Friday, May 24, 2013

Coffee: A Love Letter


I have spent today sick in bed with some kind of flu which I can only assume is due to the terrible weather. (It was 4 degrees this morning! FOUR! It's nearly June!) So I took the opportunity to do a bit of writing. So here it is, my ode to the delicious bean juice that is coffee. It's not perfect, but like any former Girl Guide, I did my best... Enjoy!

I do not remember the taste of my first ever cup of coffee, but I do remember spilling most of it down the front of my Space (remember them?) 1998 UK tour T-shirt. Perhaps not the most auspicious beginning for a serious relationship that has continued now for over a decade, but as somebody who spilled, and continues to spill, things on herself on a fairly regular basis, nothing to actively discourage me on my path to caffeine addiction.

I had decided, at the tender age of thirteen, slumped on the sofa watching my Il Postino video for the tenth time, to become Italian. Being Italian, as far as I could tell, really just involved eating pizza and pasta and drinking a lot of coffee. Now, this was something that I could do. OK, I conceded, Italians probably didn’t drink Nescafé Gold Blend from a mug shaped like Winnie the Pooh’s head, but I was working with what I had available to me at the time. Plus, I really liked Pizza.

     Nowadays, you can’t walk down a high street without falling over a Costabucks A-board advertising the latest vanilla frappu-cappu-venti-ccino, but back in Ipswich during the 1990s, we were limited to whatever was available in the school cafeteria (Nescafé) or found in the kitchen cupboard (Nescafé, or Nescafé Gold Blend for very special occassions) or served in the one local ‘fancy’ cafe (pushing it up a notch with “dark roast” filter coffee). My friends and I considered ourselves quite the sophisticates, lounging in the Middle School common room, supping from our plastic cups of watery hot bean juice while discussing the merits of Sailor Moon versus Pokémon, duetting on our favourite melodies from Les Miserables and wondering why we didn’t have boyfriends.

Fifteen years later, I have become one of ‘those’ people who simply cannot begin their day without a cup or two of the hot brown stuff... And I don’t mean tea. Tea can jog on as far as I’m concerned. I’m well aware that this makes me a terrible English person - in actual fact, I don’t hate tea. Indeed, I would even go as far as to say that I actively enjoy it in it’s “green”, “iced” or “Boba” forms, but... just give me my damned cappuccino already. I have a headache.

     My waking life is essentially prescribed by the amount of caffeine that is coursing through my bloodstream at any given time. Good luck having a coherent conversation with me before 9am.
To be fair, my version of coherent is mumbling slightly less and perhaps making a full ten seconds worth of eye contact, but my thrice-daily cup of Joe enables me to at least become a almost fully-functioning person rather than just a miserable flailing mass of bone and flesh. Drinking coffee helps to ensure that my deadlines will be met and that I don’t kill that person with a trolley in the five items or less queue at Sainsbury’s. And apparently, it helps ward off depression in women and it’s antioxidant content can help to prevent liver disease, which can only be good things.

My knowledge of all things brown and coffee-like has gradually developed over the years. I like to think that I know good coffee now - No more Nescafé for me. I have been known to describe myself as something of a connoisseur- connoisseur of course being French for “snob”. I’m even starting to be able to differentiate between flavours beyond the standard ‘sweet’, ‘milky’ and “jesus christ, this coffee is so bitter it’s practically writing it’s opinions on immigration reform for the Daily Mail.” Some coffees actually do taste “fruity” or “chocolaty” or vaguely “enzymatic” (that’s a real descriptor from the Special Coffee Association’s Flavor Wheel, folks).

     A couple of friends of ours own an amazing independent coffee shop - The Little Red Roaster in Norwich - and are absolutely passionate, to the point of it being slightly worrying, about coffee. They have taught us well. I can taste burnt milk and over-roasted beans, I know that the water needs to be a certain temperature to make a decent cup, I am unimpressed by latte art and a “Barista” t-shirt if the coffee itself isn’t up to scratch. I even catch myself judging others on their coffee choices. De-caff Mocha? Get out of here! Caramel Frappuccino? That’s not “real” coffee! Having said that and indeed, utterly contradicting everything I just said, If I need the caffeine, I will drink anything. I will grudgingly down a Costa coffee double espresso or an Upper Crust “Cappuccino” at times of absolute desperation, like at 6am at any London airport or British train station. What is it with British transport hubs and terrible hot beverages? It’s as if they - whoever ‘they’ are, those gatekeepers of the motorway service station canteen, the overlords of the bus depot - want to distract us from the essential awfulness of trying to get around this tiny overcrowded island by burning our poor polite British tongues and viciously assaulting our barren little taste buds. 

When planning to travelling anywhere, whether in this country or abroad, I always research the best coffee shops using a combination of google, blogs and twitter recommendations and figure out the rest of my trip around them. I like to know where I can get a reliably good coffee in advance of any extended jaunt - it’s a sort of safety net... Even if I dislike the place itself, at least I know where I can get a decent Flat White. Having an artisan cappuccino in my sweaty little hand is a kind of delicious talisman which enables me to navigate my way around a big city like London without having a full blown panic attack.

OK, so sometimes I can’t sleep properly because I drank too much of the ol’ bean juice after 3pm and once in a while I get hilarious little palpitations in my chest and bouts of exhiliratingly painful acid reflux, but nevertheless, you can prise my coffee from my cold, dead hands. With caffeine in my life, I am perpetually irritable, anxious and grumpy, waiting for the next cup to sustain me for another couple of hours. But I’d most likely be irritable, anxious and grumpy regardless. At least I can do it with the smooth, leguminous (thanks, Coffee flavour wheel!) taste of a single origin Guatemalan espresso in my Winnie the Pooh head shaped mug.


Anikaviro said...

haha, awesome!

Unknown said...

This is quite possibly one of the greatest things I've ever read. I loved every minute of it! Get better soon and enjoy some coffee. I just finished a massive mug of Nescafe Gold Blend just before I read this. It was good! XXX

miplused design said...

This is the best thing I ever read about coffee!
Waving my hand from Italy,

Mirta (coffee lover)

Raffy said...

You nearly made me want to drink a cup of "bean juice" - quite strange since I don't like it! I'm an atypical Italian: I can't survive without my tea ("leaf sweat"? :D), and it's not that easy to find real, good tea in here...
Anyway, luckily I wasn't sipping tea while reading your post: I would have spit it all at "Jesus Christ, this coffee is so bitter it's pratically writing it's opinion on immigration reform for the Daily Mail"... you're so funny! :)
Greetings from Coffeeland and get well soon!

Anonymous said...

Years ago I had to switch to tea as my daily beverage and coffee was sadly relegated to "once a week and probably not a whole one" because of the acid stomach. BUT! have you tried the Aeropress? It makes a really low acid brew that is super tasty and I can drink a whole cup of black coffee when I make it with the Aeropress, without my stomach complaining. :)

Jenni Birchwood said...

This is a great read. I think I also heard that it prevents Alzheimer's. Hooray for coffee!

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