Don’t be fooled by this inscription, this stuff was awful!

The Worst Cup of Coffee

(Spoiler: The coffee was good; I was to blame.)

Let me set the stage a little bit:

Last spring, I spent my final semester of undergrad studying Contemporary Ethics at the University of Malta in the country of Malta. (Few people have actually heard of Malta, and I would suggest looking it up if you are one of those people, because it is quite an anomaly. However, to save you a bit of time, know that it is a tiny island nation just south of Italy in the Mediterranean and that it is the smallest member of the European Union.)

Midway through the semester, I had a two week Easter break, during which time I went on holiday to Morocco (with my study abroad group, including our program directors), Amsterdam (with just the 12 students in that same group), and Greece (with 5 other girls from that group).

[Fast forward to the island of Santorini, Greece in early-April.]

To take refuge from the bitter cold temperatures and strong gusts of wind that had completely ruined our plans (and our backup plans!), we stopped in a small cafe in the city of Oia. Thanks to a Buzzfeed article about types of coffee to try around the world, I ordered a “Greek Coffee.”

When I got my cup and saucer, the liquid inside looked increidbly normal, and it was just like your typical artisanal coffee: too small and over-priced. I don’t even remember how the first few sips even tasted, probably delightful and warm. However, I will never forget that third, fateful sip. When I tipped the cup back, my mouth was not only filled with delicious, liquid coffee, I also got a huge mouthful of gritty, black sludge… also known as coffee grounds. Not wanting to seem rude, I simply swallowed the sludge and washed it down with a few gulps of water.

No, this coffee was not improperly brewed or served; I had simply not followed up on my Buzzfeed “research” and had actually just drank it wrong.

What I didn’t know:

Aside from knowing the name of said coffee drink, I didn’t know anything else about it, including the history of it, how it was brewed, or how to *properly* drink it. So in order to learn from my mistake, I did a little research… something that I should have done prior to my trip!

Had I done a simple Google Search of the name, I would have known that Greek coffee is:

Greek cof·fee (n):
very strong black coffee served with the fine grounds in it.

Well, now, don’t I feel dumb? But a simple search may not have been enough to save me from my Greek coffee conundrum. Here’s what I learned after further research…

Greek coffee is also commonly referred to as Turkish or Arab Coffee. (To learn more about the name, I would suggest reading this article from As the definition above states, it is a fine blend of various types of coffee beans that are heated slowly over a low heat with water and sugar in a special type of coffee pot called a briki. Typically, it is then served in a Greek-style coffee cup with a cup of cold water on the side.

According to an article by Elena Paravantes, a Greek-American Nutritionist, Dietitian, and Writer, on her blog OliveTomato:

Once you start tasting the first grounds you are done. Do not try and drink the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup.”

Of course, this advice from Paravantes is logical… to someone who knows that there are grounds at the bottom of the cup. But since I didn’t know about the grounds present in my cup at the time, I was left to find out the hard way. Lucky for me, learning the “hard way” wasn’t all that bad in this situation: just a mouthful of finely ground and brewed coffee/sludge and a minor amount of embarrasment.

However, in hindsight this experience does make me wonder about what other ways I have been ignorant during my travels. Is this even a case of ignorance?

I’m torn. Which is better: learning through research/preparation or through direct experience? Would I have enjoyed that cup of coffee more had I done my research sooner (i.e. before the trip)? Or does the fact that I even remember that cup of coffee because of this “negative” experience I had prove that experience is a more powerful way to learn?

I would like to believe that there is no one-sided right or wrong answer to this question. I’d rather say that it takes a combination of both preparation and exploration to enjoy your travels and really experience a new place.

As for this particular situation, it’s just a cup of coffee …right?

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