Tuesday, August 15, 2006

For the Love of Coffee

My relationship with coffee has changed over the years. As a young-un I didn’t like the stuff – ptoui – I was a tea drinker, thank you very much. When I was seventeen-and-a-half, however, I was forced to learn to tolerate the stuff as I began work as a landscape gardener on the YTS (a government training scheme designed to exploit the youth for cheap labour and keep them off the unemployment statistics). One of the earliest lessons I learned when mowing lawns and building patios was that if a client offered you something to eat or drink, you always said yes, no matter what. If you declined just once then you would never be offered again. Great were the times when the client would ask if you would like a tea or a coffee, but far more often they would just ask if you wanted a coffee. You should also understand that in those days Nescafe was the height of sophistication (before we learned about boycotting Nestle products) but you were more likely to end up with a supermarket brand chicory/coffee instant blend.

In my early twenties I went through a period of giving up caffeine altogether. And after a brief flirtation with Kenco Decaffeinated, I made the move to fruit/herbal teas, with a special fondness for bramble or strawberry. A few years later, once I had returned to education and become a mature student, I discovered the advantage of having a zero caffeine tolerance level was that if I did have a cup of coffee then it made me absolutely hyper for up to two hours. Fantastic for those times where there’s an essay deadline to meet and you’ve just slumped completely – in those 2 hours I could achieve what would normally take me eight or more. However, there was a price to pay. While the up was undoubtedly great, the comedown was a crock of shit. For an hour or two after the coffee had worn off I would feel tired, drained, and slightly nauseous. I never particularly enjoyed the taste either: coffee was to be used as a strictly controlled drug only.

A few years ago I flew out to Portugal for a long weekend to see an old friend of mine. While there he insisted on calling in at cafés for ultra strong espressos, which I could only stomach with a matching quantity of brown sugar stirred in. It tasted vile, sweet and fantastic in equal measure, and the hit from it was amazing. After three days I was hooked completely. My addiction was short lived, however, as returning to the UK the coffee was bland by comparison and I couldn’t face it in any quantity.

I kept my use of coffee restricted to the final stretch of long journeys, when I still had 100 miles to go but didn’t want to risk falling asleep at the wheel. However, as the motorway service stations started installing bars run by the likes of Costa Coffee and Coffee Primo I became increasingly intimidated by the jargon. I knew what an espresso was, and that my wife was fond of cappuccinos, but I couldn’t figure out what passed for a regular coffee. Even after discovering that it had been re-branded as an Americano, I was then assaulted with the array of sizes, none of which included the word “regular”. And the sneer from the assistants if I failed to pronounce ‘grande’ with the right accent was enough to have me snarling into my beard.

Over the past year, I’ve found myself enjoying the occasional mocha when out with my wife, although depending where we go it can vary widely from a hot chocolate with a dash of coffee to a coffee with a dash of hot chocolate. But in the past few months, as I’ve steadily felt more tired (see A Trip to The Doctor), I’ve started to develop a taste for a strong cup of coffee in the afternoon which my wife makes up in a cafetière.

On our recent trip to France, the cottage we were staying in only had a cafetière big enough for a single cup, so we went in search of a larger one, but for some reason I was unable to fathom, this French device for creating strong coffee didn’t appear to be sold anywhere in France that we could find.

Still, by this time I was obsessed with the coffees served in the French cafés. In this corner of France, if you ask for un café, what you get is an espresso; un grand café is a double espresso. And that’s it. None of your Lattes, Macchiattos, Ristrettos or Americanos. Just small, strong, coffee that I could stir in matching quantities of brown sugar. By the time we left I was on to a few grand cafés a day. My excuse that it was to counteract the tiredness of the B12 deficiency was only half the reason; the fact is that I was rapidly becoming addicted to the stuff.

Since returning home I’ve tried to restrict myself to one cafetière in the afternoon again, aware that it could easily spiral out of control if I’m not careful. Be it smoking, lottery tickets or food, I eventually learned that it’s easier to deal with addictions before they spiral out of control, than after.

The other day Maggie was out and I decided that rather than go through the plitter of using the cafetière, I’d just have a cup of instant coffee. Bleargh, it tasted like dishwater. It seems that the further down the coffee road you advance, the less able you are to go back.

My Portuguese friend always used a Moka Express Pot when brewing coffee at home. I have one in the cupboard somewhere; it’s just a matter of time before I figure out how to use it.

17 comments:

Foot Eater said...

