On my first trip to Poland

This is McGarry’s first visit to the Polandian writer’s podium. If you want to see him again please applaud loudly out of your window—I can hear you from here.

I was asked by my future mother in law if I would like coffee.  So far so good, an easy question I know the answer to.  “Yes,” I replied and in an instant (the only instant thing about this coffee as I would shortly discover) the drink was duly produced.  Obviously she had assumed I would answer in the affirmative, which was a bit presumptuous I thought but in the interests of Scottish/Polish relations I decided to let it slip.

I’ll be honest, in the beginning I was so glad to have that coffee, even though it tasted like they’d soaked an old boot in bath water for a week, since when it was at my mouth I didn’t have to speak or answer any questions.  Soon though I noticed something wrong with my conversation killer drink, there appeared to be bits floating in it. “Not to worry,” I thought I’ll just give it a quick stir and down the hatch it’ll go no problems.  Mistake.  As I tipped the rest of the contents of the cup into my mouth the coffee was followed by some horrible unknown substance with the consistency of soil.

I fought the urge to gag and spit, again in the interest of cross border relations.  I took the decision to chew, swallow and suffer instead.  The next few minutes felt like an eternity in coffee hell but luckily our meeting was soon at an end.  As I stood to thank my host with my teeth now sporting a nice pebble-dashed look I drew some amused glances from the guests and assumed I’d been the butt of some sick polish coffee prank.  I relayed my tale to my girlfriend on the way to the car, naturally she was concerned— mostly she was concerned that her sides would split from laughter. It was a wee while before she could tell me that the coffee was in fact filter coffee bez filter.  “Savages,” thought I.

I make a habit of turning up at people’s houses with a jar of instant coffee these days.  I also spent the rest of my holiday being ridiculed.  Well at least until my next little mishap, which wasn’t quite so endearing, but that, I think, is for another day.

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30 thoughts on “On my first trip to Poland

  1. Brad Zimmerman says:

    Isn’t that “Turkish style” coffee (or a variation thereof)? I’ve actually seen it served that way at a cafe. Admittedly, I’ve only seen it served that way at a place of business ONCE but there is some precedent.

    I believe the trick to drinking that sort of coffee is to not let it get stirred up. Also to insist on tea (it’ll be Tetley if you’re lucky, Lipton or some other rubbish if you’re not).

  2. Jeannie says:

    If I’d been drinking anything while reading that, it would have been spat all over the screen at the line, “it tasted like they’d soaked an old boot in bath water for a week…” ROFL!

    Thank you for that.

  3. Pistefka says:

    Damn right the British don’t know how to make coffee – even if it has become ever so fashionable.
    By the same token there are very few places on “the continent” where you can get a decent cup of tea. I always get the impression in central Europe that tea is regarded primariliy as medicine. If you are drinking tea you must be ill. Poland is slightly better than some other countries in this respect, but still there is far too much of that insipid Lipton stuff around, or worse still, the dishwater known as Earl Grey.

    So it all evens out in the end. Don’t go to Britain expecting good coffee, don’t forget to take your own teabags (or better still loose tea) if leaving the isles.
    Green tea is rarely any good wherever you go, except in proper teahouses.

    I can’t stand coffee, and I live in central Europe. Oh dear.
    At least I’m not a vegetarian though.

  4. Basia z Szwecji says:

    *applauding enthusiastically*
    Oh, I never, never, order coffee in Poland. :-D Well, I think I dare to do it now, but I would definitly ask for “kawe z expressa”, which should give me filtered coffee. (Note: not to confuse with an expresso: “kawe expresso”.)

    I really thought this had started to change, but appently not…

  5. uratroll says:

    go back to your monkey island and drin starbucks “coffee” LOL

  6. trolltasia says:

    go back to scottland then and drink DELICIOUS starbuck’s coffee. LOL

  7. penox says:

    lol you brits. that’s like some barbarian coming to rome and bitching about public bath houses. yeah we know it – the river is a much better place to take a bath. and filtered coffee is the king of coffees.

    ask an italian about that – I’m sure he is going to try to kill you :D

    lololol filter coffee lolol … holy crap :D

  8. island1 says:

    ‘lololol’ is not a Latin term I’m familiar with. Probably too sophisticated.

  9. Oh, THAT. I don’t like coffee in a glass either. We say parzona in Lodz. It’s horrible, and becomes worse after adding milk.

    The proper thing to do with it is to cook it in a small pot, bringing to the boil three times for a second. But apparently Germans stole all the pots while retreating from the Red Army. That’s my current theory.

  10. zarazek says:

    I used to drink black, non-filtered coffee with no sugar when I lived in Poland but since I moved to Scotland, I now drink instant with two sugars and lots of milk. I think my reaction to Polish coffee would be similar to yours (without the element of surprise though).

  11. Chris McG says:

    I agree Penox filter coffee is king… when its filtered:-)

  12. Chris McG says:

    I’m packing now, off to the only Starbucks in the west with a security guard and metal detectors on the door! I’m not joking, drinking coffee can be risky in Glasgow ;-)

  13. adthelad says:

    First came across this type of method in Poland and have found it also in Romania. Well known non-Soviet block country method: Take packet of ground coffee, place it in a conical filter holder, add filter, add coffee, pour hot water, catch emerging liquid in cup, then sweeten/ whiten as per individual requirements and drink.
    Soviet block country method: Buy coffee by hook or by crook, grind, put ground coffee in cup, add hot water, stir and wait till coffee settles on bottom, then sweeten/ whiten as per individual requirements and drink.
    The reaction of amusement astounds – naturally many people in the latter group of countries got used to pre-Berlin wall collapse method. Ho ho ho. How very amusing.
    Be careful not to try proper Polish ham, you may find (as has been written about in the press) that there is too much ham in it. Oh dear, perhaps I shouldn’t have given one that away – could have been the subject of another side-ripping post ;)

  14. Scatts says:

    Nobody expects the ‘po turecku’!

