5 December 2010
My Coffee Pet Hates
One thing I really don’t like about the Anglo-Saxon/American way of life is the fact that everything is about instant gratification. People will put something like ‘it’s the journey that matters, not the destination’ in their Facebook status and then will go out and max out their credit card on clothes and gadgets. Unless by ‘journey’ they mean the distance from their house to the shops, it seems to me that they don’t really understand the meaning of the quote.
Instant gratification. I like that term, as much as I hate its effect. We want everything right now. We want food ready the minute we feel hungry. We want a drink in front of us the second we feel thirsty. We want to get that pair of shoes now, even though we’ve just spent this month’s wages. Foreplay is getting undressed; enjoying a meal is throwing a frozen meal in the microwave and eating it on our lap while watching TV; drinking coffee is buying a bucket of brown water from Starbucks & Co and gulping it down while rushing to work in the morning. It’s all about now, now, now…and pay later, when we find the money.
Well, as you may have noticed in my blog, I have already started addressing the problem of cooking, so you have no excuses to eat crap food. I am not going to show you how to improve your sex life, as I never disclose well kept secrets to the opposition ;)
I will, though, speak about coffee in this blog, because drinking coffee is one of those little pleasures that have become a mechanical activity without a soul.
I love coffee. Not just because it gives me that caffeine boost I need to wake up (I’m really not a morning person) but because it tastes great. And I like strong coffee. The kind that smells, tastes and looks strong. A tiny dose that packs a ‘hit’ of nuclear power proportions. I don’t like milk in my coffee; I don’t like any other Xmas tree decorations like cream, marshmallows, cocoa dust and the like. Just strong coffee, water and a bit of sugar.
So, I love Greek coffee. Others will call it Turkish coffee, but I don't know anyone who calls their Xmas dinner ‘Roast Greece’, do you?
I love espresso. I really hate it when people pronounce it ‘ex-presso’ instead of ‘es-presso’. It’s not a bloody fast train to London people!!!! It’s a coffee!!! Learn to read and learn to pronounce correctly what you put in your mouth (not while your mouth is full, of course).
I love Greek Frappe in the warm, summer days. Pure raw coffee power to keep you awake all day and night.
However, as I said above, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. I don’t see food as a source that simply keeps me alive but as a journey of exploring various tastes, combinations, cultural dos and don’ts. A trip of social activity, knowledge expansion and sensual overdose. I don’t just want to sit, eat whatever comes my way, burp and move on to my next activity. I enjoy the journey of searching for new and exciting recipes. The journey of walking around the markets and getting fresh and exciting ingredients for a dish. I get excited when I arrive in the kitchen and start experimenting with new ideas. I get proud when that recipe has been successful and I see it in the reactions of my friends. I am happy when I then forward that recipe to others to try it. Eating the dish is a very small part of the whole process, the destination. The actual journey is what makes it so exciting for me. It is food. It’s what keeps us alive, so we may as well make the most of it and enjoy it.
It is a lot like sex, after all. Another activity which is important because, after all, passes our genes to the next generations. But wouldn’t it be completely boring if it was just a matter of ‘wham bam, thank you m’aam’ all the time? A 1 minute missionary quickie every single time? Who would have enjoyed sex so much if the excitement of a new position, place to do it, partner, method, was not there? As in eating food, having sex (or making love for the romantics, although for me it sounds like baking a cake) is all about the journey.
Anyway, back to the coffee. Having a coffee, especially in the continent, is similar to eating or ‘baking a cake’. If you visit Greece, Italy, France, Spain, the Middle East, you will see that having a coffee is much more than receiving your caffeine fix. It’s a social activity, similar to the British ‘having a drink’ but without the hangovers of the following day. Friends sit for hours in a café, discussing, debating, and gossiping, while reading a paper or watching people go by at the same time. It is a time where the journey (spending time with friends, chatting, relaxing) is more important than the destination.
Unfortunately, instant gratification destroys this journey. And the UK and the US is the very example of how this is happening.
Walk into a Starbucks, Costa, Nero, Coffee Republic and any other franchise selling coffee. The first thing that strikes me is that it’s a self service place, where you have to stand in the queue, play the part of customer and waiter and then try to find a table to sit. Most of the time you will also have to play the part of the cleaner, since your empty table may be full of empty cups from previous customers.
