x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

1001 Arabian bites: A lot can happen around Christmas and over coffee

I like great coffee, but I won’t suffer for it, and I’d rather drink Nescafe than clean a French press pot every morning of my life.

Avoiding Starbucks is harder than you might think. It’s even more of a challenge when you’re as unprincipled and unpicky as I am about things that include, but aren’t limited to, coffee. But even the sturdy veto of a near-decade could not resist the siren song of a holiday-themed drinks menu at the Starbucks counter inside the supermarket in snowy Santa Fe last week.

Normally, the thought of gingerbread, eggnog, crème brûlée or pumpkin spice anywhere near my coffee would repulse me, but the infectiously festive holiday spirit has a way of besting even the hardiest shopper. I was in the deli section, under-caffeinated and awaiting an order of thinly sliced Swiss cheese, when the scent of microwaved cake and over-roasted espresso beans wafted over and wore me down.

Blame the seasonal good cheer or just poor judgement – but that swig of liquid candy at Starbucks cost me close to US$6 (Dh22) before tip, and in the US, tipping is mandatory for anyone who believes in karma, Santa or the important work of a barista.

The next time I find myself in another Starbucks-or-die situation, I’ll go back to my ancient standby, the quasi-secret short size, which is an 8oz serving that stores carry but don’t advertise. It remains the only viable option for a latte or cappuccino whose ratio of milk to espresso isn’t totally blah.

In Abu Dhabi, I don’t have a regular place for coffee; it’s all the same to me in that there’s Starbucks, which I’d pass on, and then there’s everything else. The latter category is on equal footing: Caribou, Tim Hortons, Dunkin’ Donuts, Paul, Mugg & Bean, La Brioche. I should have a preference, but I don’t. I like great coffee, but I won’t suffer for it, and I’d rather drink Nescafé than clean a French press pot every morning. It’s a matter of pride that I’ve made it this far in life while maintaining the purity of my approach to a topic as polarising as coffee.

As for my whole milk one-pump two-shot peppermint mocha, I regret not making it at home, or even subbing one of those insanely addictive Nescafé “double choca” mochas that come in packs of eight at LuLu Hypermarket, which aren’t available in the US, and are a highly rewarding treat to hoard. But please hoard responsibly.

The weekend before Christmas, the grocery store had been out of butter for four days after a storm was forecasted, resulting in a run on perishables. In a better world, we’d buy what we need and leave some for others to enjoy. Whether you celebrate these holidays, different ones, or none at all, the general rhythm out in public these days is upbeat and expensive, and people grow exhausted and entitled. It can be overwhelming if you don’t have a solid plan for navigating it. But even without butter in the house, I feel blessed to have so much more than I need in so many ways, and my mind is full of thoughts for people who have so much less. Trust me: if I can warm to Starbucks, there’s hope for all. Be nice to each other. Happy holidays.

Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico