Sunday, 27 May 2012

In praise of coffee

It has only just dawned on me how long it is since I walked along a street past a shop emitting a tantalising smell of roasting coffee.  Somehow the smell always seemed tastier than the taste, if you see what I mean.  Anyway, I do like coffee.  It wasn't always so but when I was in my just pre-teen years or thereabouts my mother decided it was time for me to acquire the taste.

In those days, the only coffee I knew, possibly the only coffee available in England, was a coffee essence, a semi-viscous fluid called Camp Coffee.  Of course, I am talking here about those early years after the Second World War.  I dare say there had been a great shortage of coffee during the war and things still had not recovered during the early and even mid 1950s.  Anyway, Camp Coffee it was.  A little of the essence was poured into a cup before being stirred into a nearly boiling 50/50 mix of milk and water.  Using all milk to produce a really milky drink was considered the height of extravagance; such luxuries were rarely seen in our house.

[I've found one can still buy Camp Coffee and this is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Camp Coffee is a glutinous brown substance which consists of water, sugar, 4% coffee essence, and 26% chicory essence. This is generally used as a substitute for coffee, by mixing with warm milk in much the same way as cocoa or added to cold milk and ice to make an iced coffee, but it is commonly found on baking aisles in supermarkets as it is also used as an ingredient in coffee cake and other confectionery.]
I am pleased to report that nowadays my taste is a little more refined.  But I do have trouble.  I hardly dare go into one of those coffee outlets that are springing up everywhere.  I actually dislike most of their coffees anyway, but being confronted by a list of 24 or so different types of coffee is something I find difficult to cope with - especially when I don't have the foggiest idea what skinny lattes or americanos are.  And why does the shop assistant have to be called a barrista?  I can cope with black coffee, white coffee, cappuccino and espresso and surely that should cover just about every eventuality?

It's not just in England that I have trouble.  French coffee is a completely different matter and, to my mind, is far superior.  It is, basically, espresso, but does tend to be served in slightly larger portions than espresso coffee in England and much larger than in Italy.  The normal request is simply for a coffee but sometimes the waiter in a cafe will bring me a double as I'm English and either he thinks he can get away with selling me something more expensive or he thinks all Englishmen want that size cup.  So I tend to be more specific and ask for "un petit noir" - a small black.

The Old Bat drinks her coffee white and that can cause a little confusion as well as giving further choices.  For a start, should she ask for café au lait or café crème?  She prefers au lait but some places only serve it with cream.  Sometimes what is called cream is not.  Either way, it matters little but is can be a trifle irritating to ask for café au lait and have the waiter or waitress smugly repeat, "café crème."  Then there is the size of the cup to be considered.  Most places will bring a double espresso cup with a single espresso coffee in it - but some ask if she wants a large coffee.  And should the milk be warm or cold?

Most of the restaurants we use know us and actually don't need to be told what our preference is and it will be good to drink some proper coffee again at the end of next week.

Meanwhile, the cafe culture in Brighton is going strong.  I took these pictures early last Thursday afternoon.

Duke Street above, Dukes Lane right and East Street below.

1 comment:

Buck said...

I LOVE coffee; I have a morning ritual built around coffee that hasn't changed in nearly 40 years. I'm also fond of telling people my heart would stop if I quit drinking it.

In re: cafe culture. It's one of the things I SO miss about Europe. It does exist here in the US, but not nearly to the extent it does in Europe. I have to drive nearly four hours from where I live for an al fresco dining or drinking experience...