Like Prufrock, I sometimes feel I have “measured out my life in coffee-spoons”. I use coffee to wake me up, perk me up, relax, catch up with friends, have meetings with colleagues , wallow in misery, laugh with my favourite people, reconnect, recollect, daydream, plot, prophesise and procrastinate. There are very few days in my life where coffee does not feature. I have spent more money than I care to contemplate feeding my caffeine addiction. And yet on more than one occasion, I have felt ‘coffee-shamed’ for admitting that I DRINK INSTANT COFFEE….from a jar!!!!!
My relationship with coffee, which has always been a love-love one, goes right back to my early teens. Those halcyon days in the early 1990s, when cappuccino from a sachet, stirred for hours, yet still clumped in the bottom of the mug, enjoyed an air of glamour and sophistication. For coffee, with the exception of powdered Nescafe, was new to Ireland at this time and coffee drinkers were viewed with an air of suspicion. Did they think they were too good for a cup of tea?
As the years have progressed I think I have consumed enough mugs of this liquid energy, to talk about coffee with some authority. And yes, I accept, that all coffee was not created equal. I have had the pleasure of living for a time in Italy and am fully aware of what heights the humble bean can be elevated to and the etiquette of when to order a cappuccino or a latte and when we are firmly in café (espresso) territory.
I have visited parts of the world where serving bad coffee is comparable to a capital crime.
I spent a good portion of last summer comparing the offerings of the many independent coffee houses of Williamsburg and realising that streets like Bedford Ave take their coffee very seriously indeed. Black Brick Coffee became a daily haunt, and I appreciated the love of the bean in neighbourhood haunts like Toby’s and Oslo.
I feel I am open-minded about my coffee drinking. I am not set in my ways. I am not a purist. I do not judge others. These are the traits I would like to encourage in my fellow caffeine enthusiasts. I have been known to order an almond milk cappuccino with an extra shot and even tried the ubiquitous American offering of coffee over ice in a to-go cup. (However, cold coffee through a straw was a step too far for me. Regardless of the humidity I like my coffee hot, preferably with a side of cooling AC). But in addition to all of this, I still drink instant coffee on a daily basis and I am trying not to be ashamed to admit it!!!! So please, please, park the judgement at the door.
Like many caffeine lovers, I own lots of coffee paraphernalia – stove top Italian pots, cafetieres, electric brewers and I accept I will at some point be the owner of a Nespresso machine. But most of the time I just want the cup of bloody coffee. I have very little time and as I have not yet had my coffee, even less patience. So most of my daily coffee needs are met from a jar. The cheaper the coffee, generally the more spoons you need, but with the correct ratio of coffee to water, it is all quite drinkable. The better of the instants are, to my mind, extremely palatable. And so I am breaking my silence, because coffee snobbery appears to be a growing phenomenon, and needs to be challenged. The consumption of instant ground beans does not need to be a source of shame. We can admit to our love of the instant. Be honest, it can be steaming, strong and full of flavour. What more do we want? It’s a cup of coffee for God’s sake.
I do however reserve the right to have strongly worded opinions about an after dinner espresso. This needs to be right, otherwise it simply can’t fulfill its function as a digestivo. It needs to be strong enough to rid the palate of all previous flavours, warm but not so hot it is burned or can’t be consumed in one go. It should be so bitter it cries out for a little sugar, it should never come with milk. It should not fill the cup because it is watered down to look generous. It should have a certain thickness, almost a texture. OK, I admit it, there is a double standard at play here, I am a post-dinner espresso snob.
But otherwise, skip the pretension, by all means drink good coffee in beautiful cafes when the opportunity arises, or spend a bit longer on your brew for weekend brunch, but on a busy weekday don’t dismiss the most basic brew either. Real coffee addicts will take their caffeine in any form they can get it. Six cups later, I should know.
And remember it is more important to recognise the quality of the company over the quality of the roast…every time. Who really cares if the blend is “smooth, rich and perfectly balanced”? If your coffee companion is more interested in the origin of the bean than in the conversation on offer, a great opportunity has been lost. And so my advice is simple, “drink what you like, not what you feel you should”. Even if that is a couple of heaped teaspoons of Maxwell House and a splash of water from the kettle. It’s still coffee. xx