At university the teapot reigned. Many a nice cup of Yorkshire tea saw me through the tranquil hours of essay composition and private study. Especially during Neighbours. But when those halcyon years were suddenly over, I discovered a time called 7am. And something stronger was called for.
Coffee is my new best friend. While I can always turn to my old buddy Mr Tea Bag for a leisurely afternoon chat, coffee shakes me from my bed on my darkest days, props open my eyes and wrenches the foggy brain into focus; it moves my limbs in the required directions even when I’m in a daze. Watch the army of commuters staggering from house to office and you’ll see the same recurring movements everywhere, a set of well-practised actions which have become second nature by necessity as much as by repetition. Person A (let’s call her Coco [haha]) lurches from the tube station and takes her daily detour via Starbucks/Costa/Nero/Pret. Barely raising her heavy-lidded eyes, she slurs a multi-syllabic string of cocoa-related words at the apathetic barista. ‘Grande-skinny-cappuccino-widanextrashot-and-hot-milk-plus-extra-foam-and-chocolate-sprinkles.’ Coco stands trancelike until the receptacle touches the counter, at which, sudden, wild action is triggered. The cup is lunged for, seized, propelled to mouth, scalding bitter liquid is desperately inhaled. And there! There it is: a reverberating sigh of relief, and her entire being visibly trembles as the dregs of fatigue are sent packing.
She is not alone. This rite of morning passage takes place every day across cities all around the world. Millions of people haul gigantic cardboard cups from desk to mouth, from desk to mouth, from desk to mouth. Tongues are burnt, countless pennies are spent, all for a taste of that precious, gleaming, magical brown liquid with the power to shake us into instant action.
I’m an Americano with milk girl. No sugar. The cheapest option, but also the most unadulterated, gearing me up for stacks of invoices, difficult authors, endless meetings. Eleven o’clock and it’s time for another. Shameful as it is to admit, I depend upon this little luxury. I like my tea, but I need my coffee.
Hasty introductions and all this urgency mean that I’ve never taken any time to dig deeper when it comes to coffee. Ask me before 10am and I’d say, ‘So what? I know what I like and I like what I know.’ But early mornings are no time to contemplate change. So it must have been an afternoon when I found myself considering the dark swirling depths in the mug before me and wondering about the wall of coffee varieties on sale at the supermarket, and the many chalkboard options I never deign to order in the coffee shop. Should I try something new? Should I try them all? Do different coffees have clearly distinctive tastes? Are all beans grown and roasted in the same way, and does this affect the flavour? What the hell is a Ristretto? I realised that what I don’t know about coffee is anything about its many subtleties. With a worldwide industry built upon it, there must be a hundred types and tastes and styles and flavours. So I decided to find out more. First, I asked for a cafetière for my birthday. (I received two, in different sizes, both made by Bodum.) They were accompanied by a large selection of coffee packs from exotic destinations: Nicaragua, Rwanda, Kenya, Ecuador, plus a strong French blend (strength 4) and a pack of the well-loved Italian Lavazza. So now I’m equipped and ready to begin. Not only that, I have located Time Out’s guide to the best coffee shops in London and saved it to my desktop.
On the cusp of becoming self-employed, I can already envisage my coffee consumption rocketing. Cup after cup, café after café, in search of free WiFi and/or a shot of motivation. So why not make something positive out of it and document my education in coffee as it unfolds? The only rule – somewhere or something new every time. Check back to read about my espresso-fuelled adventures, or feel free to join me for a cup if you’d like.