Two Kinds of Coffee Or: The Language Thing, Pt II

Part II of a series of observations on those minor linguistic differences in the language formerly known as Serbocroatian. Or why ordering coffee can give you away. And why it doesn’t matter most of the time.

My Croatian teacher from the night school literally next door really stressed the „v“ in „kava“. Slavic languages being extremely phonetic you do pronounce it like you would „v“ in English or „w“ in German.

It’s the very Croatian and Slovenian way of saying coffee.

In Bosnia and Serbia, it’s „kafa“, „kafe“ in Macedonian.

Incidentally, when you use the automatic language recognition tool on Google Translate it will identify „kava“ as – Lithuanian.

A friend told me that older Bosnians also pronounce it „kahva“ or „kahfa“. I haven’t been able to confirm that yet.

It’s one of the things that occur regularly in cultures separated by a common language:

The German Coffee Line

Besides, Germans and Austrians do pronounce it differently, too. Austrians emphasize the last syllable of the word „Kaffee“, thus pronouncing the „double e“ the way it is supposed to be pronounced in the German language.

Germans put the emphasis on the first syllable, just like it were spelt with a single e at the end.

But then again, if you compare the taste of coffee in both countries, Germans and Austrians might as well talk about two entirely different things. German coffee is almost American in taste. If you want to consider „taste“ a word to go in the same sentence with American coffee, that is.

At any rate, it goes without saying that both ways of saying coffee are mutually understood. Both in German and in the language formerly known as Serbocroatian.

Not As Dangerous As Greece

Unless you run into some die hard Balkan nationalist. You may be frowned upon.

Contrary to Western popular belief, though, no one will come after you guns blazing. It’s not like you’re ordering Turkish Coffee in a Greek restaurant. (That is probably the single most dangerous thing you can do in my hometown, Vienna.)

Historical relations between the Turkish and Serbs and Bosnians haven’t been an entirely happy affair. (Croats in today’s Croatia fared somewhat better in relation to the Turkish.) Suprisingly no one has any problem with the term „turska kafa“.

In Bosnia, you may also find it as „bosanska kafa“ which is usually served with sugar cubes you drink the coffee through.

Even though Espresso is getting more and more popular on the Balkans, this is the favorite kind of coffee south of Maribor.

Occasionally it may go by another name as well. In a Serbian/Bosnian cafe right next to my place a new waitress surprised me when I order a small black coffee by replying: „Espreso ili domaća“, meaning „local“. In that case that meant Turkish coffee. That may be served in a lot of places in Vienna but in none Austrians would consider typically local.

To be honest, I could hardly keep myself from laughing.

Turkish Coffee Is Disappearing

Popular though it may be, cafes that serve Turkish Coffee on the Balkans are getting rarer these days. Places that want to appear modern serve espresso only as do some smaller cafes. Espresso is faster and easier to make than Turkish Coffee.

Sometimes the reason why a particular restaurant or cafe doesn’t offer Turkish Coffee isn’t as obvious. „Zmaj“ is a rather traditional roštilj right between the bus station and the Train station in Sarajevo.

That would make it the perfect place to introduce stranges to Bosnian or Balkan culture. Especially if they arrive in the small hours of the night. Turkish Coffee would be exactly the thing you’d need at that point and time.

„Zmaj“ doesn’t have it. I haven’t quite figured out why, yet. I’m going to ask on my next trip.

Before I do that I’ll have my traditional breakfast there, though: „Zmaj’s“ excellent cutlet of veal. If you arrive at five or six in the morning after a 12 hour bus ride it’s a perfect meal to help you start the day.

Even without Turkish Coffee.

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