    It does have a legitimate heritage, not just being lazy and cheap. Can be pretty tasty as well if done right.

  15. Karolina says:

    That’s brilliant! Luckily my dad likes espressos, so John was spared the filter bez filter experience :)))

  16. The reason that coffee tasted foul is because it was 100% robusta, cheap discount store stuff. If you use arabica to brew up coffee, it will be much more pleasant.

    After 12 years in Poland I’ve come to loathe instant and drink kawa sypana even at my parents in London. Has to be good, Lavazza or Illy.

    Tea? Polish tea comes blended in anticipation of it being drunk without milk. Pour milk in (UHT – ugh!) and the tea disappears. British ‘builders’ tea’ – PG, Typhoo etc, is not available in Poland. Bring your own teabags.

  17. m says:

    I loled
    I’m so happy, that there’s no [i]kawa po turecku[/i] in London (well, so called polish flats are exception, but everywhere else there’s no coffee “with surprise” which I called sometimes [i]z wkładką[/i]).

    I wonder how long grinded coffee with hot water poured inside will be served at restaurants (al. Jerozolimskie next to Empik), and Wars like bars at train stations…

    Thanks for reminding me one of the reasons I’ve emigratated :)

  18. Ashley says:

    My Polish boyfriend’s family, who I’ve visited a couple of times for a few weeks, has been ready with a cup of coffee for me as well — it’s the instant stuff always, and it’s a bit like Sanka. It is not actually made from COFFEE beans, but some weird wheat-derived crystals that offer zero caffeine or flavor. Cue the coffee-withdrawal headache. I once opted for tea, and Tata, chuckling, offered me milk, because that’s how the British drink it, and milk in tea is so weird, etc.

    I’m American, but details, details. I said TAK to the milk. There is little real coffee in Poland, and no good coffee.

  19. Kuba says:

    What about the coffee that you put in a cup then boiling water and after a few minutes you can drink it. However, the grounds are still on the bottom of the cup. i.e. not instant coffee.

  20. former dweller says:

    Coffee culture in Poland is relatively new. Most adults grew up adding hot water to some light brown “grounds” and then sipping on this horrid sludge. If they were really well off,or for special occasions they would bring out the instant coffee. . As soon as they depart with a few zloty and sample the good stuff,they will drink coffee like the West does.

  21. Astoria says:

    Coffee culture in Poland is relatively new. Are you kidding?

    […]
    Takiej kawy jak w Polszcze nie ma w żadnym kraju:
    W Polszcze, w domu porządnym, z dawnego zwyczaju,
    Jest do robienia kawy osobna niewiasta,
    Nazywa się kawiarka; ta sprowadza z miasta
    Lub z wicin bierze ziarna w najlepszym gatunku
    I zna tajne sposoby gotowania trunku,
    […]

    — Adam Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz (1834)

    Not ancient enough? Read this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viennese_caf%C3%A9#History

    ;-)

    The worst coffee is in the US. The kind served for free to office workers and also found in hotel and motel rooms. It tastes like top water in Kraków.

  22. Ashley says:

    True, FREE coffee is pretty terrible as is coffee in hotels in any country. But your average gas station coffee in the US is better than anything Coffee Heaven can provide. :)

    I did enjoy learning about roasted bitter endive roots being used to create something coffee-like when Poland disallowed coffee imports. Quite resourceful! I wonder if it’s like dandelion root “coffee” I’ve had, which is weirdly a good imitator.

  23. former dweller says:

    Astoria, no need to be overly sensitive and defensive. Dont even try to claim coffee is better in Poland than in the U.S. You will make a mockery of yourself. It is below par; by American, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, British, French standards. Way below par.

  24. Jeannie says:

    Bad coffee can be found anywhere. Personally, coffee makes me feel like I’ve got the liquified grounds of burnt beans coarsing through my veins–it feels like I’ve drunk dirt. I do love the aroma, though. If I drink anything it’s tea. Lately it’s been organic green tea. I love black tea, but then there’s the milk–adding it before or after, posh or not posh, tea stains, etc.

  25. Astoria says:

    What are American standards? You get different coffee from a deli, from a street seller, from Starbucks, in a motel, at home if you brew yourself or prefer instant.

  26. Kuba says:

    Lots of commercial establishments try to please the mojority of people consequently the coffee fits the median taste. Starbicks on the other hand as various brews for individual taste. Street vendors try to make as much as they can on a cup so it may not be the strongest..
    My two PLN.

  27. Kuba says:

    Typed to fast ‘majority’ ‘Starbucks’

  28. Ania says:

    This is called “kawa z fusami” LOL… I remember my parents drinking this when I was a kid and it just didn’t look right but they loved it :)

  29. Jacob says:

    Haha, well typical eastern european coffee I would say. Though it may sound surprising I like it. I am visiting Poland right now and must say that I quite like the food – especially something they call “begos” or something like that. Came here last week with a few friends and we are having great time. I also recommend a tourist guide to show you around. We took one from a tourist office fifitravel.pl Though the guide was an older guy, he was really funny and told us lots of stories. It was just sort of mistake we came in Wintere – too cold. Hope to get back here in the summer.

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