I was recently in Colombia and spent some time in Manizales, a university town in the coffee growing area. In the morning I would buy three local newspapers and walk into a roadside café and say, “Un café, por favor.” The next moment, for a price that would scandalize Starbucks or Panera, I would be served a large helping of aromatic brew to which those establishments could not hold a candle.
At the departure point of the airport, the security official asked me to open the suitcase for examination. Her eyes popped at the sight of the array of coffee packets.
“What are these?” she asked.
“Coffee,” I expressed what I thought was obvious.
“Why so much?”
“I like coffee,” then added, hoping to appeal to her patriotic pride, “Colombian coffee.”
Clearly it did not melt her heart. In a second she came up with a Swiss knife and cut open a couple of packets. She looked, she sniffed and, then, as she was about to put in a finger to check the content, I could not bear to watch. I offered a plastic spoon from my briefcase and insisted she use it instead. Finally she called her superior and after another bout of sniffing and spooning, they taped the open packets closed and let me go.
As I was leaving, relieved that the inspection was over, I heard the superior disgustedly mutter something to his team and I just caught the word “demasiado” (too much). I wondered what he considered excessive: my love of coffee or the amount I had purchased.
I have been subsisting on Colombian coffee for over four months now. It tastes as good in Washington as it did in Manizales. To be honest, it tastes a little better for it brings back cherished memories of a congenial town, bright mornings in friendly roadside bistros and pleasant Hispanic chatter in the background. The lurking thought of a couple of diligent security sleuths cutting open a large number of coffee packets in search of drugs and, then, no doubt frustrated, taping them close one by one, adds a little spice to those memories.