Dom’s three-part treatise on coffee is the latest post in our Stories From The Table section – a place where we explore memories, cultural vignettes, and anthropological musings on eating and drinking.
I’ve not been a coffee drinker for very long, but I have had a respect for (and possibly a little fear of) it for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I revered coffee as one of those mysterious “adult flavours” (read as bitter). A taste for it indicated the presence of a developed palate.
So when the time came for me to leave home for university, I felt somewhat incomplete. I’d developed a fondness for all the things that, as a child, I’d watched adults devour, and had been anxiously waiting to be able to enjoy myself; the salty bitterness of olives, the sharp tang of feta cheese, the peculiar texture of a cooked mushroom, and even whisky (my first experience of whisky having been a capful of Bell’s in a cup of milky tea, offered to me by my grandfather, who I suspect did so just to chuckle at the shape my face made before the cup even made it to my mouth). I’d always enjoyed the smell of coffee, but could still not bring myself to finish a cup.
Coffee was the last and, considering its ubiquity as a social lubricant, most important hurdle to overcome. So every six months I endeavoured to check in with my tastebuds, and dip my toe back into the water. I spent four years picking, probably at random, a coffee shop and tentatively ordering what I thought would be an inoffensive coffee based drink. Invariably, I would panic and end up with something far too strong.
I have Alice to thank for breaking this sadly comic cycle. She helped me find the gateway drink, a latte – the coffee flavour tempered by a fistful of sugar packets. A latte? The choice seems so obvious now. Why didn’t I think of that? The truth is that I probably did order just that during one of my bi-annual forays into coffee culture.
So what was different this time? It was a nice coffee shop to be sure, but it was no nicer than the cafes that I’d visited in my past abortive attempts. It’s dawned on me recently, that my love for coffee is inextricably linked with my love of the girl that finally got me to drink it. The difference was that I now had someone I desperately wanted to impress. It’s funny how with the right motivation your brain can completely rewire itself.
Within the week I’d drank, and enjoyed, my first black coffee (without sugar no less). A taste for espresso would come along in no time, along with some very strong opinions, which I’ll share with you next week in part two – Coffee. A Manifesto.