It’s really hot.
Hot like when you open the oven to check on the level of gold on your tater tots and the hot air blasts toward you.
That’s kind of like what going outside is like, without the promise of crispy potato goodness. The stovetop temperature sidewalks is just one of the things that takes some time to get used to in Saudi Arabia.
Word around the café is that these more “temperate” spring days will give way to true desert heat. It’s unsurprising then that the streets (and cafes) of Riyadh are packed at night. While the weather is a bit of a shock, it is hardly the most noticeable difference on the daily. Typical shop hours are 4:00p to Midnight, later on the weekends. Unfortunately, I am a born and bread early riser.
The food is different, kinda. There is every version of international and fast food you can think of. I’ve tried to get the full cultural experience. This means often eating sans utensils, sometimes sitting on the floor. Oh, and I can’t even begin to comprehend the language (fortunately many of the people I have met speak English very well).
With all the obvious differences there were times when the shop was busy that I felt untethered. Then, I would step behind the service counter and make an espresso for someone, or a pour over. I would go into the roastery and charge a batch, or set up a cupping. All of a sudden everything was the same.
At the grand opening party for the new 12 Cups (the coffee company we are consulting for), baristas from area shops crowded behind the bar, roasters huddled near the Probat, everyone talking shop. (Even at Summit, I feel more comfortable behind the bar than in front of it.) With everything else that was new this scenario seemed so familiar to me.
It is safe to say that traveling to not only a foreign country, but also a culture that in many ways is also completely foreign, can be overwhelming. At the beginning of my time in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I have found is an incredibly nuanced culture filled with generosity, pride, and curiosity.
I learned so much on this trip. I learned about training and education. I learned about a new culture. I learned that I could go anywhere and serve a great cup of coffee. I learned that it is comforting to me to provide a service to others. I learned that in the middle of the desert, coffee creates common ground, even when everything is unfamiliar.