A Quest For Caffeine: Finding Your American Coffee Abroad

Medium French vanilla swirl iced coffee with cream. That’s what I get almost every time I go to Dunkin Donuts (which is more often than I’d like to admit). As a self-diagnosed caffeine addict, I knew going into my abroad experience that I would need to find a new go-to coffee order ASAP when I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland for the semester. Since Dunkin doesn’t have branches in the area I would be in, I was forced into a journey that started with a caffeine headache, and ended with my new favourite drink.

American Coffee Abroad Mentalist

As someone who drinks iced coffee all year round, even when surrounded by several feet of snow, the UK posed a major dilemma. In most (if not all) of the coffee shops I frequented, iced drinks weren’t really available. Luckily, the rainy and windy weather of Edinburgh didn’t have me missing iced coffee for a majority of the semester. Once I accepted that iced coffee could no longer be my go-to beverage, I began trying to decipher what the rest of the items on the café menus were.

Here’s the thing about coffee abroad: everything is espresso based. Because of this, all the drinks on the menu are basically the same, just with different proportions of espresso, milk and water. To this day, if you asked what the difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. However, there were a few cases when I stumbled across a café that offered a “filter coffee” option. Filter coffee is what I would consider to be regular coffee, and finding somewhere that served it was a rare but celebrated occurrence.

Most times however, I was faced with a pretty standard menu of hot drinks. Since I have a major sweet tooth (and I’m also a bit of a chocoholic), I’m always on the lookout for something that will satisfy it. With this information in hand, and my vague coffee knowledge, I would scour the menu and end up with pretty much the same drink every time – a mocha. Basically, just hot chocolate with a shot of espresso and, if you’re lucky, a dollop of whipped cream. And while I could never find an iced version of the drink, I was still able to enjoy many mochas in the four months I was abroad. It became my new go-to drink, whenever, wherever. While at first I was skeptical that I would ever be able to find something that I liked as much as my Dunkin Donuts coffee, I was won over by the chocolaty espresso-y deliciousness that was the mocha.

American Coffee Abroad mug

My mother went through the same journey when she came to visit me. Unlike me, however, she doesn’t usually go for sweet drinks, so my switch to the classic mocha was not a move that she was interested in. Instead, we tried to find something as close to her basic cup of coffee with cream. After trying several disappointing cups of coffee, she finally found her solace in the Americano, which is basically just slightly watered-down espresso and the closest thing she found to a normal cup of coffee. At first she insisted that it wasn’t the same, and that she didn’t like it as much as her normal coffee, but I’ve come to find out that she’s begun to make them for herself now that she’s returned home.

So, if you’re going abroad, don’t worry. In the end there’s a cup of coffee out there for everyone. It may take you a couple tries to find your new perfect match, but you’ll get there. Go into each café with an open mind, and you may be surprised with what you find. And if not, there will always be a medium French vanilla swirl iced coffee with cream waiting for you when you come home.

American Coffee Abroad dance

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Hannah is a senior at Wheaton college in Massachusetts. She just returned from spending a semester studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland (which she loved every minute of!). At school she is studying biology and is also a member of the field hockey team. Out side of school Hannah loves photography, baking, telling horrible jokes, and petting other people's dogs.

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