Monday, 13 March 2017

Coffee


I have just snitched this photo from Joanne without her permission, but at least it comes with a self-built credit. Over on her place I commented that this was exactly what H.I. does to me silently with her eyes every morning. I don't need a paddle waved at me.

I have never been issued with a refill sign like this one whenever I have had breakfast in an American cafe. Usually a waitress came round unbidden with a pot and refilled without my asking. The coffee was almost nothing but brown, burnt-tasting water when I was there, and the waitress marvelled at how many cups I could sink - in one case a whole pot - just to get the caffeine-hit which would have been provided by one cup of Italian coffee. It was the same with beer, but I hear that there are many craft breweries there these days which make much stronger stuff than the tasteless and watery Budweiser.

It was H.I. who introduced me to real coffee, about 45 years ago when she still lived with her husband. I was brought up on instant and 'Camp', but was deeply impressed with the mysterious and intoxicating smell borne on the billows of blue smoke shooting from the grilles of the coffee-roasters in London whenever we visited. Whenever I smell roasting coffee beans (which is very infrequently these days) I am brought straight back to childhood.

London to me was purely exotic - African men with skin so dark that they looked green; specialist and ancient shops and suppliers like establishments from Diagon Alley; the Christmas shop windows with moving scenery; the Oxford Street lights seen through thick fog and whole streets permeated with thin blue coffee smoke which you smelled before you saw.

As soon as she was able, H.I. left Sheffield and came down to London. Not just any old part of London, but the heart of Soho, where she was surrounded by film producers, sex clubs and - most importantly - Italian coffee shops.

Every morning she would have coffee in Valerie's (where she became good friends with the owner - Celeste - an Italian man with a French name running a French cafe) and every afternoon have coffee in the Bar Italia, surrounded by some very Italian-looking men who were doubled in the small room by mirror-lined walls.

When she wanted to buy coffee to take and make at home, she went into the marvelous Algerian Coffee Shop. Take it from me - by the time she came to Bath she knew all about coffee. Mocha was the staple, but High Mountain Jamaica when she was feeling rich.

Bath had its own coffee roasters and importers called Gillards, and I would quite often stand right next to the exhaust of the roaster just to remind myself of childhood visits to London. Gillards still has an outlet in the Guildhall Market, but these days the roasting is done miles out of town on an industrial estate.

There can be no better way of selling your goods than to blast out tantalisngly delicious coffee-smoke into the street and let the wind do your advertising, but in smoke-free Bath this is no longer allowed, so Eastern European men walk around with billboards telling of pizza deals, using the same technology as that coffee-paddle up there in Joanne's photo.

Going into a coffee-roasters was the savoury equivalent of going into a florist, but these days most flowers are brought in by the ton from Holland and have virtually no perfume at all.

Is it any wonder that older people are always banging on about the old days to kids who have never experienced these simple delights?

42 comments:

  1. Your blog has just informed me of how very fortunate I was to have lived in Newton Abbot, Devon from the age of 10 to 22. For in two areas of the town there were grocers who roasted coffee beans and so I grew up appreciating the rich aromas that wafted through the streets.

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    1. Grocers roasting their own beans - marvelous. I came close to making my own roaster once, but thought it might be a symptom of mid-life crisis.

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    2. The best coffee i ever had was when I was twelve. Freezing cold and suffering from chillblains i was with my sister visiting her horse in the middle of a snowstorm, when we knocked on the farm kitchen door in order to get out of the cold. The farmer's grandmother sat us both down and gave each of us a mug of very sweet CAMP coffee made from chicory .....the sort you could buy from a bottle !
      It was like drinking a bit of heaven

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    3. I used to really like Camp (and the strange lable with a kilt and Indian manservant...Ready Aye Ready...) but it was a completely different drink to coffee. Very useful for flavouring in coffee and walnut cake though.

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  2. Drinking coffee is like breathing air for Italians. There is a custom in Naples where
    customers offer a "cafè sospeso" suspended coffee; the customer pays another coffee at the till, so it may be offered to a poor person when he comes in and ask for a suspended coffee.
    Greetings Maria x

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    1. Yes, that is a really good idea - taking care of broke coffee-addicts. I got a taste for Italian esspresso after I was quietly informed that real men do not drink capuccinos after 10.00am...

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    2. True, but also woman do not drink it after 10:00am...cappuccino is breakfast. We recognise tourists by that too. X

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    3. I would drink esspresso here, but it is always filthy and undrinkable. I don't know how they make their virtually black roasted coffee so creamy and delicious in Italy. One shot on a hot day really perks you up.

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    4. I think because the coffee machines are "tamed"; it means - and if I can explain it - that the coffee machines are making coffee continuously and nearly non-stop, so the espresso coming through it is always fresh and does not taste of stale coffee or the metal taste from the machinery. (Sorry, my explanation is not good) x

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    5. It is impossible to get a decent cup of espresso in the UK.

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    6. I agree, and I do not believe it is to do with Maria's theory or bad quality coffee.

