coffee. A society two-thousand years old knows the answer. And it is the simplest and best life hack I have ever learned. I will take this new practice with me as I settle back here at home. I will make it my new ritual.
I am writing from a coffee shop on 23rd Street and 7th Avenue. I just paid $4.50 for my morning brew. It didn’t come with water. I had to buy a $3.00 bottle of water instead. Welcome home.