IT’S ONLY COFFEE by Sue Wighton


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As I write this, I’m enjoying a delicious stovetop coffee at home, and wondering when we became so precious about coffee? When did the humble cup of Joe become a pretentious bratbeverage probably re-named Juan-Carlos? There are coffee shops (sometimes kiosks) and popup coffee vans on every street corner (preferably in an industrial precinct, with upturned milk crates for seating) catering to the modern hipster’s serious addiction to what is after all just a hot drink. I can hear the gnashing of urbanites’ bespoke veneers from here at that last sentence.

I’ve been around long enough to remember the brands of instant coffee that used to be prevalent in workplaces. I’m talking International Roast and Pablo. Heresy I know. Back then we were thrilled to have the privilege of a dedicated lunchroom let alone free coffee. No, I didn’t live in a shoebox. Thanks for asking.

For me, a rare treat was a cappuccino from a flash café. Something the lady-down-the-road called a ‘cup-o-chino’. We then moved on to Nescafe and, wonder of wonders, Moccona.

My, how things have changed. Or have they? Apparently the first ‘coffee house’ appeared in Mecca sometime in the fifteenth century; the phenomenon then spread to Europe and the Americas. The coffee house was a place where people gossiped, checked the news, exchanged ideas, and just hung about. It seems coffee establishments the world over has always been places where people conducted their daily affairs – signing a new business deal or sussing out a prospective employee. We still do all these things and more at coffee shops, though we might use tablets and iPhones to connect.

The last government office I visited recently sported an enormous Italian coffee machine – all silvery chrome and shiny plastic, matching the sleek functionality of the office decor – dispensing ‘real’ coffee to bored bureaucrats at any time of the day. Said bureaucrats fill their re-usable, sustainable, biodegradable coffee cups with the brew of their choice (latte, decaf, skinny cappuccino) and return to their sad little sterile cubicles in the faint hope that the coffee will give them the energy they need to populate their latest spreadsheet.

Coffee these days is all about lifestyle. Of course, we couldn’t afford a ‘lifestyle’ back when I was working in offices. In fact, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. We had a boring thing we called ‘life’. Far less sexy. Now we are ‘woke’ to the properties of a perfectly curated coffee. Yes, even a cup of coffee can be curated. OK, boomer?

Remember the ‘turmeric latte’ from a few years back? This was a trend that I suspect began in Mullumbimby and was designed to rearrange your chakra and adjust your aura. Worked for me! We bring the same pretentiousness we previously accorded wine to our coffee. And there are decisions to be made, my friend. Will you order a long black, a flat white, or perhaps just a shot of espresso? (And please don’t call it ex-presso!) You may even prefer de-caf (‘Why?’ I ask. ‘What’s the point?’ That’s just wrong; like ordering nonalcoholic wine).

Once you’ve figured out which species of coffee you will order, and rest assured, it will be organic, you then need to decide on the milk. Soy, almond, oat, skim, trim or (if you can withstand the pitying expression and eye rolls from the barista) regular full cream. And of course, there’s the coffee blend itself. If you want to increase your social standing, ask the barista about the ‘profile’ of the blend and its ‘character’. After all you wouldn’t want a hooknosed coffee with a dodgy moral compass, would you?

Just this morning, one of my favourite establishments announced its new autumn blend. Apparently, it tastes like ‘orange zest, sweet spices, roasted walnuts with brown sugar sweetness and plum syrup finish’. Ah but does it taste like coffee? I want to ask.

And just when I was getting my head around the whole coffee conundrum, I was recently made aware of ‘cold brew’ coffee. Apparently, this is made by steeping the coffee beans in cold water for several hours. I’m afraid I’m at the age where time is of the essence, so I won’t be waiting around for a cold brew any time soon.

Nope. When it comes to coffee, I’m old fashioned and here’s how I like my coffee. I like a blend that’s robustly coffee-ish, with a strong taste of coffee, a coffee profile, coffee character and, well, a coffee finish. Though I do like the look on the barista’s face when I ask for a large double-shot latte but split with 1½ of normal espresso and ½ decaf and with almond milk.