I’ve always considered myself to be a huge coffee fanatic. Ask me how to make any type of latte or macchiato, and I will give you the answer right down to how many squirts of syrup are needed.
My coffee obsession began at the young age of 14, when my sister was a senior in high school and also my ride to school. It wasn’t much of a surprise when we would go left instead of straight, heading in the direction of Starbucks instead of getting to school on time. I remember the first time I went to Starbucks, I got a mocha with whip cream. This being my first coffee, I had very high expectations. I think saying that it was the nastiest thing I had ever tasted is an understatement.
Given this reaction, I’m not entirely sure why I tried it a few weeks later, but I was a stubborn kid and was in the middle of soccer season, and I really just needed the caffeine to get me through the day. This time, I really liked it, and it gave me energy for the day: This was the day that my coffee obsession began.
A year and a half later, I got my license, and I don’t think anyone has hit gold membership at Starbucks as fast as I have. It became a social thing as well as getting my fix of daily caffeine. I went nearly every single day, sometimes twice a day if a friend wanted to meet me there. My senior year of finals, I counted how many hours I was at Starbucks studying, and for a seven-day span, I was there for 36 hours.
So when I said I thought I knew coffee, I really thought I knew coffee. Little did I know that not every country’s coffee is similar to Starbucks, and I was in for a rude awakening when I came to Brazil for five weeks.
Starbucks is known for their big coffees — which I thought was the regular size of coffee in the world. Needless to say I was pretty shocked when I ordered my first cappuccino here, and it came in a cup the size of a shot glass. The reason behind this is because Brazilians have a tendency to get a small coffee or espresso with every meal. This is something that they enjoy multiple times throughout the day, as opposed to a Starbucks culture that gets just one for the day. In the United States, to-go coffee is the default when walking into a coffee shop; however, Brazilians usually stop what they are doing and enjoy the coffee in front of them. The coffees are smaller, therefore, the coffee stop isn’t super long. They also have reusable cups, which helps the environment.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Edgar Martins, who is a manager of a coffee house named Urbe Café. I asked him why he thought Brazilian coffee is smaller than other countries, and he said, “I think it has to do with the Starbucks culture. It got here much later than the U.S. If you go to a table with old people, they won’t be drinking big coffee. But if you go to a youth table, all of them are drinking big coffees. We don’t really have this culture of to-go coffee. When you drink coffee, you stop and drink it. It’s all about the weather. But it’s changing, and I’m very happy.”
Despite the fact that the coffees in Brazil are smaller than United States, Brazilians still seem to consume more coffee than that average person from the States. According to a study done in 2013 by Euromonitor, found on World Atlas’ website, the average Brazilian consumes around 1.32 cups a day. Brazil made “Top 10 Coffee Consuming Nations” at No. 10, a list that the United States didn’t make. Maybe this is because in a 24-ounce latte from Starbucks, there are only three shots of espresso, which is equivalent to, if not less than, the size of a Brazilian coffee. In my personal observation, it seems like Brazilians enjoy the finer coffee while Americans prefer espresso shots drowned in syrup and milk. So I’m not completely blind-sided by the fact that Brazilians drink more coffee than Americans.
As for Martins, he continued, “I drink over one liter (just over four cups) per day easily. As I am the manager of the house, manager of the baristas, I am always having to try the coffee to make sure it meets standards. I’m immune to the caffeine; I drink coffee to go to bed.” Edgar, I envy the life you have.
The most interesting thing that I’ve come across here is the inconsistency with how certain coffees come out. I’m one of those people who don’t love a super-strong coffee taste, but I like a little. The majority of my time in Brazil, I’ve been ordering cappuccinos, which is a mixture of espresso, hot milk and steamed foamed milk. While down here, I’ve learned there are two ways to make cappuccinos. One way, also known as the correct way, has more of an emphasis on the foam and usually has cinnamon sprinkled on top. The incorrect way usually has less of a layer of foamed milk and tends to be sweeter, leaving out the cinnamon.
Being the coffee expert I claim to be, I knew when I had received the incorrect one. How? Because I actually liked it. I didn’t find this out until the third week here and finally realized it when I went to the Coffee Lab in São Paulo. At Coffee Lab, they have different type of “rituals” where you receive two different types of coffees that are made using two different methods. Both came out, and I preferred the incorrect one. This is simply because it was a tad bit sweeter and the overbearing fact that I hate cinnamon. Whenever I received a cappuccino made the correct way, I almost felt like I had wasted my money. However, I still drank it because it gave me caffeine and it was partially my fault since I never learned how to say “no cinnamon” in Portuguese. Honestly, even if I had learned how to say that, I guarantee it still would’ve come out with cinnamon because that’s just my luck … and my Portuguese sucks.
No matter how my coffee has come out, sweet or not sweet, with cinnamon or without cinnamon, it has definitely been an experience. I’ve learned a lot about coffee while being down here, and it’s opened up my eyes to trying places other than Starbucks. While Starbucks is a main coffeehouse in the United States, there are other coffeehouses that can be found right around the corner.
After staying away from Starbucks for five weeks, I’d like to try some other coffee places to see the difference and hopefully enjoy other coffees from around the world.
Reilly Small is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.