You will also notice that there are two different prices for the same item. The cheaper price is for taking your order away, while the expensive one is for sitting in. I have always been curious about this. Why is sitting in is more expensive, when the staff does not make anything different? It’s not as if they serve me if I sit in. I still have to play waiter/cleaner, so why do I pay more for actually doing their work???? I actually asked a manager at Costa this question once and here is briefly our dialogue:
Him: It’s because of all the extra costs if people sit in.
Me: What extra costs? I am still getting everything myself, I will still empty that table over there myself because no one has cleaned it up yet.
Him: You forget electricity bill, wear and tear of furniture, etc
Me: So, if I buy something to take away, will you warm up the water with your breath, under a candle lit counter???
Him: Ha ha, no, but you know what I mean. Don’t forget that you get your coffee in normal cups. All the water and cleaning stuff to wash it, eh?
Me: Paper cups cost too. The water bill in the UK is the same no matter how much you use. Are you saying that you use 20p worth of fairy liquid to wash one cup???? Where do you buy your washing up liquid from?
Him: No, but they also break, so they need to be replaced, don’t they?
Me: Then charge whoever breaks it, when it happens. Don’t charge me in advance! I know I’m Greek and I like smashing plates, etc, but that’s a bit unfair!
Him: Ha ha
Well, at least I made him happy with my comments, because if you know why the extra charge by reading the above conversation, then please tell me because I am still in the dark.
Anyway, back again to our franchised coffee-robbery. Once you got your cup and sat down, you will also notice that all coffees come in 3 sizes:
• Normal, which means that it’s the size of a small soup bowl in case you want to dip your cake in it too.
• Medium, which is the size of a pop corn bucket at the cinema and will probably fit all the coffee you need for the rest of the day.
• Large, which is the size of a KFC Mega Family Meal bucket, and with enough space to wash your tired feet in it.
This is coffee, not soup!!!!!!!! I asked for a dose of caffeine, not caffeine flavour water!!!! If you mix a bit of lemon juice with loads of water, you get lemonade. If you mix a bit of coffee with loads of water you get coffeeade, not coffee!!!!! If I want a coffee to last me half a day, I will most likely sip it very slowly, or order a second cup. I do not need 3 litres of brown water!!!!
And don’t get me started on doubles! To a normal, logical person, a ‘double espresso’, for example, would mean twice the amount of coffee you normally get. Double=stronger. Well, to those kind of places ‘double’ has two meanings, depending on the ‘training’ the staff got:
1. Either same amount of coffee but double the amount of water/milk (so you get an even more weak drink), or
2. Double amount of everything, meaning that your drink is not any stronger.
As you can see, not only the ‘destination’ in places like this is not proper coffee but the ‘journey’ is like ‘the road to hell’.
Where do I actually get my coffee? Well, when I want a Greek coffee I just make it myself, as here in the UK it’s very rare to find a place serving it outside of London. The same applies to Greek Frappe. For espresso, I prefer a nice, cosy little café which has the feeling of being in your own living room (less the mess), where I can walk in, have a sit and get served by a happy person, where I just say ‘May I have a coffee please?’ without placing the words ‘small’, ‘medium’, ‘large’, ‘mega’, in front of it. And especially where they know how to make it and it tastes as it should.
And finally, I come to my final pet hate. Coffee on the go!!! I’ve seen people run to catch a train, making sure that the only part of them not shaking is the paper coffee cup. I’ve seen people standing in a packed train with one hand holding the newspaper and the coffee with the other, while they balance themselves on the backs of other commuters. Having coffee in a rush, on your feet, is like having a glass of Dom Perignon while running to catch a bus. In other words, you get the same taste as sitting down but you completely miss the experience, the journey.
For me, do your running, your stressful hurrying and once you’re done, have a sit, get a coffee and relax. Then have a sip and enjoy it. Connect the coffee with the pleasure of finally having made it to work on time and you can now have a breather. Make it seem like your reward. Have it during a break, to reflect upon the plans for the rest of the day, or to think about a problem or a holiday. Otherwise, it just feels like a normal day to day activity, which is as mechanical and has no meaning, just like the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ of our everyday speech.
I love coffee. But most of all I love the little moments while I’m enjoying it, whether with friends or on my own. Life has become too fast. Make it be your little break from your hectic life. You will notice that you will appreciate it tenfold.