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A Lao love story

It is always the same with that thing called love. Cupid´s arrow hits you when you least expect it. In Laos, there is surely no difference to this. And so the story goes as follows:

I cannot even recall for which kind of coffee I asked this lady in her small shack in Phônhông.

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I only remember my puzzled look when she filled the coffee into a small, transparent plastic bag full of ice cubes and then poured thick cream on top. “STOP!” I instinctively wanted to scream, but a foreign force kept me from doing so. Ten seconds later I stood there with something in my hand I had not seen before. This plastic bag full of ice cubes and coffee and cream within a paper bag within another plastic bag, a straw stuck into the first one.

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Still a bit puzzled I was keen to give it a go. What followed is unforgotten. What followed was plain love; plain love for the syrupy, sweet, cold, beautiful liquid running down my throat. My taste buds could not believe what they were given to process and my mind could not believe what I was ingesting. From that very moment I knew that there would not be a single day for me in Laos without this incredible coffee. And there wasn’t.
I cannot tell what makes this coffee so special. The fact that I have a very sweet tooth might be a reason, but the others in our team also got hooked and went for their daily fix in the afternoon, for invigoration in the afternoon heat. This is how “Lao coffee” is made so you get an idea of how sweet it really is.

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They fill half a glass (or half a tin can) with sweetened condensed milk. This is topped with a table spoon of coffee creamer (white powder), with a pinch of salt (oh yes!) and usually with an extra table spoon or two of sugar (!!!). The coffee is already brewed and is sitting on a stove over an open fire. For this, a big table spoon of coarse ground Lao coffee was filled into a cloth filter and blanched and then percolated with boiling water. Now this dark and oily coffee is poured into the glass with the other ingredients and stirred.
Then, a small plastic bag is filled with ice cubes. Half a tin can of evaporated milk (almost 200 ml) is added and then the coffee mixture. The plastic bag is tied up with an elastic band and placed in a paper bag which again is put into another plastic bag. Finally, you stab a straw into the bag with the coffee and take your first sip. Deeeeeelicious! Do not miss out on this! Check out for shacks which pile up tin cans like this. Alternatively, ask for ice coffee in a southeast Asian restaurant (much more expensive and by far not such a nice experience). You might get lucky and fall in love.

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Text and photos by T. Mayer

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