When I worked orientation the summer after my sophomore year of college, we occasionally had a 5:30 a.m. call time. At the beginning of the summer, those mornings were full of adrenaline, and despite the early hour, we’d show up raucous and ready to go. After a couple weeks of this, the thrill wore off. I drowsily helped myself to the catered coffee service, and that was the first time coffee really hit the spot for me. I was never a caffeine addict, but that morning coffee had an answer for all of my needs. I tell this story because it was the first time I realized the splendor of the drink. So even though I’ve never been a regular coffee-drinker, I know the thrill.
Here in Samoa, the coffee thrill is rare. Almost all coffee available in the country is of the Instant variety. American drip coffee is difficult to find in many parts of the world, but that tends to be because Europeans drink snobby gourmet espresso; not because of a prevalence of instant coffee. Instant coffee is a strange brew of tea. It is not coffee.
In any case, just about any hot drink that is normally served in a ceramic mug is referred to as “tea.” Whether it’s tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or koko Samoa, it’s tea. And more often than not, whatever it is has a lot of sugar in it.
In a law class in college, we studied the civil case of the lady who sued McDonald’s after she burned herself on the coffee. McDonald’s did a survey related to the case and found most customers cared more about the temperature of the coffee than the quality of taste. They wanted something hot. In that sense, Samoa seems similar.
When workmen came to my house just after I moved in to fix the door screens, the leader asked me for a cup of tea. “I only have coffee,” I said. He shrugged. So I brewed up some Starbucks in my one-cup French press. I had no sugar back then, so I sweetened it with honey. Relating this story to a Samoan friend later in the day, my friend responded, “Those guys don’t care. They just want the drink.” Maybe.
Koko Samoa is Samoa’s answer to hot chocolate. It’s hot water poured over crushed cacao beans; it’s a sort of chocolate coffee with no filter to get rid of the grounds. Supy says he likes to chew on the grounds, I’m not a fan of grounds. I keep meaning to try brewing Koko Samoa in the French press.
One fantastic form of Samoan tea is laau moli. The name translates to “orange leaf” because water is seeped through citrus leaves. I’ve had it with and without milk, and it’s a delicious concoction either way. The taste is of sweet lemongrass, and it’s always a treat when the student serve that at interval.
Mostly though, we get black tea and sugar, which gets the job done just fine. Half the time it’s mixed with instant coffee, which I’ve come to enjoy. It hasn’t warped my senses though: I try and break out the Starbucks on Sunday after church, and it still has its own splendor.
Tomorrow’s Cultural Exploration: Bingo!
I hope you’re well. I think I might go have a cup of coffee right now. Pictures below.
At to'ona'i the week before last, we discussed whether coffee goes with the meal or after the meal. I posited that coffee goes really well with taro. A woman countered that by saying she preferred the taro going with the oka, and then pointed out coffee doesn't go well with oka at all. Well played.
I found out one night recently that you can make a descent White Russian by substituting coffee and sugar in place of Kahlua. Try it.
Blast from the past. Ants got into the sugar at a school event in January. I didn't discover this until I got to the bottom of the cup. Moral of the story: Never get to the bottom of the cup.
10 months ago