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What I learned about China today…coffee, or perhaps caffeine, is not the national drink (or drug) of China the way it is in America. I’m known as a caff-dog, which is defined as a person who is no fun to be around until they have met their daily caffeine quota. This visit to China has made me realize that I should not take for granted the typically bad coffee found in most hotel rooms in the U.S. I would over-pay, right now as I write this blog entry, to be sipping a generic-brand coffee that I normally avoid the U.S. in favor of a costlier Starbucks or boutique café brew.

At breakfast, hot soy milk was the only drink that was available. My caff-dog inspired solution was to retrieve an emergency Nescafe instant coffee packet from my luggage (packed strategically next to bandages, cortisone, and Tylenol) and mix it with the hot soy milk. The pseudo-Soy Latte seemed to satisfy for the moment, even with a flavor resembling burnt milk and chocolate. I am somewhat certain, no, I am fully certain that I would struggle to survive in this country where tea is king and coffee is, well, as popular as hot soy milk in the U.S.

At the education forum, which was three hours in length, a five minute ‘tea-break’ was announced. Perhaps, I thought, I can become a tea-cat or one who casually sips tea while doing yoga (sorry, my image of tea drinkers has been molded by American television commercials).  I rushed out of the forum to get my tea but was shocked to see a strange, perhaps traditional, form of tea (big loose leaves not in individual filter packets) and no sweeteners. Sigh. I pulled out my phone and opened the Starbucks App just to look at the pictures of coffee (no, I did not start licking the phone!).

So, what does an American caff-dog do to survive the jet-lag that followed a 14-hour international flight? Run to the local market and look for products that resemble familiar instant coffee packets sold in the U.S.

The little campus grocery store’s doors opened wide as if I had entered some long lost ancient temple filled with treasure. I grabbed a ruby-red basket and skipped merrily toward the drink isle. My shoes squealed like tires on a hot pavement as I stopped suddenly in my tracks at the sight of my precious elixir, bottles of cold Starbucks coffee. Hallelujah!

Emergency adverted, all systems go, full speed ahead for more science projects and super-sharp young scientists.

Matthew Meyer

Dr. Matthew Meyer is the associate vice president of educational innovations for the N.C. Community College System.