When is a coffee not a coffee?

When it’s a tea. But seriously, let’s talk about coffee because coffee is my answer to everything. Business proposal? Great, let’s have coffee. Romantic liaison? Coffee. New to Bogotá and want blonde girl advice? Coffee. Friend with gossip? Coffee. Friend in trouble? Coffee. When I’m alone in my house and the walls look as white as the piece of paper in front of me? Coffee.

And because I am a creature of habit, Juan Valdez is my weakness. I regularly frequent at least five city branches and I probably have more Juan Valdez “Amiga” points than anyone in the country. I know which Juan Valdez is the “Gay Mecca”, which one has the best balcony, which one has the best garden, which one is most sociable, which one is most secluded and, nowadays, which one is most likely to contain the last idiot I went out with (I’ll have to avoid that one for a bit, which is shame – it was really good for people watching)

Last week a Juan Valdez barista greeted me by name and knew my Colombian ID number. I rest my case.

But when is a coffee not a coffee? Yesterday a friend emailed me to tell me he was going on a “date” with some guy and would I rescue him if he was struggling? The following day I asked how the “date” went. “Well, it was just coffee,” he said, cautiously. “That’s why I put the word “date” into speech marks.”

Another friend was struggling with a personal issue recently. “I think I have accidentally led a friend into believing I am romantically interested in him when I am not,” she groaned. What did she do? She went out with him a lot for coffee.

I have made that mistake both ways. I have been out with guys for coffee and mistakenly assumed it was a date when it clearly wasn’t. I have also been out for coffee with new acquaintances before and afterwards thought: “Oh shit, actually, was that a date?”

And because Juan Valdez is my answer to everything, I have sometimes booked entire afternoons of appointments – one at 2pm, one at 3pm, one at 4pm – but, of course, they all run late or early and then run into each other and I am left all embarrassed. Sometimes I wonder if the staff think I am working it – like some sort of mad, blonde Geisha girl who writes the odd story and brightens up the ritual of coffee instead of green tea.

But considering my level of expertise when it comes to the Juan Valdez/Bogotá coffee drinking culture (I do go to other places as well, but only on special occasions) I really have no idea when a coffee is a ooh, dress up and wear perfume coffee or when it is just plain old jeans, jumper and battered laptop coffee.

My friends started a heated debate about this recently (we were in Juan Valdez drinking coffee with no interest in, er, coffee) and, of course, I had to give the expert’s view.

“It’s really simple,” I insisted loftily.

“If they like you, then it’s coffee. If they don’t, then it’s just coffee.”

“But how is anyone supposed to know the difference?” my friend replied in a huff.

“It’s Bogotá and it’s dating,” I shrugged.

“The whole point here is that you never really know.”

Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.


      1. bananaskinflipflops

        Nooooo, I like this! Café is coffee, cafecito is “coffee”… same goes for tinto and tintico, cappuccino and cappuccinitico… if everyone could stick to that rule, that would be great and there would be no confusion… problem solved… also, I think if you eat an alfajor then it is not a date, because no-one could eat an alfajor without dunking it in their coffee and there is nothing attractive about eating that way!

  1. drawing33

    In Colombia, coffee has also the connotation (and a very important one) of been a smother between two ideas. The offer of “let’s talk about this with a coffee”, its an offer of “friendship” despite any discrepancies between the “parties”. The slogan ” tomemonos un tinto, seamos amigos” (lets grab a coffee, lets be friends) was coined by a coffee producer in Colombia many decades ago, but it was so powerful that Colombians truly made the connection of coffee as a “peace maker”.
    So, in a “difficult” email to someone, when a coffee is offered to continue the discussion, it’s very likely that despite everything Friendship is paramount. A very poetic twist to Colombian coffee, if you ask me.

  2. alittlecameo

    I too am a Juan Valdez fan and Juan Valdez was my saviour in Santa Marta. The central city outdoor cafe is a beautiful little respite of normalcy from the rest of the city, though due to the hot weather the granizados are the bomb.

    Whatever the context, coffee is a great way to support Colombia!

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Agreed… but when I lived in Cartagena I used to hide in the Juan Valdez which everyone found very weird when there are so many beautiful outdoor cafes or you could sit on the wall and watch the waves… I dunno, sometimes you just need things to be “normal”. I also drink hot coffee in hot weather, which may also be considered strange but whatever 🙂

  3. Emma P

    Before going to university my little brother, who really doesn’t like coffee, trained himself to drink it just in case a woman ever invited him back to her place ‘for coffee’ after a night out. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that in that situation, coffee is very rarely drunk!

  4. Ceri

    Hahaaaa. I think I had a similar experience with going out “for lunch” recently. I always go out to lunch with my friends; It’s just one of those things. But when I invited a new colleague to join me for lunch one day, half way through I suddenly realised, “Oh shit, he thinks this is ‘lunch’ lunch. Like a date lunch.” Cringggge! And awkward!

  5. Whitey

    You seriously can’t tell when a Colombian guy is into you? Didn’t think they were known for subtlety. You are a tall, blonde, attractive gringa … I’m sure you are catnip to 99% of them …

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