It was December 2000 and I was on a month-long trip to Europe and Africa. My trip started in London; from there I went to Barcelona, Spain. And right away I noticed that everyone was very chipper and happy, even though the weather outside was blistering cold. Another thing I quickly noticed was that everywhere I went, I found Spaniards standing in tight, little smoke-filled coffee shops sipping what looked to me like small shots of espresso. Turns out, it was their version of coffee. Since I am not a coffee person, I did not partake in their daily intake of caffeine-filled drinks. As I traveled further south to Madrid, I found that the look of the people changed, but their coffee consumption was the same. People were hustling and bustling throughout the city in a buzzed-like state of energy. People spoke very fast and their energy almost made my head spin from trying to keep up. Understanding their Spanish dialect was almost impossible. I speak fluent Spanish, being the son of Mexican parents. But I found it very difficult to understand them when they were going so fast. Apparently, they had no time to waste in their fast-paced lives. I continued to travel south to other cities like Salamanca and Granada, but it was more of the same. I finally reached Algeciras, which is on the Southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, opposite the Strait of Gibraltar. Once again, the look of people changed slightly, but their daily intake of coffee was the same.
Then I took a ferry through the Strait to the town of Tangier in Morocco. It was during Ramadan, which at the time I knew very little about. One of the things I learned was that they do not eat until sundown during this religious time of the year. I arrived cold, tired, and hungry and it was difficult to find anyone serving food at that time of the day. The first meal I had there was a lentil soup with a never-ending supply of bread. I was surprised when the person serving the meal started to pour a hot drink without asking. I assumed it would be coffee. It turned out to be green tea. Since I was cold, I drank my share of the warm fluids. It had a great “minty” flavor, which I found to be very sweet and soothing. I sat there until I had my fill and then went on to Marrakesh.
The next day I went to the Medina, which is where many travelers go to buy goods of all sorts. I noticed that even though the merchants were there to sell their goods, they had a very laid-back demeanor. Every café was smoke free and everyone was pouring tea into their cups. They also had a very specific way they poured it. They would set your cup down and raise the teapot up and away from the cup. At first, I thought they were going to spill hot fluids all over me. They said to me that this is the way the tea is poured and it is poured this way to give it “flavor”. Since there was a language barrier, I was bit perplexed. I tried to take a sip and was told by the server to wait and take my time, so that the true essence of the tea would come to life. I was pleasantly surprised because I had come from a place where everyone was in such a hurry. The server smiled at me and walked away. I sat there for an hour or so enjoying the sights of the snake charmers and all the hustlers trying to make ends meet. I enjoyed the slower paced life style. My time in this beautiful part of the world has drawn me back and I would go again in a heartbeat.