Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There’s coffee…and then there’s THIS

What do you get when you send a fairly-illiterate-in-German -and-fresh-off-the-boat-expat grocery shopping? This:

Caro, the coffee alternative
Sure, it looks normal enough with its gold and blue label and image of a delicious cup of coffee. But what’s inside is most definitely NOT delicious coffee. In fact, as I later learned, it isn’t even coffee at all.

Let me back up. I’ve been in Germany for about a month and a half now. And one of my favorite things about living in another country is grocery shopping. Stores are filled with excitingly different items and brands. But all this newness (and my low German vocabulary) comes with a price: you don’t always know what you’re getting. But then again, how else would I have learned I actually do like stinky sheep cheese?

So a few weeks ago, I went in search of a good instant coffee to hold me over until we bought a machine. I stood in front of the coffee shelf for about 10 minutes trying to decide between brands based solely on product labeling aesthetics. From the impressive line-up, I selected a perpetrator, er canister.

As soon as Thomas got home that evening, I performed my ceremonial “showing of the day’s purchases” like a kid proudly holding freshly made macaroni art. Usually it goes well. Today, the macaroni was didn’t go over so well. Here’s the transcript of what followed:

Thomas: Wow, you…uh… you bought Caro, huh? he asked cocking his head to one side as if the angle would make my imminent reasoning clearer. (Since then, I’ve received this same reaction from numerous people.)
Me: Umm…yeah. It was a really good price, and the label was prettier than the generic brands. (I could feel my speech beginning to get slower and slower) Besides, it’s made by Nestle. The other Nestle coffee was twice as much.
Thomas: Do you know why that is?
Me: No…..wh—
Thomas: Haha, no, no. You’ll find out.

The next morning I made my first cup of Caro and slowly took a sip. What the –!?!

I ran to the computer to research the odd black liquid in my cup. Caro is actually a caffeine-free coffee substitute. The ingredients listed on Wikipedia, best describe the flavor: “Caro is made up of soluble solids of roasted barley, malted barley, chicory, and rye.”


But since I bought it, I was determined to drink it, so I’m down to half a canister (which, because I bought the biggest one, makes 50 cups).

While the taste kind of grows on you, I’m happy to report we bought our new coffee machine last night. So starting today, it’s good-bye Caro and welcome back Joe.

My knight in stainless steel armor has arrived


  1. As a serial expat, I so enjoyed this post! Like you, I love grocery shopping in foreign countries, even if it can be a frustrating and embarrassing experience at times. And I've come home with odd things many times, of course. But hey, you learn.

    In Armenia, where everything was behind the counters at the time we arrived there (they now have supermarkets) it was a challenge because I couldn't speak or read Armenian or Russian, so often I didn't recognize anything to even point at it.

    In case you're interested how I managed, here's a link to my post EXPAT DRAMA: HOW TO BUY EGGS IN ARMENIA


    Enjoy your coffee!

  2. Haha, I can definitely relate! I've never heard of Caro either but it doesn't sound that enticing! I had a similar experience in Russia when I went to buy milk and ended up with kefir (like buttermilk) instead. I knew about kefir but just glanced over all the milk products and grabbed a cheap one without reading the label. When I got home and drank it I was unpleasantly surprised because I was expecting milk. Love reading about expat (mis)adventures!

  3. @Miss Footloose – LOVED your post about buying eggs! I think I would have been “clucking” too! Count me as followe #162. It’s amazing how just knowing simple words in another language makes life so much easier. The other day I needed ginger, but since the store didn’t have any fresh I was forced to try and figure out the word for it based on the images on product labels. I almost bought horseradish instead, but luckily I remembered I had a dictionary app on my iPhone. Once I knew the German word – Ingwer – I saw it everywhere. Ahhh…the power of literacy!

    @interculturalist – That’s too funny, in retrospect, of course. ;) I’ve not yet bought buttermilk by accident, but it’s definately one of my fears!

    @Frank – I don’t really care for beer, but maybe it would have improved the taste!

  4. We've been here for years and my husband still brings home at least one wrong thing each time he does the shopping. It's endearing. :)

  5. If your knight gets injured, I recommend NesCafe green tea blend (my fave instant coffee...) :)