2 Turkish coffees + 3 macchiatos + 4 cups of tea = 1 day in Kosovo

Coffee quote democrat

Coffee 1Kosovo is a coffee culture. It is amazing. I did not know when I signed up for the Peace Corps that I would be moving to a coffee-lover’s paradise.

Fellow coffee-drinkers: Get ready to become thoroughly jealous and prepare your bank-account, because you just might be buying a plane ticket to Kosovo at the end of this post.

Not a coffee person? Well there’s hope for you. Kosovo is also big on tea, so let’s start there:

Russian Tea

chai rusi Russian Tea in Kosovo.png

The most popular tea in Kosovo is a type of black tea known here as Russian tea or chai rusi. It was actually brought to the region during Ottoman rule and therefore it is more widely known as Turkish tea.

This tea is served with lots of sugar in small narrow-waisted glasses from a double-stacked kettle. It is typical to be offered tea in the evening after dinner or when you visit someone’s home. As a female volunteer, you may be expected to serve the tea for guests. I felt like a nervous Mulan the first time I had to serve tea in Kosovo!

How I feel about the amount of chai I drink on a daily basisEven though the glasses are small, be careful, because your glass will be continuously refilled. Before you know it you’ve had 6 or 7 glasses of black tea with tons of sugar. Good luck sleeping.

Although Russian tea is delicious, I try to drink mint or chamomile to cut down on the caffeine or sugar. I probably drink three cups of tea per day, which may be on the lower end of the scale compared to many volunteers.Coffee quote caffeine sleep

Now it’s time to take a little journey through the main types of coffee people drink in Kosovo:

Nescafe

Let’s start with the simplest one of the group, which is instant coffee or Nescafe. I remember being surprised by how popular instant coffee was when I traveled to Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan. Turns out it is pretty popular in the Balkans as well. Every cafe or restaurant has it on the menu and most people drink it in their homes.

I’ve never been a fan of instant coffee, but lately I’ve been craving American coffee, and this is about as close as it comes. I also miss filling a big thermos with coffee to bring to work.

One downside to coffee-culture in Kosovo is that to-go cups don’t exist. In America coffee is prepared in a hurry and guzzled on-the-go to provide an energy boost for our hectic lifestyles. In Kosovo coffee is primarily a social binder. Drinking coffee alone or on-the-go contradicts its purpose.

Kosovo is such a coffee culture that many people go out to a cafe daily, sitting and visiting with friends, family, or coworkers for hours. Visiting over coffee is seen as an essential part of daily life. It is a lifestyle I think many Americans could learn from.

Coffee quote strong as death

Turkish Coffeecoffee turk

People in Kosovo adore Turkish coffee and most drink it daily. The above proverb perfectly defines Turkish coffee. It is like coffee in the form of a shot. It is small, potent, and typically saturated with sugar.

Kosovars love their sugar when it comes to coffee and tea. Because it rare to drink coffee without sugar, I often get strange looks when I ask for my Turkish coffee that way. On more than one occasion the hostess serving the coffee has insisted on putting at least one spoonful of sugar in my cup because it’s just not natural to drink coffee without sugar!

Coffee quote another cup

My least favorite thing about Turkish coffee is that it is served in such tiny cups. I feel like I take two sips and my coffee experience is over! Fortunately my host family quickly learned how much I love coffee, so they’ve begun preparing an “American sized” Turkish coffee for me, which is served in a cup twice the size of theirs.

In terms of quantity, I probably drink about three Turkish coffees per day. One in the morning, one at school with all of the teachers, and one in the evening with my family. I think my coffee intake has been one of the primary things I’d attribute to my success as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Coffee quote personality

Macchiatocoffee 3
The king of the coffees in Kosovo is hands-down the macchiato. This is not a frilly American knock-off like what you’d find in a Starbucks. This is a genuine European maacchiato: small, strong, and oh-so-delicious.  In fact, the Kosovar macchiato has been voted the best in the world.
Coffee quote truth
If the above quote is true, then people in Kosovo must be some of the most understanding people in the world. They are coffee experts, and this applies not only to taste but to the appearance. The artistic flair on the macchiatos definitely adds to the experience of drinking one. Here are a few of my recent macchiatos:

The best part? These beautiful cups of heaven only cost 50 cents. So if you come to visit Kosovo the coffee is on me!
I have to say I feel pretty European when I sit outside at a cafe reading at a book and sipping a petite macchiato. Life in Kosovo has its hardships, but when drinking the coffee here I feel pretty Posh Corps.
coffee potAlthough I love Kosovo’s coffee culture, I have to admit that I miss brewing a big-ole pot of American drip coffee in the morning. Turkish coffee is great, but take one gulp and its gone. I miss having a giant mug of strong coffee that I can sip and refill for hours. Part of me even misses those seasonal flavored creamers…
Alas, I’ll have to tough it out with my classy European macchiatos for another year.

