Words & Eccentricities

Instant Coffee Chronicles

vintage instant coffee ad from theTribune

I worked as an English teacher (or tutor is you must insist) for a few months right after I finished college. We would have 50-minute classes from 9 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. And if you think teaching basic English to a bunch of spoiled Korean kids is easy enough, try repeating the same lesson about nouns, pronouns and prepositions for the entire day. So aside from salary day, I would look forward to the 10-minute afternoon breaks that allowed us to drink coffee and share the day’s most hilarious “Konglish” encounters.

In a Korean tutorial company, you don’t get a fancy cup and a stirrer for your coffee. You do get to bring your own mug and instant coffee in a plastic sachet. And because coffee does not miraculously stir itself to perfection, there have been clever, creative ways to get the job done.

Jem was my constant coffee-drinking buddy (I’ve gained and maintained a lot of friends because of coffee). I would watch her straighten the empty coffee sachet and in a ritualistic manner, fold it lengthwise repeatedly until it turns into a neat little stick.

She would then dip in into her mug, stir it a few times and dump the makeshift stick into the nearest trash bin. After a while, I found myself doing the exact same ritual.

Maxwell’s Instant Coffee ad from RepriseMedia

The English lessons and the Korean culture soon outgrew me (yes, I knew plenty about Super Junior and Big Bang before they became famous on the MYX channel). But I still enjoy my 15-minute, self-imposed coffee breaks no matter where I am.

One day, my boyfriend caught me expertly performing the coffee sachet ritual and he gave me a dainty silver teaspoon instead. He says I was making the job harder when I had the spoon right beside me. He asked (with utmost concern and a hint of sarcasm, haha) if dipping a thin plastic sachet in a hot cup of water was actually safe and/or hygienic. But I simply shrugged and smiled.

When he’s not around, I sometimes catch myself folding plastic sachets into sticks, out of habit, and out of remembrance…for Jem and for the many coffee friends I’ve had the pleasure of drinking with…the various masculine and feminine nouns and pronouns that blend so well with rolled up sticks of empty coffee sachets.

When I see someone doing the exact same ritual, I giggle like a little Korean kid, deep down inside.


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