Next to your head a cell phone starts to vibrate, signaling the start of the day. You rustle around in your rented sheets, trying to find the phone to stop the mosquito in your ear sound, hoping that no one in the hostel room has woken up, too. Finding shorts, shirt, wallet, passport all within the confines of your sleeping area, you crawl down the bunk-bed ladder to find your flip flops, run your fingers through your hair, and head out into the main room. There sits a free breakfast of assorted goods. Sliced bread, jam, marmite, muesli, small bananas sprawled in a still life drawing style in a large wooden bowl, some picked off lying askew. People ensconce the food, slowly, silently putting spoon to mouth, and trying to comb their fingers through their coarse, robin’s-nest like hair. Nods replace hellos and your addiction sets in. Slowly, but persistently.
The first sign is that you don’t look to the food to wake you up, rather your eye darts around the table in search of your fix. You don’t smell it brewing, so you know that it must be the instant variety: coffee, that is.
Off to the side of the room, sitting on a trunk-sized cabinet rests a hot water container, varying tea bags from Lipton to traditional loose-leaf, and a Tupperware full of black crystals. This will have to do.
Every morning you wake up, you look forward to the first, second, third, and final sips of coffee. Some mornings black, some mornings milky white. Sometimes honey filled, and sometimes brown sugar. Sometimes you look forward to it as your head hits the pillow. Always thick as mud. Always a hint of bitterness.
Over the years you’ve gone through stages of which variety you prefer. The luxurious latte, the cheap but consistent drip, the French named café au lait. Back in your home, French pressed coffee wakes you up these days. Here in the land of elephants, mangos, sunshine, and condensed milk, you find your new fix: the Thai Coffee. Or, if you’re feeling overly caffeinated, Thai Tea.
As the street vendor is pressing hard into the mesh sieve full of thick, dark coffee grounds and simultaneously scooping ice into a large 1980’s designed paper to-go cup, you remember the days when you poured cup after cup of this behind a bar located in the classy Thai restaurant in Upstate New York. Two-thirds thick and sweet Thai Coffee, one-third half and half. Here, in the birth place of the energy-packed treat, its condensed milk mixed thoroughly with the dark, thick, bitter, spoon-pressed coffee extract. Sometimes a straight shot of espresso, given the barista has a machine posted up on their street stall, market stall, or converted van. Pyrex Measuring cup. Condensed Milk. Coffee. Pour. Mix. Mix. Mix. Dump over ice and serve.
The creamy burnt orange color of the tea and the soothing enriched caramel color of the coffee calls to you as you sip on the overly bitter instant coffee in the quiet hostel as the sun shows its face for the first time today. You wish you could turn this cheap addiction fix into the rich and sweet coffee that had the density of condensed milk, the brightness of a good extraction, and the depth of complex flavors as a good coffee should.
Finishing your first cup of many, you turn to your second addiction and throw on split shorts, light weight trainers, a ratty t-shirt, fifty baht into your shorts, and you head for your run and plan on a sweet reward at the end, because in Thailand, there is always a Thai Coffee vendor between here, and there.