Here's coffee, American-style: Rush in, jostle in line, try to remember the difference between a flat white and a macchiato, settle in with a laptop and free WiFi, ear buds in your ears, and ignore everything around you.
That's American coffee. The language might even be Italian-inspired coffee. But it's not the way the rest of the world does coffee. In other places, coffee is a ceremony, even a ritual.
In places as different as Ethiopia, Eastern Europe and Vietnam, coffee is a verb: Something you do, not just something you drink.
We headed to Charlotte's Central Avenue, to find three places that will change your coffee world.
Abugida Ethiopian Cafe, 3007 Central Ave.: $5 for two.
If you go to Abugida just to eat, don't miss the best part. It's on the menu: "Coffee ceremony: $5."
After you finish eating, waiter Henok Aytenfsu will bring over a polished clay coffee pot, called a jebena, and place it on a woven straw ring slightly tilted, to let the coffee grounds settle to the bottom. He'll bring over a small red incense burner and light a pile of incense chunks, sending a fragrant cloud over your table. He'll pour coffee into tiny cups and set out a bowl of sugar with small spoons.
Between the incense and the smoky, dark coffee, it feels a world away from any other coffee in town. You can sit and savor, noticing how the aroma of the incense affects how you taste, and how the coffee changes a little as it cools in the jebena.
That's the short version of Abugida's coffee ceremony. Twice a month on Sundays, between noon and 1:30 p.m., you can experience a longer, more authentic version. (Call ahead to find out when they're doing it, or you can schedule it for a larger group. It usually costs $25 for five people.)
Owner Shito Nigussie puts on the white costume that was traditional in her village and steps behind the ceremonial coffee set-up in the corner. She takes a seat on the white stool behind a small cabinet called a rekebot, covered with a dozen small cups. She starts with green coffee beans, roasting them slowly in a pan over a butane burner, shaking the pan a little, until the coffee cracks and smokes. Aytenfsu, her cousin, grabs a menu and waves it, to keep the smoke detector from going off..
After freshly roasted coffee is ground, she spoons it into the jebena with water and watches carefully for steam to rise from the top, adding a little more water or extra coffee to keep it from boiling over. She lights the incense, then pours small cups and presents them to you, the way she's been doing it since she was a young girl. She waits until you finish, then adds more water and brews coffee two more times, each time a little weaker.
In Ethiopia, only girls and women make coffee. But everyone gets to drink it: The smell of roasting coffee and incense is a signal to your neighbors to come and have coffee. There are always snacks, maybe popcorn or bread. There are always extra cups, stored inside the rekebot, so no one has to be turned away.
"To have coffee is to have conversation," her daughter, Yodite Tesafye, explains. "At home, anyone can walk in, you don't have to be invited."
Euro Grill & Cafe, 3719 Central Ave.: $1.99 for one.
Before you can order it, you have to decide what to call it. Some will say Turkish coffee, because that's better known. But there are subtle differences, like when the sugar goes in, and this is a Bosnian restaurant. So go with what the menu calls it: Bosnian coffee.
When you order it, owner Dino Mehic will bring out a small copper tray, a handle-less cup, a small brass pot with a long handle— the dezezva — filled with foamy coffee, a hard piece of sugar coated in white powder (grumen secera), and a square of Turkish Delight flavored with rose water (rahat lokum).
Mehic will explain the steps: Pour some of the coffee into your small cup, then dip the sugar square in to soften it and take a little bite. Hold the sugar between your teeth or under your tongue and sip the coffee through it. Take a sip of water and a bit of the candy. Pour a little more coffee, but don't pour it all into your cup: The grounds are in the bottom of the pot.
It's supposed to be done slowly, he says, while you sit with friends and talk.
"The coffee is strong," he says. "So you enjoy it for hours."
Pho Quynh, 4900 Central Ave.: $3.50.
As much as you want to linger, there are times when you need your coffee to be portable. And with summer coming up soon, you need it cold.
This is when you need Vietnamese coffee: Very strong, smoky coffee, usually French Quarter's coffee with chicory, brewed by pouring boiling water over the ground coffee in a small filter that sits right on a glass. You can get "cafe den" (ca phe den da), just black coffee over ice, but our pick is always "cafe sua" (ca phe sua da) — iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk.
The coffee has to be hot so the thick rope of sweetened condensed milk will dissolve. It's stirred, and stirred, and stirred some more. Then it's poured over a plastic cup of ice and served with a straw.
You can take it along with you for a whole afternoon, stirring it up, letting it melt a little, stirring it up again. It's got enough body to last for hours.