The Best Euro Life Hack for Coffee Drinkers

These people know how to do it right

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.

Julio Vincent Gambuto is a writer/director, based in New York City. He wrote that Medium essay about the pandemic that went around the world to 21M readers. Follow on Twitter for small thoughts, or here for Medium ones, or his website for large ones.

“Giulio” (It’s Italian.) Writer/Director based in NYC. Outspoken so I can help you make sense of this modern world.

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