Mexico in a Cup of Coffee
Posted by Tony & Cheri on May 20, 2007
It finally happened. The other day someone came to the reception desk at the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden here in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico and asked, “Where is the nearest Starbucks?” In that simple sentence we find the eternal struggle of people visiting foreign lands. Do you want adventure or familiarity?
It has often been said that some people vacation, while some people travel. Of course you can do both. You can simply take a break from the daily grind in some pleasant surroundings or you can engage in some geographical change that offers different experiences for the mind, body and soul. Or you can have a little of both. `It really comes down to how much of a difference in your life you want or are willing to accept. Or in reverse, how much of the comfort of familiar things do you require?
We have always felt travel involved a certain element of “when in Rome…”. For us travel has usually involved at least a little adventure and exploration, even if only in what we ate and drank. In Hawaii that might mean pork cooked in a dirt pit. In New Orleans it might mean a fried oyster Poboy drenched in hot sauce. In San Francisco’s Chinatown it might mean shrimp steamed in translucent rice pastry dough. In the islands of the Caribbean it might mean deep fried pieces of conch. And in Mexico it might mean a mixture of spices and chili peppers that will start a fire that can only be quenched by cold Mexican beer.
In each of these locales, and in every other place we have gone in the world, there has always been an opportunity to eat and drink what we could get back in the States…MacDonald’s, Dominos Pizza, KFC, Starbucks and a dozen other well known names. We always tried to avoid these places and chose instead the local pub and the neighborhood greasy spoon.
Some folks say “why take the risk of getting sick?” Others simply know what they like and don’t need to try anything new. These are folks who have found their comfort zone. For them the cruise ship dining room, the all inclusive menu and the American fast food restaurant are enough. It has always been this way for some. It is probably true that ancient Crusaders when journeying to the exotic lands of the east would inquire of locals where they might find Ye Olde Grog House…just like they had back home.
But for us traveling can be, should be more than just a sight seeing tour before going back to the hotel room. It can and should give us a view of the world from a different place than our own by experiencing new cultures, history, music, art, architecture, and of course, food and drink. And the chances are you aren’t going to get sick by trying a little something different. Do you really think that the coffee brewed in a third world country is made less hygienically than the pre-fab, delivered by truck, constructed by a 15-year-old high school dropout, burger you buy at some Burgerland type place back in the States?
In Playa Del Carmen, Mexicoa number of cultures have come together to make a very unique place. The peoples of the Caribbean Islands, traditional Spanish Mexico, Mayan Mexico, the Italian ex-pat community and of course American and Canadian visitors and residents all contribute to the scene here. So we can eat great chicken mole enchiladas one night, excellent pasta another and an incredible steak dinner the next. So why would we limit ourselves to food and drink that’s familiar or “safe?”
And as far as coffee is concerned, Mexican coffee is great. Beans grown in the misty mountains of Chiapas are as good as any in the world. And they don’t have to be shipped to the States, packaged in Seattle and sent back to Mexico to brew a good pot of coffee.
There are plenty of little cafes in Playa Del Carmen where you can find excellent coffee. Down on Calle 10 is Java Joe’s, about a 10 minute walk from the Luna Blue Hotel & Garden. Joe’s is a Playa tradition and just celebrated its 10 year anniversary. On any morning you can wander down to Joe’s for a cup of Mexican grown coffee and some decent pastries. Joe is the energetic guy with the grey hair saying “hello” to everyone. The crowd is mostly made of locals trading news and gossip and catching up on each others lives. You can learn more about Playa Del Carmen in a morning at Java Joe’s than by reading a dozen guidebooks.
At the other end of 5th Avenue, just around the corner from the Luna Blue near Calle 28, you can find Café Corazón. A wonderful coffee bar, Corazón has a giant Italian style Espresso machine. You can get coffee light and flavorful to ease you into the day, or dark and strong enough to do battle with the toughest hangover. The sweetie with the smile bustling between tables and the counter is Allison, the owner. She will never be too busy to stop and chat about life and love in Playa Del Carmen. Unfortunately this gem of a place is in the process of being sold, but in the meantime, it’s still open most mornings.
A new Starbucks has now opened half a block from Java Joe’s and another will open soon a few doors down from Café Corazón. Now let’s get something straight. We have no problem with Starbucks as a business or as a coffee drink. While Cheri does not drink coffee, Tony does (2 to 3 cups to kick start each day and often another for a midday moment to relax.) He enjoys Starbucks coffee in general when he has had occasion to drink it and has an actual addiction to the Holiday Special Eggnog Latte. But when he gets coffee in Playa he goes to Joe’s or Corazón. It’s not that the bright new modern Starbucks doesn’t serve great coffee. But when drinking coffee a few blocks from the beauty of the Caribbean Sea, one should not just have coffee…one should have a sense of something unique, an experience of time and place–not just a visit to the same green and white storefront shop that can be found copied in thousands of places around the world, even back in your hometown. Did you really come all this way to tropical Mexico just to do the same things you did back home? Our advice: When you travel, let yourself be surprised.
So the next time you are on vacation, think about whether you need to be in the comfort zone for your whole trip or whether you are in the mood for a little adventure…even if it is just a cup of coffee.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and ignore the people, you might better stay home”. – James Michener