The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image


Alfréd Rényi is said to have invented the quote “A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.” He forgot to say something about half-baked mathematicians. I like to start my morning with exploding on a high of caffeine. Slurping up my brew, I feel ready to invent algorithms that will propel human kind to prosperity never seen before. I feel the willpower to fight for the legalization of LSD. I believe I can make space colonization possible, and I am convinced that I will be able to extend human life and cure stupidity. I also feel a need to pay a visit to the restroom without delay. Typically I make only the latter event happen. Afterwards, I end up in a condition similar to ADHD, but with additional craving for more coffee. My caffeine addiction is my ultimate failure in self-discipline.

A village road in Laos with a sign for a café with wifi

A dirty capitalist trick to convert non-coffee drinkers: promise free internet to unsuspecting nomads.

As it is with most things in my life, I became addicted entirely by chance. I got through university and grad school without drinking much coffee. Then I had a couple of months after submitting my thesis, before being called back to defend it. So I embarked on a long cycling trip to Indochina. Beware of that region, non-coffee addicts!

Cambodia was safe. They contaminated coffee with sugary condensed milk, rendering it unsuitable for consumption. Problems began when I crossed the border to Laos, and rented a motorbike to visit some waterfalls in the mountains. Those waterfalls lied in the middle of the country’s coffee plantations. Opportunistic capitalists moved in and established cafés that served perfectly brewed cups of coffee straight off the plantations. Sometimes a waterfall acted as the background. That was the point when I realized how good coffee could be. I did not only become an addict, but also a single-origin snob.

A stem of unripe coffee beans

Single-origin beans by definition.

Every major city in Laos also had a smattering of good cafés. I had a cup in all of them whenever I arrived in a new city. After four cups it really hurt, but I continued. I discovered being able to read papers on manifold projections for days on, without the need for sleep. I was naïve enough to think that it was the exciting nature of the topic that kept me awake, and my sleeplessness had nothing to do with caffeine overdose. Ever since I pay the price of my naïvety, being forced to pay a tribute to the evil spirits of the black sludge every single morning.

Coffee in a dotted cup.

This cup of coffee in Barcelona was almost as bad as if I brewed it.

I continue drinking coffee even when I know it will taste awful. Spain has notoriously bad coffee. In fact, the situation is so bad that I had to resort to the terrible overroasted beans at Starbucks when I lived in Barcelona — it was marginally better than the rest of the brews. Another great disappointment was the Dominican Republic. That country has delightful cigars, wonderful beaches, splendid mountains, the most gorgeous girls in the Caribbean who dance bachata like nobody else, but I am being nice if I say the coffee is outrageously bad.

West Africa also has pretty bleak prospects. You only get instant coffee — a crime. I considered snorting it to avoid defiling my mouth, but there were always people around. Togo and Benin are better, they have plantations. I went hiking in the mountains and they also had brews from the nearby plantations. Note, however, that the lack of toilet facilities in the jungle can lead to disastrous consequences to your mental integrity.

Coffee boiling in a pot on charcoal.

The Ethiopian way of making you addicted.

Probably the only reason while I braved and tolerated swarms of fleas and flea-emulating people in Ethiopia was the coffee ceremony, which was mandatory when we ordered a coffee. We were surrounded by a halo of beggars, pimps, and random-item sellers wherever we went, but when we entered a restaurant, we were always intoxicated by the smell of coffee. They roasted the beans in a small skillet over hot charcoal right in front of us.  They never overroasted the beans — take that, Starbucks. Then they put a pot on the charcoal, which included a filter where the freshly roasted beans were to be put. The water boiled slowly while our nervous system blocked every signal that was not related to the brew being prepared. The result was always excellent, except when our kind Ethiopian hosts added salt to the coffee, in which case the result was not excellent.

In the long run, dabbling on highs of caffeine triggers depression, stains teeth, turns blood into a black goo, and leads to the destruction of mankind. We are slaves of the compound. Given the price of decent coffee, it also makes me broke. I hereby call for a world-wide ban on coffee growing and trading. Till the ban becomes effective, I go and dabble some more.


  1. Kathleen says:

    Ah, coffee. Yes, it’s too addictive but where would we be without it, eh? Did you ever try a Turkish one? Delicious!

    1. Peter Peter says:

      I love Turkish coffee! Use your teeth to filter out the grind, then grin at your mate. Fun guaranteed. Best Turkish coffee is brewed in Greece, where it is known as Greek coffee.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Haha. Well. My flatmate is from Istanbul and she insists the Greeks have nothing to do with it or anything else. The best part is getting your grinds read aftewards! 😀

  3. […] bits do not count as vegan food. I also do not have to waste effort on thinking how I drink my coffee: I drink it black, and that is that. The fewer the options the merrier I […]