I dedicate this post to Angie Rippy, my partner in crime (aka co-barista) at the Beaner’s on Ottawa Street, downtown Lansing.
Many of my fellow PCVs, upon first arriving in our training villages, were more than a little alarmed about what was going to happen in the wake of severe withdrawal. Withdrawal, that is, from caffeine. As it happens, one cannot simply walk down the block to the inevitable Starbucks or, more ideally, liberal-politics-talking-Ray-Ban-wearing-snob-filled indie coffee shop around the corner. (Some of you may be happy to know that there’s not a single Starbizzle in the whole of Kampuchea.)
Not to worry, though! Guess what? I drink coffee almost every day! And it’s crazy-delicious (even more so than Mr. Pibb and Red Vines)!
The secret to Kmai coffee is this: sweetened condensed milk. You can get a tall glass (or a grande, 16 oz or medium, as they say, depending on where you feed your addiction) of sweetened iced coffee for just fifty cents! Very good for the bank account, very bad for addicts with heart conditions. And iced coffee is truly a blessing on an unreasonably hot day in Cambodia. You can even order your coffee with modifiers, for those of you who feel your coffee-getting experience is not complete unless you have loudly made it known how special your order is: with or without sugar; with or without milk; with or without sweetened-condensed milk (yes, they tend to add sugar even when using the sweetened-condensed milk); iced or hot; bag or glass. Well, actually you can’t get the hot coffee in a bag, that would probably just result in third-degree burns and a lot of lost face.
Iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk is good unto itself. My favourite thing to have with hot coffee, though, is a kind of nohm (or “cake”) which I won’t attempt to Romanize here, but if you visit me I WILL BUY IT FOR YOU. It is delicious. It is long and vaguely rectangular and tastes reminiscent of a plain doughnut, and two of them are stuck together so it kind of reminds me of a double helix. Pulled apart and dipped in hot coffee, this is reason enough to visit Cambodia.
The other remarkable thing about Kmai coffee is how well it travels. As a recovering barista (I’ll always be one at heart, you can’t stop me), I’m used to going places with a latte-filled paper cup in my hand. Portable coffee in Kampuchea, however, comes in small plastic bags, suitable for about 20 ounces, and perfect for hanging on your bike handle. Just don’t forget a straw. One looks like something of a tool drinking out of the side of a plastic bag (though it can be done). ^_^