Coffee

Definitely into the post-Christmas food slump. Palate sated. No idea what to eat, as well as no idea what day of the week it is. Perhaps a cup of coffee will help. Much of the time, I feel sure a cup of coffee will help.

At least, I used to. These days, I say that I still like coffee, but it doesn’t like me so much anymore. My way round it is to stick to instant – sorry, purists, but I had too much of the good stuff for too long, and it started to take a toll.

I do remember my first taste of coffee – no doubt Nescafe, certainly instant. We were visiting a friend on the island where we used to holiday – a lady known for her hospitality and her cooking skills. At seven, coffee tends to produce a ‘yuk!’ factor, which is probably just as well at that age.

I’m sure that coffee resurfaced as OK, in the next few years, but my awareness of it took a leap when I was waitressing in a cafe that did serve pretty good coffee. I started on ‘half and half’ – half black filter coffee, half hot milk.

This was before all the espresso-and-friends coffee terms had really hit the UK (or at least, medium sized towns in central England), so half and half was pretty OK. But I started to get a liking for the real thing. By the time my waitressing was up, I had moved on to black coffee – and have stayed there ever since.

Spending some of my gap year in Poland introduced me to various options on coffee. One of the more concerning was the use of filter coffee grounds to make a coffee rather as you would an instant coffee.

Coffee itself was fine, you just needed to remember to stop drinking before the bottom of the cup, or you could find yourself chewing through the grounds. It went by the wonderfully onomatapoeic name of ‘plucha’ – I think this was shorthand for ‘will go straight through you’. It sure did.

I must have learned to like better coffee in Germany at some point. The coffee percolator machines were great for making a decent cup, and I learned to trust particular brands there. If you were having a serious kaffee und kuchen moment, you did want a stronger cup to offset the sugar rush of the cake.

On one occasion in Poland, I did have a filter coffee plus poppy seed cake – and ended up with a severe headache rather too quickly. I love both items, but learned not to mix them – or at least not in quantity.

I also remember the first time coffee started to interfere with sleep. I joined friends for a birthday party at a rather smart Indian restaurant. Offered a coffee at the end of the meal, I agreed. All of a sudden that night, I realised that I was somewhat tenser than usual – and that my body wouldn’t switch off in the normal way.

The real impact came when I worked in an office where there was free tea and coffee – the latter being good quality filtered. Bit by bit, the daily coffee intake went up. It did help with shifting giant amounts of paper from A to B (after data entry), so I kept at it. And at weekends too.

Along the way, we also encountered brilliant coffee in Italy – and discovered what a quality cappuccino could taste like. We worked our way round the arty city of Graz by moving from cafe to cafe, taking in coffee all the while.

Then, one time, I went on a work trip and got ill. Having a second work trip straight after, with a weekend in between to recover, I went cold turkey on the caffeine front – and found it OK. Had I tried to reduce the coffee by other means, I don’t know that I would have escaped the headaches.

Now, I still drink coffee – but I stick to instant. The caffeine dosage on a filter coffee is hefty – I can have a range of hot drinks over the course of a day, or drink one filter coffee. I went with the former.

I still love the aroma of filter coffee. I still love the ritual of setting up an espresso maker on the stove top, or hearing the chug chug of a coffee machine moving into action. I occasionally risk a decaf filter coffee, and live to tell the tale.

Even before the coffee reduction, I have to admit that I saw little point in fancy coffee machines. When all you want is black coffee, and you can get that via an espresso maker or a simple coffee drip machine, all the bells and whistles can seem a bit over the top.

Funnily, despite my overall appreciation of coffee, I’m not huge on coffee flavouring in cakes, and the like. I prefer the real thing. And part of me would still like to in the way I used to. But I know I feel better for it, not doing so.

Here endeth the sermon on too much coffee. For all of where I am now with coffee intake, it still makes the essential list.

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