Sunday, October 23, 2005

In my neverending struggle...


. . . for a cup of decent coffee, I fought the good fight yesterday.

Finding a cup of strong coffee in Korea takes patience, time, and persistance. I waited for years, and only the arrival of Starbucks has begun to wake Koreans up to the coffee bean's potential for producing something better than a cup of ersatz hot chocolate.

Yet even these days, one has to state up front that one does NOT want milk and sugar. Otherwise, one automatically gets coffee adulterated with milk and sugar, and I hate that stuff. Or I used to . . . until I decided to pretend that I'm drinking hot chocolate, which makes the concoction semi-palatable.

Yesterday's fight took a different turn. I was attending an international conference at Sungkyunkwan University on the British and American novel, the theme being:

"Dissemination and Resistance"

I wasn't contributing a paper, but eager to do my part, I sought out the coffee. To my surprise, two coffee pots were brewing real coffee . . . it seemed.

Can it be, I wondered, real coffee?

It smelled like the real stuff, so I waited until the brewing had finished and poured myself a cup. Even as I was pouring, my crest fell, for the 'coffee' looked like weak tea. Inevitably, it tasted no better than hot water.

This is where I decided to 'disseminate,' so I approached one of the graduate students responsible for the refreshments table and suggested that the coffee could be a bit stronger, perhaps by using double the amount of coffee grounds.

I received a gracious smile and affirmative nod, which -- I know from experience -- meant I don't know what you're talking about but the answer is no.

One could construe this as her native 'resistance' to my colonializing 'dissemination,' and that would fit the conference theme . . . but I just wanted a cup of real coffee.

Later, after lunch, I tested the afternoon brew to see if my suggestion had been acted upon. Of course, it hadn't. Nevertheless, the graduate student with whom I had spoken came up to ask me if everything was okay.

I replied that the coffee still tasted like water.

She smiled and 'reminded' me that Koreans don't drink strong coffee and that since mostly Koreans were attending the conference, the organizers had to brew weak coffee.

"You could brew strong coffee," I suggested, "and provide hot water for Koreans to mix with it if they want to weaken theirs."

Smiling, the student said, "No, that wouldn't work because Koreans want weak coffee."

"Yes," I insisted. "It would work. It's a good idea because it would satisfy the Koreans who want weak coffee and others who want strong coffee."

The student's smile faded, then forced itself to return as she repeated her view that "This wouldn't work because Koreans drink weak coffee."

"Then," I likewise repeated, "make strong coffee and provide hot water to weaken it. That would be a good idea."

Her smile faded again, forced itself to return, and she said, "No, it's not a good idea."

"Yes," I insisted, "it is a good idea, for it would provide coffee for everyone."

At that point, I headed into the conference room. I could have said some other things, too:

"Isn't this an international conference? Shouldn't those of us who like strong coffee have the possibility of drinking some? When you insist on weak coffee because Koreans prefer it, are you saying that Koreans are more important than the foreigners here? And aren't you assuming that no Koreans like strong coffee -- a dubious assumption, even a presumption these days. Besides, you've got two pots brewing. Why not use one for weak coffee, the other for strong coffee? Put up a sign to distinguish the two. Use your imagination, for God's sake!"

But I didn't say any of those things because I knew that the answer wouldn't change: "Koreans don't like strong coffee."

Dissemination met resistance . . .

5 Comments:

At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Antti Leppänen said...

Good luck in your campaign! ;)

Despite of the general weakness of Korean coffee, especially if brewed in a maker (which I've encountered there wery rarely), the only time when I've had to excercise abstinence from drinking coffee has been in Korea. As my research was mostly going around in a neighborhood and visiting shopkeepers, I was treated with a lot of (instant) coffee. And at one stage that made my stomach so upset that I didn't drink a drop for some two weeks.

Conference coffee... like the stuff we were served in a conference in northern England last summer. It was really unfortunate for that brew that me and my wife were staying in a B&B nearby where the landlady was Italian-born, and did she make some good coffee!

 
At 5:53 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Antii, I do try to imperialistically disseminate the West's superior coffee . . . but meet incessant, antihegemonic resistance.

Sigh . . .

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

I went through this years ago - when Korean "coffee" was even weaker than today - and finally took to making my own coffee in the office - with beans that I would smuggle in from Trader Joes, Starbucks or Seattle after visits back to the world. The knuckleheads were so intrigued - as much or more by the fact that I was making my own rather than ordering one of the secretaries to do it -- that they finally all begged for a cup.

Now back in the days when I was still a coffee drinker I made VERY strong coffee, so when they all got a few swallows down they all made faces and said it tasted like medicine. I said it was - just as insam cha tasted to me - but that this medicine would be good for their BIG brains. Alas, they preferred to think with their little ones.

 
At 8:14 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

PS: If you want a decent cup of really strong stuff that is quite palatable black, I suggest New Phillies Cafe on the road that runs up and down the hill next to southeast side of Yongsan base. I occasionally clamber down off the wagon for a fix there. Better than Starbucks by a longshot.

 
At 10:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the tips, Sperwer. I'll try to check out the New Phillies Cafe when I'm in the area.

By the way, the "little" brain allusion is pretty amusing.

 

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