I had a really good night’s sleep. The air outside is finally crisp and fresh like it should be. It’s October, the month of my daughter’s birth and my favourite time of the year. Yesterday, I tried a new recipe for a fig-coffee cake that knocked everyone’s socks off and this morning, I made applesauce and applesauce muffins. I’m caught up on my work in all sectors. My house is clean. I went to the gym this weekend. My coffee right now seems especially delicious and I served it to myself in one of a set of newly purchased, 1940s diner-style cups.
For all these reasons, I want to write an ecstatic, Whitman-esque riff on the joy of your first coffee in the morning, but because I’m a tightly wound, white girl, I’m not sure I can really do justice to a Whitman-esque riff, so, instead, I’ll just rhapsodize in my way about the soul-satisfying sip of a well-made espresso or capuccino – and the soul-destroying slurp of stuff some people might call coffee but is, in fact, simply passive aggressive brown water that, like the false friend it is, makes promises it can’t keep and lets you down when you need it most. Let’s throw in a little history too.
Like humans, coffee originated in Africa, probably starting in Ethiopia where the little red berries of the plant were accidentally ingested, leading to alertness, a feeling of satiety, and the ability to stay up into the night (yup). If you’ve ever had coffee with Ethiopian folks, you know that they take it all very very seriously, and their approach to roasting, grinding, and brewing the beautiful bean is reminiscent of Japanese tea ceremonies or even a religious ritual. It was taken to Yemen and other neighbouring areas, where, in fact, religious folks, like Sufis, used it to support their spiritual practices. The Turks then carried coffee throughout the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century; Christian Europe figured it out last in the 17th century, but it took off fast there, in relative terms. I mean, this is the 17th century still. Life moved pretty slowly.
Decent coffee was an important part of life in parts of Europe from that point on, though not, unfortunately, in the parts the my ancestors immigrated from. I grew up thinking that “coffee” meant the Melita and Maxwell House freeze-dried black dust that came in huge cans and tasted like I imagine brake fluid might taste. Even worse was the Tasters’ Choice and Nescafe instant coffee option, which was the only kind of coffee I remember being able to buy in England and Scotland when I lived there very temporarily in 1987.
I discovered real coffee in the late 80s, early 90s when, first, I began to associate with people who’d been to Europe and understand what we were missing. I housesat for a family who had a moka pot, and when I finally figured out how the damn thing worked, I was in love. Then the whole Starbucks thing happened and local coffee shops and we all know how the rest of that story goes.
These days, I’ve pared my coffee routine to a really good, strong espresso out of our moka pot, with a quick pour of warmed milk – no foam, thank you. It’s basically a very strong version of a flat white. I’ve tried more involved coffee making methods, including using an expensive espresso machine, and I still keep coming back to my old favourite: good quality, fresh espresso roast beans and my friend the Biaggio moka pot. I’m curious to try the Chemex coffee maker, mostly because of the design, which is beautiful, unlike the name which makes me think of some kind of bleached paper product that you might use for a highly personal and private purpose, but am not highly motivated.
Being able to find a good coffee when we are travelling is now of paramount important. Having seen what happens when we neglect this aspect of our day, we now prioritize research into local coffee shops before the morning crisis hits. In a pinch, we’ll fall back on Starbucks, but we generally look for a local shop with a good machine that can do a decent Americano. And you find some good coffee in the most unusual places: for example, the best coffee I have ever had, bar none, has been at The Brake Room in Belleville, Ontario.
And I will end by stating, unequivocally – and I do realize that this makes me unCanadian and unpleasant and many other unthings – but Tim Hortons coffee, well, it can go pee up a rope, as we used to say in my colourful Saskatchewan childhood. That’s desperation coffee and, even then, it does nothing to satisfy my need for the deep, dark, rich goodness of a real cup of joe.