Instant coffee. Gross, right? Freeze-dried caffeine stirred into hot water does not sound appealing. But apparently, I’m in the minority. According to market research firm Euromonitor, instant coffee sales have tripled since 2000, with the US as the exception. Pretty interesting, considering the rest of the world often pokes fun at our love of Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. In Australia, instant coffee brands account for 75 percent of retail brewed coffee consumed in the country, and even Europe drinks 40 percent of the world’s instant coffee. What?? I’d take Starbucks over Nescafe any day. Well…unless in Jordan.
When I first lived in Irbid, Jordan five years ago, I was horrified at the “coffee.” Weak Nescafe in a tiny paper cup left me tired for days, and no amount could replace the beloved strong brews of home. Eventually though, my caffeine addiction ebbed and the flavor grew on me. Nescafe has a particular taste not natural to coffee, but that came to symbolize Jordan to me, and with it school and friendship and rituals. Every morning, my roommate and I would get ready in silence and meet our two friends downstairs for a walk to the Nescafe stand down the street. It was understood that there would be no conversation until we’d paid our 30 cents to the stall owner and breathed in that first scent of coffee and cardamom. That’s what saves instant coffee by the way–cardamom. Drop a couple of seeds in and let them do their sweet, aromatic magic. (Sweetened condensed milk and sugar also do wonders).
Nescafe in hand, we were able to take on the morning, which included another stop at our favorite bakery for harisa cake and a chat with the owner (until he asked my roommate to marry him, then we walked on the other side of the street), and four hours of grueling Arabic lessons. With such a low price, we were able to stock up on one or several more Nescafes during lunch, which was lucky because we had three hours of afternoon classes and endless homework ahead of us. For study breaks at night, we traipsed down the road to the Nescafe stand for more coffee and giant bottles of water, and if we were feeling especially indulgent a Nestle ice cream bar.
A year later I returned to Jordan, this time to Amman, and mornings were spent lounging in a friend’s kitchen drinking cup after cup of Nescafe and eating bread with labneh. This ritual became so important that we began to only schedule plans in the afternoon, so we could truly enjoy the sunny open kitchen and the pleasure of stirring our coffee.
Last time I visited Jordan, the hotel I stayed in had “real” coffee, but there was a Nescafe stand down the road and I rushed to breathe in the cardamom scent and taste that bitter, weak flavor now synonymous with laughter, culture, and camaraderie.
Don’t get me wrong. In a taste test, instant coffee still loses…by a lot. But scent is the strongest sense tied to memory, and in that sense, Nescafe wins.