From Starbucks to Spain: Experiencing Coffee Across the World

Rachael Willihnganz is a student at the University of Colorado Boulder and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Granada, Spain

At home, I am a Starbucks barista at a bustling Starbucks location on my university campus. I pride myself on my ability to serve coffee and multitask at the rapid rate of a gazillion white paper cups per hour. My coworkers and I are accustomed to never ending lines out the door, and are well trained on the trademark Starbucks bar method: syrups, espresso shots, steamed milk, then whip cream and decorative toppings. To finish, deliver your perfectly handcrafted beverage with a sleeve and a smile. Thanks a latte, have a grande!

My understanding of coffee culture is defined by my experience as a Starbucks employee and aficionado. As much as the scene behind the bar can be overwhelming, I consider a drive-thru run part of my daily routine, and I’m known to lug a venti-size reusable mug with me around campus in case I need an afternoon pick me up. Before leaving to study abroad in Granada, Spain for six months, I knew that my caffeine fix would have to change, but I didn’t anticipate the lessons I might learn from abandoning my corporate coffee dependency.

Cafe in Granada, Spain

What I found here in Granada was a coffee scene devoted entirely to enjoyment. Instead of the endless to-go single-use cups, Granadinos take in their coffee with patience and pleasure. A cafe con leche is the go-to order: a single shot of espresso with lightly steamed milk and a raw sugar packet on the side. The process of drinking coffee is luxurious– people sit down to their tiny pick-me-ups at any time of the day, daintily stirring in their sugar while people watching or chatting with friends. It is a common occurrence to take up a table at a busy restaurant for an hour or more with only your company and cafe to entertain you. Spanish coffee culture matches the shared attitude that food is meant to be enjoyed, not only intended to feed. Here in Granada, the only places that even offer coffee para llevar (to-go) are solely for American students like me who are used to dragging their cafecito along to class as a method of survival.

Our differing preferences for coffee reflect our cultural values, and this is one area where Americans could stand to learn a lesson from the Spanish. Instead of considering coffee as a means for survival, Americans could benefit from slowing down to appreciate and simply enjoy. So often Americans put a high value on being as productive as possible, and as a result spend most of our lives en prisa (in a rush) instead of actually living in the moment and being aware of our surroundings.

My time in Spain has taught me to savor the moment and to slow down. Instead of hustling through the packed Starbucks line to just to make it through the day, I am learning to enjoy the relaxing experience of grabbing a cafe among amigos or even by myself. When I allow myself time to go out for coffee, it is so nice to take a break from the day to sit, stir and sip, no pasa nada (no worries). Where the slower paced Spanish lifestyle originally frustrated me, I am now learning to welcome the extra ten minutes it might take the camerero (waiter) to deliver la cuenta (the check) because it gives me ten minutes more to people-watch, chat, or simply enjoy the day. Spanish coffee culture is teaching me to enjoy the moment without stressing over lost time. As much as I appreciate my green siren heritage, I will definitely take the lessons of Spanish cafe culture home with me and into the future. But until then…salud!

The world awaits…discover it.

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