Drinking coffee is one of life’s prime joys. I discovered this in college, via the boyfriend.
I used to be a tea drinker and remain a lapsang souchong afficionado, but the boyfriend managed to convince me that coffee was better. Black coffee. The cream and sugar I was on the verge of adding to my brew would, according to the boyfriend, “ruin the coffee”. His elderly father, known to all as “The Man”, tried to persuade me otherwise. “Black as night, sweet as love, hotter than hell”, that’s the way The Man drank his joe. He called his coffee with “3 sugar-no cream” a “brown coffee”. Much as I adored The Man, I was out to impress the boyfriend, so for years, even long after I’d forgotten why, I drank it black.
Ancient legend has it that an Ethiopian goatherd, named Kaldi noticed that his charges became rather lively after eating certain berries. Kaldi brought these berries to a local monastery where they were brewed and tasted. The monks noticed this brew made it easier for them to stay concentrated at prayer for longer periods of time. Word spread eastward, across to Arabia and from there the practice of drinking coffee spread to the rest of the world.
The Netherlands was quick on the bandwagon with cofee drinking compared to most European countries. Beans stolen from the coffee bushes of Yemen in the 17th century, nurtured in the Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam and transplanted first to the fertile ground of Ceylon then Java, produced the famous “Arabica”. This coffee was exported far and wide via the V.O.C. , or Dutch East India Company.
You can read all about this in the legendary tome, Max Havelaar by Multatuli. This book is even more difficult to get through than “Ulysses”, but the story of Saidja and Adinda is worth a look-see.
Since I’ve traveled a bit, I learned that coffee doesn’t begin and end at Folger’s and Maxwell House. The aromas of Blue Mountain, Sicilian Roast, Lake Kivuko, Sumatra Blend, the bitter golden bloom of Mokka, each with its moods and merits opened new vistas of taste.
While we were living on Curaçao, I’d spend some mornings reading the papers at Coco’s Café, across from the Snoa. Blue Mountain coffee in a large mug, with a croissant and yesterday’s New York times, you’d think “it doesn’t get much better than this”. But it does. My other coffee hangout was the veranda at Avila Beach Hotel. Sitting in a cushioned Adirondak chair, peering out at the turquoise sea from under my panama hat, scribbling away and pouring coffee from the silver pot it’s served in there. Sometimes I’d catch the eye of the writer, Boeli van Leeuwen, and we’d pause from scribbling, tip our hats to one another or give the coffee drinker’s salute across the porch.
In Rome, I became aquainted with the elegant, caffe corretto. This is a beautiful cup of espresso coffee, accompanied by a shot of grappa/sambucca or cognac. The bitter of the espresso is countered by the sweet of the liquer. You can either dump the liquer into the coffee or down it in no more than two swigs—sipping is frowned upon. With the Piazza Della Rotonda as your backdrop, with the sun casting long afternoon shadows on the yellow and pumpkin colored buildings all around you, caffe corretto is definitely not your mid-morning caffeine fix.
Turkish coffee is a different ball game. It is also served in tiny, elegant cups but the coffee looks more like soup and tastes grainy. Taken without milk or sugar, you would, in an ideal situation, be offered a sweet, like baklava with your coffee. First you smell the coffee to appreciate the fine aroma, then you take a bite of the baklava, mash it with your tongue behind your bottom front teeth, then you drink a tiny sip of coffee—through your teeth. It is a pleasant way to pass an afternoon. When the cup is empty, you turn it upside down on the saucer; if Auntie Neçmiye is around, she’ll read your fortune in the dregs of the cup.
These days I mostly drink coffee in my own kitchen. I’ve got a little grinder for the beans, a magnificent espresso machine, and a plain old drip filter. It’s “ruined coffee” these days, with a splash of cream because black coffee doesn’t agree with me anymore.
* All images from Google except the first photo of the coffee apparatus.