coffee chronicles

An update on my quest to find freshly brewed coffee in Dakar:

A while ago, Tantie (Mamie’s younger sister; real name Armand) recommended I try Presse Cafe, in the neighborhood of Plateau. After three caffeination-starved months in Dakar, the sight of their bean grinders and espresso machines felt like spotting a unicorn.

I now stop in to the cafe every time I’m downtown, but it’s too far to go for my daily fix. Fortunately, I recently discovered an even better place right in my own backyard.

A ten-minute walk from my house, through the dusty pastel streets of Amitié, an inconspicuous shop called Coumba Cafe does their own roasting and grinding and brews an uber-strong cup of espresso topped with a perfect layer of crema (a word I learned only during my recent coffee obsession).

The first time I drank one tiny shot of it, I had to down a liter of water and eat a banana to calm the coffee shakes. Tremors aside, it was heavenly to be so wide awake.

Now I’m a regular there. I love their decidedly non-cafe-like decor and that they’ve been around since the 80s.

For less than a dollar, I get my espresso fix from someone who knows my order without me saying a word. Apparently they make a delicious version of cafe touba that, unlike the kind sold on the street, actually wakes you up, but so far I have stuck to the espresso because I don’t really believe in a world in which cafe touba possesses powers of caffeination. Maybe one Saturday when I don’t have any work to do I’ll try it out.

On that note, I’m heading there now because my brain is still not fully functional and it’s after 12pm!

a new French benchmark! (Frenchmark?)

espresso machine

People. Today I had a meeting… in French.

The first thing the man I was meeting with asked was, “Français? Anglais?” I chose the latter because though I’m seizing every opportunity to speak French, a business meeting is no place to practice. I then proceeded to lose all professional decorum when he offered me espresso from his Lavazza machine.* It was like Beatlemania applied to a coffeemaker.


So to be fair, there wasn’t much farther to fall. But I was alarmed when the man called over one of his staff, seemingly to introduce us, but actually to join us for the rest of the meeting – in French, because I had said that was fine when I thought we’d be doing five seconds’ worth of, “Je m’appelle Ruth. Enchantée. À bientôt.

For the next twenty minutes I had three parallel streams of thought running through my mind. One was, “Holy shit, I’m having a meeting in French and I can understand!!!!” One was, “Holy shit, I’m having a meeting in French, what if I can’t understand????” And then of course, one was the conversation itself.

Perhaps it’s due to this overcrowding that my brain seems to skip over some fundamental processing component when working in French. I’ve noticed that I’ll follow along with a conversation, respond accordingly, and conclude with some mutually agreed upon forward-facing plan, but afterwards I’ll find myself unable to recap what was said in anything more than vague general terms. The specifics don’t seem to get banked, even in my short-term memory.

Anticipating that I might have this problem today, I scribbled down notes in English immediately following the meeting. It felt a little like I was cheating the (language acquisition) system, but in this case I couldn’t afford to get anything wrong by writing in French. As it is, I’m terrified that when I email them to follow up they’re going to be like, “Why is she going on and on about X when we asked her to talk about Y?”

That’s not the point. The point is: today I reached a new personal level of awesomeness because I had a business meeting in French. I just gave myself a literal pat on the back, because such things are important.

*It takes capsules just like Nespresso but it is as delicious and potent as the real thing.