Saturday, 23 February 2013

What have the Sufis done for us?


Some people have reported noticing the distinctive smell of burning toast just prior to having a stroke. I wonder if they could invent a smoke-detector which could predict when the owner was about to have a stroke, like some trained dogs can?

I know a woman who just cannot make toast in the morning without burning it black, and she makes toast every morning. The strange part about it is that she is quite capable of taking up a heated conversation where it was left off at the previous night's dinner - something I find impossible.

For most people, the daily task of making toast and coffee just after waking up and  before having drunk any, is simply too much. This is where the butler comes in handy. For others like me, the ritual of coffee-making is performed like an automaton. How can people possibly drink tea in the mornings and still come around to thinking that life might - after all - just about be worth living after they have drunk it?

This morning I came down to find that we had run out of coffee, and my bleary eyes took on a look of dread, rather - I imagine - like the eyes of a crack-addict when supplies have run out.

Then I remembered that a friend had given us a little gift at Christmas, comprising of some roasted but whole coffee beans in a festive wrapper, with 'Christmas Coffee' written on it in French. We do not have a dedicated coffee-grinder any more, so I chucked the beans into the food-processor, having given the hard-to-reach, lethal little blades a good wash and dry.

The noise this machine makes is second only in horridness to a water-fed, diamond-bladed marble router, and definitely would not be your first choice in noises heard first thing in the morning before coffee. Some people cannot even stand the dawn chorus, and I have a friend who shot his neighbour's cockerel at dawn one morning, before getting back into bed and trying to resume sleeping.

Anyway, the coffee was ground, drunk, and did the job, though what the difference between 'Cafe Noel' and any other sort of Arabica is, I neither know nor care.

You don't need me to tell you that the Japanese are - for such a refined and sophisticated race - extremely strange. I have a young, Japanese woman friend, and despite years living in the UK, she never quite got used to eating sweet things in the morning - we're talking marmalade here.

Her regular breakfast consisted of rice and steamed vegetables, sometimes with pieces of fish included in the mix. After a trip back to Japan to see her mother, she brought back a sample (I almost said 'specimen') of Japan's favourite breakfast material (I don't know how else to describe it) for me to try.

It is a whitish, sticky (extremely sticky), gloopy (that's the second time in two posts I have used this word, and the spell-checker still does not believe me) stuff which can only be eaten with chopsticks, and tastes absolutely foul - like rancid gluten, which is, in fact, exactly what it is.

I think that they collect a load of uncooked soya beans, put them into an uncovered bowl of water, hide it under a bed and leave them to rot for about six months, then - hey presto - the stuff is ready to eat, if you happen to be Japanese.

The reason it has to be eaten with chopsticks is that if you get hold of a piece of the stuff and try and break it into two, your arms would not be long enough. If two people got hold of a piece of it and walked away from each other, it would be about 200 yards before the web-like strands between the two lumps finally stretched to breaking point and flopped onto the grass, or floated away like gossamer on the wind. It is very difficult to get into your mouth, and once it is there, you wonder why you went to so much trouble to put it there.

My friend's mother runs a coffee-shop outside of Tokyo, and sells raw beans to connoisseurs, imported at great expense from far-flung countries.

She came to visit us in our compact but adorable city apartment once, and although her English was minimal (but better than my Japanese) we got on very well, laughing our way through the night as she described her other love in life - scuba diving. When trying to tell me how marvellous it is to swim with huge fish in tropical waters, she brought her face about six inches away from mine, and with staring eyes, opened and closed her mouth for about a minute before collapsing in helpless laughter.

When she returned to Japan, she sent us 3 kilos of un-roasted, High Mountain Jamaica beans at what must have been considerable expense. I persuaded a local coffee importer to roast, grind and pack them for us, and the coffee was delicious.

I think that traditional Japanese have tea in the mornings. The ceremony of making filter coffee is enough for me - sometimes almost too much.

My earliest memory of London is the exotic smell of roasting coffee, wafting out into the street as thin blue smoke from the blackened grill of the shop. What a great way to advertise your wares and get 'em when they're young.

22 comments:

  1. I could never stand to grind my own beans whether first thing in the morning or later in the day. Now I have a Nespresso machine and have come to love that faint pop of the foil pod and then the trickle of gorgeous espresso.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, but coffee is expensive enough without coming in foil-lidded dispensers, so I buy very good coffee from Lydl at half the price it is in other supermarkets.

      Delete
  2. I love the smell of coffee Tom ........ just as much as drinking it. Best coffee that I ever had was in Venice ....... strong but smooth, fragrant, heady, mellow and soft .... all that in one little cup. To have made it perfect they should have played Je t'aime in the background !!
    Do you like your coffee messed around with ' a la Starbucks ' or are you a purist ? I don't think that you can beat a good double espresso myself. XXXX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Milky, ordinary coffee in the morning and espresso in the afternoon - if at all - for me.

      Delete
    2. Oh, and it has to be hot milk in the coffee.

      Delete
  3. The day does not start until we have had a large mug of freshly pressed Lavazza coffee.

    I am though rather troubled :) to know that you and I have a commonality!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am sure we have more in common than that.

      Delete
  4. To lower the tone... I do admit to my first cup of the morning being instant Nescafé. Proper coffee (lightly roasted in a small cast iron pan, then ground in a dedicated grinder) is only taken an hour later. Lady M keeps her beans in the fridge!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't drink horse-coffee, as we have come to call it over here.

      Delete
    2. (Or 'mother's milk' as they call it in Africa)

      Delete
  5. Tea in bed; then porridge+grapefruit+boiled egg+tea; and a little later coffee with hot milk (and, though I join in Lent just to test if I can do it: the one exception from Lent-sugar-free is coffee with). Then the day can start.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I can't function until I have had my energy drink in the morning, which I am sure will give me liver cancer eventually. One day I'll break the habit (said the addict).

    ReplyDelete
  7. When I was a kid in Lincolnshire, there used to be a shop on High Bridge in Lincoln called Stokes - it ground coffee using a machine which was in the window; it served coffee in its cafe and it sold coffee too. When I went back to Lincoln two years ago I approached where it used to be and yes - I could smell the wonderful smell - it was still there. Bliss

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wasn't it acorns and chicory in your day, Weave?

      No really, we used to have a roaster in Bath which has now gone, sadly - I miss that blue smoke.

      Delete
  8. There used to be a coffee shop in Salisbury that roasted their own beans. The smell was sublime as you walked past. I think coffee actually smells better than it tastes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was a constantly turning roasting machine in East Grinstead, Sussex. I used to pass by on a regular basis, and it's still my major memory of the town. I wonder how many people thought they were about to have a heart attack?

      Delete
    2. I don't want to undo all that meditation and deep-breathing exercise you have been doing to take your mind off things, but I daresay that - for Health and Safety reasons - roasting coffee in a public area is now banned because of the smoke. It is illegal to have a little bonfire in your garden here these days.

      Delete
  9. this is quite a funny post - the soybeans fermented is called natto.

    it is an acquired taste for sure but extremely healthy for you.

    i think it's a bit like vegemite for asians - not all japanese like it.

    yes i wish roasting coffee was a lot easier and accessible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Natto - that's it. Thanks for reminding me. The Vegemite for Asians analogy is a good one. In the UK, it's Marmite, which is the same thing and divides the nation in the same way.

      Delete