Espresso for two? $16 please

Would you pay $16 for two cups of espresso? I generally would not, but in Beirut, we did just that. We probably weren’t paying for the espresso itself, but instead for the prime real estate where we we were enjoying our coffee. Located in downtown Beirut across from the house of parliament, this cafe was also unfortunate enough to be the last place the late Prime Minister Rafik Harriri drank coffee before being assassinated seven years ago.

Beirut is not cheap. Most meals here are either comparable or more expensive than what I’d be paying for in the US. Our produce and groceries in general matched what I would pay back home. The food is better and the atmosphere that much more lively (can you be an introvert in the Beirut?) and prices are just as comparable to what I would expect in the US.

One of the key difference on the cost of things here versus cost of things back in the US, is the emphasis on community. Things may be expensive, but rarely have I seen someone dine by themselves, or grab a cup of coffee by themselves. We drove and walked past several Starbucks coffee shops, and what stood out was that there was no one who was alone.

Taking Starbucks as an example, this is a company that values itself as building a third place for people–where community takes place. Yet my experience of Starbucks is less of that and more of it being an office away from the office. A place where I have my own personal time to do my own personal things.

In Lebanon, that’s hardly the value. The higher value is to build and enjoy community and friendships. Relationships are critical for everything here. So $16 may be expensive for a couple cups of coffee, but what we paid for was actually not the coffee nor the rent in prime location–we paid for the space and place to enjoy one another’s company.

Eddy Ekmekji,
Campus Minister,
California, USA