I found home in a foreign place.
“We pass out cups of coffee on Sundays because when people are in an unfamiliar setting, they need something familiar to hold onto.”
The words rolled out of the preacher’s mouth, and I instantly saved them to memory. The intention behind the actions, the tangible comfort, the safety of an 8-ounce insulated cup… it meant so much to me. As a first-time visitor, I could personally attest to the calmness that settled over me as the cup of coffee warmed my hands.
Five years have come and gone since that moment, but the meaning behind a simple cup of coffee has never left my heart. I found these words to ring even truer when I left the U.S. behind for an expedition around Europe.
I’m in a coffee shop in Helsinki, Finland. It’s my birthday, and my husband—who flew to meet me a week after my takeoff—has just arrived.
One hand resting on the narrow table and the other wrapped around the mug he’s bringing to his lips, I smile as I think about how often I’ve lived this moment. Coffee, my husband, and happiness. It’s in this moment when one other word fills my senses: home.
After impatiently waiting for my coffee to cool (my taste buds are in constant burn recovery), I take a swig and the warmth of the liquid moves to my mid-section in perfect timing with the emotional warmth I feel from being in a craft coffee shop—a place of familiarity.
I’m sitting at a community table, and I can’t comprehend the Finnish conversation taking place next to me until “enneagram” and “Michelle Obama’s Becoming” are said in my native tongue. I’m surprised. And delighted. These women are having a conversation like one I’d share with my friends in Nashville. A feeling settles in me. Home.
I’m in an empty coffee house in Tallinn, Estonia. After seeing a tagged Instagram photo of the menu board listing the Phoenix V70 (a pour over tool my husband and I use but have never seen in a coffee shop), I’m excited to talk to the barista. But when I look at the menu board in person, the V70 listing is nowhere to be seen. In the time between the Instagram post and the present moment, the menu offering has disappeared. But why?
I question the barista. His answer is simple: someone lost the V70. Expecting a more measured response that spoke to a distaste for the quality of coffee produced by the V70 or a lack of customer demand for this method, I can’t help but laugh. The barista joins me in laughing.
We move from talking about brew methods to naming our favorite bean origins, and he hands me the grounds so I can take in the fresh scent before he begins my Hario V60. Eventually, I mention my own origin—Nashville, TN—and he tells me about his friend, Rachel, who works as a barista in my city. He describes Rachel’s appearance, and I realize she regularly makes me coffee at the best quality coffee shop in town. The feeling is returning. Home.
I’m in a café in London. Instead of darting directly to the busy checkout counter to take my place behind the line of corporate suits, my husband and I make our way to the retail shelves. Coffee beans and local pottery cover the wall, and I’m searching, searching, searching for my favorite tasting notes. A man from behind the bar approaches.
“How do you usually make your coffee?” he asks. I name the methods we use, somewhat sheepish over how long it takes me to list our pretentious amount of coffee tools. James introduces himself and offers suggestions for our taste. He’s sorry he doesn’t have any Ethiopian options right now, a favorite of ours.
We order, and he asks how we heard about his shop. I share my affinity for coffee shop research and the number of months I’ve followed his Instagram account. He shares his heart behind the opening and humbly accepts praise for the way he’s transforming coffee service in the UK. We ask which roasters are most popular in the area, and he pulls out a binder with bags he’s saved from every featured roaster in his shop. We see roasters we recognize, and we smile as we think back on the cups of coffee we’ve sipped at our farmhouse table back in Nashville. There’s something familiar here. Home.
I’m in a hole in the wall in Paris. My husband’s 6-foot-3 wingspan allows him to touch both sides of the cafe at once. We huddle along the left edge and stare at the unfinished walls, the uncovered wires, the handwritten name markered onto the window of the front door. “Dreamin’ Man,” it says.
Brain synapses fire, and we turn to look at the barista behind the bar. Clearly the owner. Clearly the dreamer. Glancing back over the room, it’s now covered in romance as we realize we’re watching this man live out his dreams right before our eyes. We feel like characters in his story, some of the first customers to support his business. We’ve felt this way before. The writers’ rounds, the free concerts in the park, the house shows of young dreamers in Nashville. Our hearts beat faster. Home.
I’m looking at coffee-themed art on shelves in Amsterdam. I’m waiting for my Colombian-grown, Australian-roasted, Iranian-made coffee to be ready. As the barista recognizes our American descent, he makes a request of us. Do we mind explaining the difference in speciality and specialty coffee?
My husband and I let out a laugh as we claim to have had the exact same conversation with one another the day before. We venture a guess that they mean the same thing and the difference is merely cosmetic. We share that most coffee shops in the U.S.—at least in our region—are most commonly referred to as craft, not specialty. I tuck this exchange into the back of my mind, knowing I’ve found another person in another coffee house who stands on common ground, someone who finds wonder in the same things as me.
I look back over the coffee-inspired art on the shelf. A rough sketch of a chemex catches my eye. I think back on my last few weeks abroad, and the familiar saying scrawled above the art transforms from trite phrasing into deep truth in my heart: Home is where the coffee is.
I’m sitting in the corner of my favorite coffee shop in Nashville.
Across the room, I see a friend finishing up a video call. I smile, knowing that once she hangs up, she’ll pack up her things and join me at the prized corner table. We’ve shared this space many times before.
As I wait for her company, my gaze moves to my freshly-made Yirgacheffe pour over, a medium roast in a dark ceramic mug. A mug I’ve sipped from countless times.
I bring the coffee to my lips and before I can take a sip, the warm steam sends me back.
Back to an empty café in Estonia, a buzzing shop in London, a community table in Finland, a dreamy hideaway in Paris, a shared moment in Amsterdam. Home.