I use coffee the way a fish uses water. I eat, drink and breathe the stuff. I mainline it, melt the beans into rocks and smoke them, crush them to powder and snort them. I sprinkle coffee granules on my tongue so that they crackle like space dust. I sit down at the computer with a coffee. If the phone rings I make a cup. If the doorbell goes I make a cup.

I can quit at any time.

Diddums said...

I used to be the opposite - always had to have coffee instead of tea. But now tea seems to me a better drink when you're thirsty. Coffee in town is very expensive - I could buy a packet of coffee for what they charge for one mug. PS Comments on Blogigo are now open to ze wurrlde! I didn't have to move after all.

Naomi said...

reminds me of a story. My dad loves coffee and drinks it all day long, black no sugar and strong. My dad was working at his dads house fitting a new bathroom for them. My grandad believes that coffee should be drunk in moderation. When my dad asked for a cup of coffee mid afternoon my grandad decided to get creative and made him a cup of Bovril instead! Hey, it looks like coffee so what's the difference.

Nikki said...

Foot eater sounds like how my mother used to be.

I barely touch the stuff - I smoke instead. LOL

Tara Marie said...

You just wrote about my addiction.......give me a good cup of joe and I'm one happy gal!

34quinn said...

HI kim, I have often heard of those soooo in love with their coffee. It is not for me. Cannot stand the stuff only time I have gone beyond my dislike of it was one extremly cold winter stuck in a freezing cold cabin with nothing hot to drink except a coffee...blachy but it did warm me up.

I am a tea drinker..have one big travel mug every morning when I get up good and strong to get me moving.

Occassionally an herbal tea in the evening if really need to unwind , it makes me quite drowsy and ready for sleep.

By the way I finally posted a pic of me so if curiousity gets the better of you pop over and have a peek but please be nice......It took alot of courage to post it. lol.
I have still to post my behind for the lose that ass challenge...arggg I am working toward it.

Kim Ayres said...

Foot Eater - A true artisit and professional. I fear I could never match your exacting standards

Diddums - Glad you've got the comments working - I'll be over shortly :)

Naomi - I cannot imagine getting addicted to Bovril, but I guess there will be people out there... :)

Nikki - I used to smoke. I'm a natural born addict, which is why I have to keep an eye on this developing coffee habit.

Tara Marie :)

Quinn - a pic? My curiosity is up - I'll be right over.

fatmammycat said...

Café con leche, best coffee in the world, don't know where my other comment went, but Kim my friend, I totally agree with you.

jotcr2 said...

I have just moved to decaf. I used to hate the idea of it, but I'm breastfeeding, and Sheena wasn't sleeping well, and rather irritable, so it was worth a shot. It actually isn't that bad. I couldn't go cold turkey.

34quinn said...

HI, just dropped back in....seems I have made an "ass" of myself on my blog.
be prepared.LOL>

Gyrobo said...

I've never been able to touch the stuff since I heard it stunts your growth.

I'm still hoping for a late growth spurt. Any day now, I'm gonna be a full degree centigrade taller.

Dr Maroon said...

Don't you find it amazing the length of time some people go without checking their e-mails?

Kim Ayres said...

Fatmammycat - never tried it - in fact I'd never heard of it until just now either. Will keep an eye out

Jotcr2 - the first time I had a cup of decaf I gulped it down and thought "damn, I could do with a cup of coffee..."

Quinn - my god, it's huge - it fills the entire photo!

Gyrobo - sounds like you need to stand on a hotplate for a while

Dr Maroon - you might even begin to fear they were ignoring you...

34quinn said...

LOL, kim ..yes it does...and I had to use a wide angle lense too!!!Aren't you glad it is not a scrach and sniff ????LOLLOLOLOLOL

( actually it is looking mighty big there isnt it, it is because I had to use the web cam to take the picture and I had no one else to click the mouse..so it was actually quite a hard picture to take. I had to keep my butt in the frame and reach back to click the freaking mouse.. I swear I musta lost 5 pounds just taking the damn picture.)

Kim Ayres said...

Try a mirror next time :)

Stella said...

Coffee, yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm, my poison, I get a withdrawal headache if I don't have my coffee in the morning.

BStrong said...

I have really cut back on the coffee, only one or two cups per day. Coffee is supposed to suppress ones appetite so when I was drinking 10-12 cups per day I was loosing weight at a tremendous rate. The doc put me on a strict diet which included the above 1-2 cups. That doc visit was a few years back but I still watch my consumption of coffee.

Since I hit the age of 35 this year it seems as if my waist band is testing the limits. I might have to increase my dose to lose a few.