For the love of coffee: How I find home in a cup of coffee wherever I go.
There is an almost constant longing…for a home that once was. Longing because that home no longer exists and because it can never quite exist again. The longing is not really for a place, but rather for a time in my life when I was happy to have had only one home and one point of reference for being “anchored.” And it’s here that I want to introduce to you the concept of “saudade”- a word so untranslatable that one can only insert the foreign word into one’s own language. Saudade is Portuguese. In his 1912 book In Portugal, Portuguese scholar Aubrey Bell describes saudade as “a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present.”
When I imagine the concept of a singular home, I feel a strong sense of saudade. I envy those who have one place that they call home, a concrete place that ties them to a sense of identity & belonging.
My saudade-home is anchored in the memories of my teenager-into-early-twenties life in Dhaka. Spending my free time sitting with a hot cup of coffee in NORTH END on winter nights, having hour-long addas with friends, playing cards and ludo, or sharing stories with cousins in our drawing room in Puran Dhaka. Stolen moments, romantic rickshaw rides, a brief date in a NORTH END café. I long for the warmth these memories hold, & know, in my present, that I cannot find that warmth, abroad, so far away from all my loved ones. On cold winter days in Germany, when all I crave is the warmth of my mother’s hug, I seek out comfort in the piece of home I carry with me to all the foreign lands I have ever lived in – coziness in a cup of NORTH END coffee. Chittagong beans to be exact, a product that is Bangladeshi through and through – farmed, roasted and packed with love for me by NORTH END coffee roasters.
As Bengalis, our entire lives begin and end with a cup of milk tea. We sit in circles, and weave stories & share memories—our “addas” are like no other. Friend circles, relationships and lives are all hemmed in addas. And for my generation, and perhaps every subsequent generation from a similar background, the dudh cha is segueing into coffee. For me the Portuguese saudade is soothed by the Danish word “hygge.” Hygge captures the feeling of coziness in winter achieved by family time and warm drinks.
Smells, tastes and textures can be powerful memory triggers, instantly transporting us to certain times in our lives & the emotions that we felt. When saudade resurfaces and all I want is to recreate those memories, through the smell of the fragrant beans, the smooth and earthy taste of coffee with frothy milk. I recreate my own hygge, grinding the fragrant NORTH END beans and brewing up a piping hot almond milk cappuccino that will soothe my soul on a dark, cold, Berlin winter day. Every sip of this drink is a reminder that I can, in some ways, be in two places at once, by bringing a taste of home with me, wherever I go in the world.
With a cup of coffee in hand, I sit across screens and call my cousins in Bangladesh and recreate those addas sharing cups of coffee. Facetiming with various beautiful backdrops across the world, I share my travel stories with them and remember that sense of home we shared half a lifetime ago. We reminisce about songs from Stoic Bliss or Fuad and Mila. We laugh at the funny outfits we would wear in the name of fashion and re-tell stories from the many addas in cafés before or after shopping. Some would say it’s only a cup of coffee, but it isn’t. It’s a memory, a story, a thread of stability and a sense of hygge that has connected me to my homeland through taste and smell for almost half my life. When the world feels foreign, cold and distant, & I feel saudade piercing my soul, the power of this single cup of coffee is insurmountable in its ability to lift me & place me in familiarity and warmth.