Ayer en un curso de barismo

Un alumno se equivocó con la leche

Mi esposo, con acento costeño,

Miró a la taza y declaró, “Es un embalatte.”

Embalar means to mess up.

A guy trying to make a machiatto got the milk wrong and ended up with a faltte, a faulty latte.

Embalar could also mean to shoot (based on my logic that bala=bullets).

You messed something up big time if they come after you with firearms.

In English, we order how many shots of espresso we want at a coffee shop. So if you end up with too few shots, it’s because the barista messed it up, “lo embalatte”.

Embalar also means to speed up, as in accelerate a vehicle.

So if you have too many shots of espresso in your coffee and wind up running around like a high-octane powered jet in a tiny office cubicle, you too may be “embalado”.

Embalar also means to wrap something up, like a package.

In this sense, the word makes me think more of “embalm” than “birthday!”

When I hear a Colombian woman complaining about some complicated work situation she got herself into, like screwing up an order, and whining “estoy tan embalada”, I know she means definition A. These are stunningly beautiful women, thanks often to a surgeon’s knife. All I see are plastic-stuffed girls, shrink-wrapped in cellophane, a pretty little package. Yes, you are soooo “embalada”.


Vamos a tintear vs. coffee breaks

Coffee is so steeped in Colombian culture that they’ve turned the noun “tinto” (a cup of black coffee) into the verb “tintear” (to drink a cup of black coffee).

I love a language that can do backflips on itself like that, leaping from noun to verb. Unfortunately, the most versatile word I can think of in the English language is a four-lettered obscenity.

To “tintear” is to leisurely drink your coffee in a social setting.

You’re not “tinteando” if you’re gripping a mug of joe just to get your morning jolt, grumpy, alone at your work station.

The focus of “tinteando” is on chatting; coffee provides the convenient excuse. It is a time to see and be seen, which is why cafes drag their tables outdoors to the sidewalks and central plazas. It is a lingering affair that can be extended hours after a brown ring has stained the insides of cold cups.

Photo courtesy of: http://gomadnomad.com/2015/04/22/five-beautiful-towns-not-to-be-missed-in-colombia/
Where we used to tintear, in the cutest-ever town I’ve lived in, aptly named Jardín. Photo courtesy of: http://gomadnomad.com/2015/04/22/five-beautiful-towns-not-to-be-missed-in-colombia/

Much like the slow food Italians shake their heads at American fast food, the Colombians probably wouldn’t find much pleasure chugging a thermos of coffee during a gridlocked commute, one lonely groggy driver per vehicle.

Coffee is not merely part of the morning wake-up ritual in Colombia. If you want to catch up with friends in the afternoon or pre-party in the plaza before the dancehalls open, all you have to do is say “vamos a tintear”: Let’s go have a coffee.

Ever the industrious folk, Americans have more of a work-centric relationship with coffee. In office break rooms across the country, a few inches of stale coffee sit in the bottom of a pot, waiting to revive the next weary worker. The ever-brewing coffee machine is a nod to our productivity, efficiency, drive to succeed. A workforce fueled by caffeine will do more, in less hours.


Our nation is as addicted to work as we are to the caffeine and sugar in our coffee.

In our bicultural family we try to draw on the strengths and work on the flaws of each culture to create a harmonious marriage of values. It’s our own utopian version of creating a world where the cooks would all be Italian and the mechanics would all be German.

What if we could expunge the lazy siesta connotation of Colombian’s tinteando while retaining its social atmosphere, and then insert American innovativeness and can-do attitude?

We would have tertulias: a social gathering among artists and academia to discuss their latest ideas. Coffeehouses have long been the venues of revolution.

Let’s create a cultural revolution in how we do coffee, or tintear.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said:

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

May great minds convene and may great ideas brew during your next coffee break!