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    7. Having drunk nothing but absolute muck in the UK, I feel terribly for you all. Our theories as to why include but are not limited to: stale beans, bad water, overheated milk where it is included, badly trained baristas. We buy our coffee at a roastery where the roasting date is displayed and five days is the limit. It is ground to measure here, alwys, when you buy a made coffee. We used to grind our own but it's a fag, so now we buy small amounts of ground so it's used in a week. I tell you though, getting off the plane in Auckland and making a beeline for the closest cafe for a decent coffee was just heaven...

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    8. Coffee - and general cuisine - has got a lot better here over the last 20 years or so. Every school-leaver seems to spend some time being trained as a barista! Coffee is usually bought ready-ground in sealed packets, which is how we buy ours. I have found that the coffee in Lidl (a European cut-price supermarket chain) is very good (100% aribica) and half the price of other supermarkets. We filter ours ready-ground, because the time it is most needed is also the time when we are most clumsy and impatient. It's bad enough to have to wait for it to go through the filter...

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    9. Tom, you can make your own Italian coffee at home; all you need is a Moka pot, the one-cup size is perfect. You'll have to brew coffee at least once a day in it for coffee to taste good, and never, never wash the pot with soapy water, only rinse under running water. x

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    10. We have tried many different methods of making coffee, including a miniature steam esspresso machine, and have now settled on filters as the best way of administering our fix.

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  3. On the way home from school along Church St. Reigate, was The Old Wheel coffee shop, The record shop Rhythms, and the brown grill of the coffee roasters. All are now long gone, but memories remain of the smelly pavement and the record shop infused with it later sitting drinking the coffee and playing with the bowl of brown sugar.

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    1. I remember when the first Wimpey opened in Woking (Woking was such a dump that H.G. Wells got the Martians to destroy it) I went there for frothy coffee, then later - 1968 - to the famous Boxers in Guildford, which had been going since the 1950s.

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  4. I only drink Nescafe instant made with evaporated milk.

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    1. I can understand that, but I don't think it is very good for your mental or physical health. Also, nice as it may be, it cannot be compared to real coffee.

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    2. I am not much of a coffee drinker as you can see. I take a small flask of this to work for a bit of comfort and to keep me away from the office kitchen and green tea from a flask tastes awful.

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    3. Why does Green Tea turn pink in a flask?!

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    4. Mine turns brown and takes on a horrible flavour.

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    5. (I hope that made you laugh...)

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  5. The irony of that picture--the refills were for anyone at the table but Francis. He has been a coffee connoisseur for the last ten years. On his way to his job on the other side of town, he gets off the train once or twice to buy a coffee in a coffee shop. France is 15, and coffee may be stunting his growth. He's six feet now.

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    1. A (large) young man with taste. The other irony is that - after years of not being able to make coffee - America has introduced the appalling fashion of walking through the streets drinking quite good coffee out of paper cups to us in England. Ever heard Jackie Mason's comic routine on Starbucks? It begins with someone having the idea of making people queue for coffee in paper cups at $5 a cup,drinking it standing up, then getting them to clear up behind themselves afterwards by doing away with waiters - do you think that idea will catch on?!

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    2. Tall. Skinny as the proverbial rail. You probably remember that.

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  6. My son who lives in Italy is passionate about Italian coffee and with the tradition of following his with a chaser of grappa. Now he lives in Basanno del Grappa it is as though he has gone to heaven and didn't have to die to get there...

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    1. He might have to die to get out though.

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  7. Italy definitely has the best coffee ..... and I can remember those big pewter looking coffee grinders that smelt divine in the Italian cafe just off Berkeley Square on my way to work. I would partake of one and take a piece of homemade cheesecake for my lunch. XXXX

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    1. Yes, I use that cafe off Berkeley Square when there too. The Jewish delicatessens were/are good too. I love that aspect of London.

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    2. I used to get lox and creamcheese bagels in the 60s and 70s - and so cheap!

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  8. Who's hankering for a good cup of coffee now?? I'm vastly dissatisfied with my drip coffee maker. I might have to try my French press again.

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    1. Paper filters work well for us. Coffee made in percolators seems to be tainted by the aluminium.

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  9. Before grinding the beans I often 'roast' them for a short while in a very solid small steel frying pan. It has much the same effect.

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    1. We used to grind ready roasted beans, but now cannot be arsed. I was once given 5 kilos of unroasted, top-quality beans by a Japanese friend who runs a coffee shop and teahouse there. I took them to Gillards and they roasted and re-packed it all for us - at no charge!

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  10. However, or whatever, after all is said and done, we are a nation of tea drinkers.

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    1. Tea for me is an afternoon thing. Tea for breakfast just wouldn't kick-start me. I can actually feel my interest in living return after the first cup of two.

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  11. You have taken me back to my childhood in Leicester, where there was a shop in the market place that had that marvellous roasting coffee smell emanating from it as you passed. If we had coffee at home it would have been Camp coffee, though I think that may have been in the cupboard more for cooking than drinking. I always prefer a cup of tea these days.

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    1. My mother liked the idea of good coffee, but my tea-addicted father was constantly broke so we were always scrimping on life's necessities. As I said to Rachel, tea in the mornings just does not kick-start my jaded metabolism.

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