I’m gonna get fat in the Peace Corps

When I signed up for the Peace Corps, I figured that I’d lose weight over the 27 months from being more active and eating less processed food. Little did I know that Kosovars love feeding their guests as much as possible.

Not wanting to appear ungrateful or rude, I find myself attempting to eat most of what I am served. It adds up.

Allow me to present some observations about food in Kosovo, and then you might understand why I may actually get gain weight while serving in the Peace Corps:

loaf of bread
The loaf of bread I was given for lunch, in addition to a whole tomato, cheese, a peach, and two hard-boiled eggs.

1. Must Love Bread

I was not prepared for how much Kosovars love bread. I am eating more bread than ever before. Someone who is gluten-free would probably not survive in Kosovo.

All of the traditional dishes here seem to involve a derivative of bread (pita, flija, byrek, etc.) The people here are quite inventive when it comes to all that they can create out of flour and water.

For lunch for the first week my host mother would give me a bunch of food, plus an entire loaf of bread. Then at dinner she would hand me half of a loaf, along with the main course, salad, etc. By now I have convinced her to only give me half a loaf for lunch and a quarter loaf for dinner, but it is still far more bread than anyone should consume in a day.

dinner 2
A typical Kosovar meal. Notice the chucks of bread sitting nearby to use as napkins.

I have also learned that napkins and silverware are unnecessary as long as you have bread. When eating, if your hands get dirty, you simply grab a loaf of bread and wipe your hands on that. Need to scoop up your food but don’t have a spoon or fork? A handful of bread should do the trick!

You can tell that people here love their bread because the way they ask “Are you hungry?” is literally, “Do you want bread?” (This caused some confusion for me during the first few days.) My family tells me that it is time to eat dinner by saying, “Come eat bread!”

I don’t know how people here stay so thin with such a carb-heavy diet.

2. Three Spoonfuls of Sugar

snacks
My nightly chai with lots of sugar and a selection of snacks

There is way more sugar in the Kosovar diet than I would have anticipated. People love to offer guests Coke, sugary fruit juices, and of course coffee or tea. But each cup of coffee or tea is not complete without three spoonfuls of sugar.

If you say that you do not want sugar in your tea or coffee, people look at you like you are crazy. They ask, “Are you sure?!” If you insist that you do not want sugar they say, “Ok, fine” and then put a spoonful in while you are not looking.

My host family also keeps trying to give me chocolate in the morning. Most families do not really eat breakfast here. Instead they just have a cup of tea or Turkish coffee in the morning, sometimes with a little sugary snack. For my host family that means chocolate. Some days it is chocolate cookies. Other days it is a very small piece of chocolate cake. Sometimes it is just a couple squares of straight-up chocolate.

Traditional meal of flija, which is made of crepe-like layers of dough with oil and yogurt.
Traditional meal of flija, which is made of crepe-like layers of dough with oil and yogurt.

I don’t know if this is a common thing in Kosovo or if they just assume that the fatty Americans like eating chocolate first thing in the morning.

3. Endless Cucumbers and Peppers

Almost all of the families here have a small farm with fresh fruits and vegetables. But the two things that we have the most of are cucumbers and peppers. We eat them with every meal. For a snack my host mom tries to feed me an entire cucumber. If I refuse the cucumber, I’m usually offered a loaf of bread. So I’ve learned to love cucumbers.

Every day we collect eggs from the chickens, and sometimes one of them is unlucky enough to become our dinner.
Every day we collect eggs from the chickens, and sometimes one of them is unlucky enough to become our dinner.

4. “No thank you” is interpreted as “Ok, sure!” 

Warning: Do not clear your plate, because your host mother will immediately refill it. If you say “no thanks” to anything, your host mother will insist that you need more food. If you hold your ground she will become offended and say “Why do you always say no?!”

You also do not want to get too full from dinner, because immediately after dinner you will be offered tea, coffee, crackers, and a bunch of fruit. After this evening tea time with family and neighbors, your family will probably offer you something else, like ice cream. Every night my host parents ask if I want ice cream. Every night I say no. Repeatedly. Every night they still go to the nearest gas station and buy me ice cream. By that point I usually feel to guilty to refuse.

Side note: Just as I was writing this post (after the nightly ice cream ritual) my mom walked up to me three times to give me food. First a bowl of watermelon, then a bowl of pretzels, and then two hard-boiled eggs.

Picking buckets full of fresh cherries in a village outside Kamenice
Picking buckets full of fresh cherries in a village outside Kamenice

The upside to all of this is that the food is quite delicious. I am being spoiled with fresh fruits and vegetables, which is a nice change from Alaska. The strawberries, cherries, peaches, and nectarines are the best I’ve ever had. (But for some reason apples here are awful.)

I am also walking a lot, which may counteract some of the excessive eating. My host family lives just outside of town, so it takes between 40 minutes and an hour to walk to training sessions each morning.

Well, time to go to bread. Oops, I mean bed.