The hunt began the moment I walked through customs. Being Mongolia, you might think this hunt takes place on horseback in the remote steppe, using the sharp eyes and talons of an eagle. But those are very skilled hunters. I haven’t been trained in that kind of hunting.
I walked to the grocery store down the street and perused every aisle in detail, seeing what treasures would unfold. In the dairy section, I found locally produced thick drinking yogurt with added fiber, 12 active cultures and minute pieces of cherry and pomegranate – for $1 a pint. I think I’m going to go back and buy them out. The store was stocked with European, Korean, Russian and Mongolian brands. What I was really looking for I found in a back aisle near the produce – coffee.
German brands Dallmayr, Tchibo and Jacobs of all shapes and sizes mobbed the shelves, squeezing out the competition. No Italian brands? Nothing regional? Up here, up here! In a practically audible voice, coffee from somewhere called my name. Help, help, I’m being squished! I eyes turned upward and there, on the top shelf, wedged between two tall, wide-at-the girth, European, vacuum packed, perfectly packaged coffees, sat a little yellow packet. Malformed from physical abuse, the little yellow thing wailed ‘pick me, pick me!’ It was the last one, barely visible in its diminutive state. I gently turned it over. Where are you from?
100% Vietnam. Bingo! I had only packed a week’s worth of home-roasted coffee for in-room pour over. Now I had something that would last me the remainder of my time in Mongolia. The hunt had led me to the grocery store, but within a day or two I began to favor the cappuccino in the hotel coffee shop.
When I had arrived in-country, I was instantly introduced to Tom ‘n Toms Coffee, the regional equivalent to a Costa Coffee. The airport lobby’s Tom ‘n Toms Coffee shop offered everything a coffeephile would desire. But that’s the airport. What about the city, the side streets and the little vendor huts advertising ‘cafe’? After several weeks in Ulaanbaatar, I can attest that there is no shortage of high end espresso machines that work. I’ve been many places where the machines are simply furniture and haven’t worked for years. Not so in UB! From tourist trap coffee shop to local restaurants, from high-end chains to grocery store cafes, Italian espresso coffee culture is alive and well.
One day I hope to return with my family to visit Mongolia – for the tremendous people and their incredible culture. But, not gonna lie, easy access to a $1.50 cappuccino is also a fairly big draw.