September 11, 2009


Tribeka is the coffeehouse of choice for egotistical exchange students in Graz, Austria. We file into a que (called a “Schlange” in German, or a “line” in boring American), thirsty for the frothy beverage and hot baristas. The girl with the flower tattoo on her elbow is the master of the steamed milk, while the John Mayer-esque barista percolates espresso with salacious hair flicks. I’m not sure whether I want a latte or a make-out, but since I have to order in German, I had better stick to the latte.

I review my rote phrase over and over in my head: ich hätte gerne eine Latte, ich hätte gerne eine Latte. It sounds perfectly Austrian in my head, but when it’s my turn to order, I freeze. An incomprehensible phrase that sounds like Ik hat gurn eine Latte falls sadly out of my mouth and lands on the frustrated ears of tattoo girl, who immediately recognizing my American accent, asks, “Sorry, what?” It’s a crushing blow to my ego, but it happens so often that I’m used to it.

“A latte?” Even my English sounds stupid.

Austrians are a petite crowd, demonstrated by the horrific staircase in Tribeka. The dangers of carrying a steaming glass of bliss up a narrow, winding and unpredictable staircase are plenty. Once upstairs, I feel like a mutant giant because the ceiling is just inches above my head, the tables are tiny, and the prized window chairs are so ill-fitted to my height that I simply give up and sink into the corner--narrowly missing a major collision with the uneven ceiling.

The thing about study abroad is that it is such a distinct and distant time period. I want to write about Amanda and Allie in this blog, but I just can’t anymore. It’s almost like they never existed. They do belong in this story, sitting across from me, having the same size issues while watching the cute little Austrians slip easily into the window seat. We drank a lot of coffee in that place.

In Austria, coffee is life. People are late all the time and they basically excuse themselves by explaining that they were at coffee. Immediately, the rest of the room nods in agreement, that yes, coffee is more important than whatever they are currently doing. Coffee-to-go is not popular for this reason. Why get it to go when no one cares if you are on time?

Besides an excuse for any scenario, coffee is a true art. A Tribeka latte has a swirling Tannenbaum design atop the inch or two of foam. I try to imitate the Austrians by eating the foam with a spoon, but it just never tastes good. Oh, and the size—forget venti (friggin’ huge) size from Starbucks. If you want a latte, you get a small. That’s the only choice. Coffee communism—a remnant of Eastern Bloc influences.

Commie or not, the best thing about Tribeka was the pitcher of water with chunks of mint or fruit shoved in. Nothing like a glass of lukewarm water with floating material on a hot day.