Sock Coffee in Sarajevo 


Every day I rise and groggily stagger into the kitchen of the apartment I’m sharing in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In need of a cup of java, I put the little silver pot on the stove and notch the element on high.

As the water burbles and bubbles I clutch the oversized glass mug – likely intended for a pint of beer –and grab the dirty, once-was-white, coffee filter – aka my mother’s ankle sock – stretching the top around the lip of the mug. Then I pack it with glorious brown coffee grounds.

Tipping the boiling pot over my jerry-rigged coffee machine, I watch the brown, steaming liquid dripping from the spot in the sock where both my mother’s and my toes once resided. What comes out the other side is an opaque black brew that is quite enjoyable with a little cream and sugar.

How good it is may be a matter for unbiased debate. I will not deny that it could be my own stubbornness duping me into enjoying it, but for now, that is enough.

Now, this habit of mine is no reflection on Bosnia’s coffee.

Sarajevo has quality coffee and coffee-making supplies as well as a café on every corner and more coffee available in most bars. While many drink espressos or cappuccinos there is also much pride in ‘Bosnian Kafa’, which looks remarkably like Turkish coffee.

This is not surprising as Sarajevo was officially founded as a city in 1461 by the Ottoman Empire, when it conquered the region. Many cultural aspects from that culture remain, including a lot of mosques (several dozen just in the downtown area) as well as Bosnian coffee.

There is a minor difference in the way the boiling water is added to the coffee grounds, that separates the traditional Turkish coffee from the traditional Bosanska kafa, but they are much the same. Both are made in a small metal carafe and boiled with the grounds loose.  The result is a thick coffee with grounds that are allowed to settle to the bottom and are not to be drunk.

Along with this comes a glass of water and a tasty little piece of sugary Turkish delight.

Now I could easily make this beverage instead – there are several YouTube instructional videos, or I could ask my live-in landlord to show me how.

Instead I use my bare hand to squeeze hot water out of a much-abused sock that once was white and is now an uncertain shade of brown, burning my hand as I aim the final stream of brown into the mug.

Recently I demonstrated this process to my mother in far away Canada over Skype.

“Ingenious!” she said. Well, actually, first she said, “Oh, ick!”

Nevertheless she was impressed with the impromptu solution.

It occurred to me to wonder why I do this. It wasn’t a conscious decision to avoid making the local brew, nor a desire to irritate my mother by abusing her hand-me-down socks. So, I ask myself, why? The truth is not very flattering.

I am lazy.

I would rather struggle through this process than make the effort of buying the needed supplies and learning how to make the local brew. My ingenuity is born not of brilliance, or a need to be different, but out of the desire to just deal with my lot rather than to change it.

Repeatedly I have been told I am extremely adaptable. That sounds like a good thing. I always assumed it was a good thing. Now I wonder. What it really means is if something is not working the way it should I will find a way around the problem rather than get the problem fixed.

My essential laziness provokes me to MacGyver the world around me, to deal with whatever I have on hand, rather than to change the factors involved.

Examples of my crimes include, but are not limited to: Writing on a napkin rather than getting a piece of paper, rebooting my laptop when it freezes multiple times a day, rather than taking it in to a shop, abusing my legs with the same razorblade for eight months instead of changing it, and using a sock as a coffee filter.

Does this make me creative, inventive and frugal or lazy, stubborn and cheap?

I am not sure, but I begin to question the wisdom of the expression, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ Perhaps the more accurate phrase is, ‘Laziness is the mother of invention.’

(As published on the blog of my colleague Trina Moyles, September 1, 2013)  

  I watch the brown, steaming liquid dripping from the spot in the sock where both my mother’s and my toes once resided.

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