A virtual experience of Colombian coffee and culture with a guide who is a complete stranger sounds a little awkward and, truth be told, it is.
I was feeling anxious when I started a video conference call with a Colombian man living in Medellin on a Tuesday morning.
Mr Nicolas Pinzon Alvarez, 31, was there to help me learn more about Colombian coffee and culture - a tour offered on Withlocals.
Before our session took place, he offered me some options on what we could cover in our 11/2 hours together - we could learn about Colombian coffee and attempt a Colombian recipe, or he could teach me Latin dance.
I chose the former, since I have little talent in coordinated movement, and he was understanding.
When we finally met over video conference, he was in a printed T-shirt and a jaunty hat, standing in his kitchen.
The freelance Spanish teacher was friendly, generally fluent in English and keen to listen when I spoke or asked questions. He was well-prepared - the materials he needed for our session were all within reach by the time he switched on his camera.
He struck up conversations naturally, which helped to dissipate some of the awkwardness I felt. He taught me about Colombian coffee and how the most common mistake people make is pouring boiling water on their coffee, which makes it taste more acidic.
He also shared information related to Colombia's coffee production and gave tips on how to make a more delicious brew at home. Top takeaway: Add a blend of milk and butter, and a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon, for a creamy finish.
I also got to see him make arepas, the "Colombian version of a tortilla", as he put it. His recipe was simple enough to replicate at home halfway across the world, with basic ingredients such as cornmeal, vegetable oil and salt.
But perhaps the nicest part of the tour was just learning more about another country, like how Colombia, with its incredible biodiversity, is one of the planet's 17 megadiverse countries.
And Mr Alvarez's infectious energy helped too - he introduced me to traditional Colombian music on Spotify and even started salsa dancing midway.
His tour is, like many others on Withlocals, on the pricier end of the spectrum, although it stretched beyond the allotted 11/2 hours to almost two hours. It would be more value for money if a large group of friends shared the experience.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, I guess learning about coffee in a scenic cafe in Medellin is not an option. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of Colombia's scenery and sights, but I suppose that will have to wait.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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