Kava is what coffee is called in Polish. But what Kava really means is espresso. That was the only way you can get coffee in Poland unless you have a coffee maker in your home. If you want a regular cup of coffee they make you an espresso and add hot water to it.
We had a hot water heater and instant coffee at our first hotel, and at our second hotel in Warsaw there was one of those little one-cup espresso machines with the little capsules. I hate those things. They are all some kind of flavor, and if you get one that’s supposed to be black you get three ounces of foamy brown coffee.
We went to this one place in Kalisz, an outdoor café where a Led Zeppelin cover band was playing one afternoon. It was cutely called “Kaliszfornia,” and when I ordered a Kava I was asked “white or black?”
So I got the white and it comes with this cute little barista flower on it:
You see, in Poland there are no milk stations, if you want milk, you have to ask for white Kava. And then you get HOT milk, like Cuban coffee hot milk. And a lot of it. My wife Danusia likes cappuccinos, so she was ok with the hot milk.
For a guy who likes his coffee black with a drop of half-and-half this proved to be very frustrating. I couldn’t wait to get to Warsaw, I knew that Warsaw had Starbucks; I’d seen one when we’d taken the train to Kalisz the day we arrived. I counted the days and drank weak-assed double “white” coffees.
When I was a kid my parents drank Yuban instant coffee. That’s what I grew up on, my mother letting me drink coffee since I was probably 12. I always put a lot of milk and sugar in it, my father drank it black and I thought he was crazy.
On occasion my mother would do the hot milk Cuban thing, and I didn’t like it. Something about the way the milk solidified on the surface when my mother heated it. She soured me on Cappuccino for life.
I had a roommate at Pratt who had a pot of coffee hot on his Mr. Coffee 24-7, and drank it like it was water. That’s when I first tried real coffee. I was hooked.
Of course I still drowned it in milk, but I was getting better, becoming a more mature, serious coffee drinker.
My first wife was a serious coffee drinker, she drank Café Bustello black, no sugar. She was ballsier than me, but I got better still, putting less and less milk in my coffee. I hadn’t discovered half-and-half yet and still poured a ton of sugar in my coffee.
Our first apartment was on Houston Street in the East Village, and one day a Serbian couple moved in. Actually, they were Yugoslavians back then, but they were from Belgrade, so I surmise they were Serbs.
“Zoran would like for you to come over and sample his coffee, he is very proud of his coffee,” the woman told us when we’d met. Her name was Javorka. I’m not making those names up.
We went over one afternoon, and watched as Zoran performed an elaborate ritual involving cups, boiling water, and copious tablespoons of Nescafé and sugar. It was a very sludgy mix, an attempt at Turkish coffee. He had such a big satisfied grin on his face I didn’t have the heart to tell him I hated instant coffee.
We invited them over the next day and showed them how we filled our coffee sock with Bustello and poured boiling water through it. Yum.
Nestlé bought Bustello one day and it was never the same. I tried different coffees: El Pico, Folger’s, Chock Full O’nuts, nothing really ever compared.
Eventually we found Porto Rico Coffee Company on East 7th Street and bought their Italian roast for years. We even splurged on a Mr. Coffee and dumped the sock. Then we got divorced.
Years later when I was working as a doorman on the Upper West Side a tenant who went to Starbuck’s every morning bought me a Tall Bold and I was hooked. That’s when I discovered half-and-half, at Starbucks.
I’m on my third Krupp’s coffeemaker, my ex-wife got the Mr. Coffee when we separated and I upgraded. I get a kick out of the fact Krupp’s has been a weapons manufacturer for more than a century.
I tired of listening to the kids at Porto Rico Coffee Company talk about what they did the night before like I wasn’t standing there waiting for them to notice me a while ago, and I fell in love with the grind your own coffee stations at Whole Foods when they came to New York. I usually drink their Morning buzz French Roast.
Sometimes I get lazy and buy the Italian roast at Fairway. They grind it for you.