Spring has sprung

I send weekly emails to my friends and family back home. Sometimes I am going to post them here. They have been edited to ensure that certain private details never see the light of day!

Spring has sprung.

That cliched phrase is one which does not make any obvious sense in Aotearoa; the signs of spring back home are subtle and gradual; the temperature rises, the sky looks bluer, and people start wearing shorts. But in Bucharest spring means that one day trees have no leaves, but the next day they do.

For those of us who have mostly lived with evergreens, winters in the northern hemisphere are stark. The grey skies combined with a general lack of foliage is alien and therefore disconcerting. But spring here is just as weird, because it is all too sudden. Part of that is due to climate change; it is not uncommon these days for Bucharest, as winter ends and spring begins, to see a change in temperature of ten or fifteen degrees in one day, something which did not happen even ten years ago. A decade ago spring was a slow process, but now Bucarestis (and, my extension, myself) live in a place where it is minus seven one day, and positive twelve the next.

But more startling than that are the aforementioned trees, because waking up to trees with leaves that had no leaves the previous day is weird, and makes you think you have slipped through time. Or, in my case, make you almost spill your coffee when looking out your kitchen window.

A word about coffee in Romania: it’s not very good.

Well, that’s four words, but they are considered and polite.

Unlike the coffee.

I spent a lot of time on my last trip being very snobbish about coffee, because coffee snobbery is one of our national sports (as is making fun of Australians, binge drinking, and ignoring systemic racism and sexism in our society). This time I decided to bite the bullet and not bring all my fancy coffee making equipment with me, including my hand coffee grinder. I now now consider to be a mistake, even though the only way to have rectified that mistake would have been to purchase extra luggage for the flight.

The issues are these: ground coffee here is a) not great and b) not all that fresh.

The first issue can be skirted. I could spend more and buy better coffee, although my experience of even the best ground coffee here pales in comparison to what we can buy at reasonable prices in supermarkets back home. My theory about coffee in Europe (including Italy) is that coffee roasters go for one flavour profile; either they roast for spiciness, or chocolate-iness, or smokiness, but never more than one flavour. Back home we like a coffee with a complex profile, and I think that is part of what makes our coffee so well-appreciated worldwide.

The second issue can also be skirted, but it requires a bit more work. A lot of goods which make it to supermarkets in Romania are at the tail end of their lifetime. Romania is a poor country; the average monthly wage is about €230 (I earn almost three times that, which makes me rich in Romanian terms but still impoverished as soon as I leave the country) and so, to keep the cost of foreign goods down (particularly food), some imports are end of runs and the like. An awful lot of the imported coffee is closer to its use-by date than you would expect, and this results in it being both a bit stale and probably means it has been transported across several borders before arriving in Romania (thus increasing the likelihood of it having been refrigerated several times over, dulling its taste).

Actually, there is a final note to this digression on coffee; cheap, no brand coffee grinds. I decided to test a bag of 5 lei (NZD1.80) coffee the other day. If coffee flavouring is the cousin to the taste of proper coffee, that particular bag of coffee was the distant cousin of a friend’s acquaintance to the taste of coffee flavouring. I somewhat marvelled at that bag of coffee, because someone had to have quite deliberately taken all the worst coffee beans they could find from a batch, then over roast them, then overgrind them (in order to burn the beans a second time) and then package said grinds in a bag. The effort required to produce such terrible coffee shows such a dedication to craft that I almost feel there should be some reward for the poor fool who—by dint of personal evil or corporate mandate—was responsible for my thinking “Well, the coffee’s bad but at least that tree is doing alright.”

It’s the little things.