Who Has the Best Coffee?

By J.T.

Now that we're back, Jason and I have been going through our photos, reminiscing, and playing a game (one that we've actually been playing for a long time), about the "best" of everything.

The best hostel is, without a doubt, The Greenbackpackers in Mitzpe Ramon, Israel. The best burger is at Fatty Dab's in Amman, Jordan. The best backpacker town is Ella, Sri Lanka.

You get the idea.

 Mr. Vieng's coffee plants near Pakse, Laos.

Mr. Vieng's coffee plants near Pakse, Laos.

But the best cup of coffee is harder to quantify. Coffee varies depending on the type of drink its brewed into. Watch, I'll ask Jason right now.

"Probably the egg coffee in Vietnam, or Mr. Vieng's near Pakse, Laos. Or that coffee near where we stayed the second time we were in Bangkok. Or the coffee in Copenhagen."

See?

Alright, let me break it down. In Hanoi, a few shops make "egg coffee" where the normal thick, strong, Vietnamese coffee-and-sweetened-condensed-milk combo is topped with a frothy blend of egg yolk and more sweetened condensed milk. It tastes like coffee-flavored cookie dough. It might be the best thing about Vietnam.

In Pakse, in southern Laos, we rented a motorbike and went on a three-day drive. Along the way, we stopped to see Mr. Vieng, a local coffee-grower and member of the Katu tribe. We purchased a cup of coffee from him and toured his farm. His coffee was not exactly Laos-style, but it wasn't a regular cup of drip coffee either. He grew both Arabica and Robusta varieties, and served them with sugar rather than sweetened condensed milk. Mr. Vieng told us that he only sold coffee to tourists now, as he could make more money selling a specialty batch directly to the consumer than to coffee giant Dao Coffee as he used to do. We sampled a lot of coffee on that loop, but none was as good as his.

 We stopped here every morning either to or from the noodle shop a few doors down.

We stopped here every morning either to or from the noodle shop a few doors down.

The second time we were in Bangkok, we'd met up with our friend, Justin, and were staying in the Sukhumvit neighborhood. Near our hostel was a stand called "I (Heart) Coffee" where they served coffee sourced from Northern Thailand but made into Western drinks. Jason started every morning with an Americano from there.

The best Western-style coffee was probably at Cafe 9 in Copenhagen, where I had a flat white that was out of this world. One of the only times I worked for money while traveling was sitting in that coffee shop, tagging recipes for Modernist Cuisine at Home, and that got me through it.

 At the time this picture was taken, I might have said this unassuming flat white was the best coffee of my life.

At the time this picture was taken, I might have said this unassuming flat white was the best coffee of my life.

But there's more to any food experience than just the food itself. The prettiest coffee was in Israel (as was the best hot chocolate). I was thrilled to be able to order a "skinny decaf latte" at Turtle Green in Amman, Jordan, something that most coffee shops except for Starbucks don't seem to have outside of the U.S. We were surprised to stumble into a cool and quirky little coffee shop in Lexington, KY called Third St. Stuff and Co. At the Coffee Bean in Plymouth, MI, the old haunt of our high school days, Jason and I reenacted the time we ran into each other during Junior year and started speaking to each other again.

A lot of the time, the best is hard to narrow down. While the examples of the best hostel, etc. above are easy for us, sometimes its hard. With so many different experiences around the world, meeting so many different people from different cultures and circumstances, it's hard to say. Who had the best laugh? Which long trek was the most rewarding? Of which moment are we the most proud? What was the craziest thing that happened?

We can't even decide which coffee was best, so we'll probably never get to the bottom of our list. But we'll be discussing it for the rest of our lives.