What follows is a pointless rant about coffee. I wrote it yesterday while hopped up on caffeine.
I’m writing this in a coffeeshop and quite frankly it sucks. First of all there are about ten kids running around shouting while their parents either remain oblivious to the noise and its affect on others’ enjoyment, or they stare at them proudly, occasionally looking up presumably hoping to catch someone’s eye so they can say, ‘Isn’t my child just wonderful?’ Selfish bastards.
What has made it worse though, is an argument amongst adults at the till. An older gentleman is insisting on a “coffee”.
“I just want a coffee,” he pleads.
“What sort?” the delightful Eastern European barista girl asks.
“Just, just a coffee! A normal coffee!”
“Do you mean an Americano?”
“I don’t know, just a normal coffee.”
It isn’t the first time I’ve heard this discussion/exasperated argument and quite frankly it annoys me.
I did a bit of research. All I knew about coffee was that it apparently came from Ethiopa back in the era of yore. This is pretty much true. The Internet is vague on precisely when ‘yore’ was but let’s just say it was around 1500 and became popular in the city of Mocha. In the early 1600s it spread to Turkey and Italy and the rest of Europe. It arrived in the UK soon after but the first coffee house wasn’t until 1651 in Oxford. It then went mental and rapidly spread through awesome cities like London. Apparently it was a place where writers, scientists, and political dissidents went to chat. Isaac Newton held a series of coffee evenings to discuss the movement of the planets. Byron and Shelley used to hang out and talk about poetry and getting laid. It sounded brilliant. Now they are just full of bloody kids.
Anyway, the vast majority of coffee was simply ground beans with a small amount of hot water chucked in. It was thick and viscous and left a layer of sediment. Think Turkish coffee. It pretty much stayed like this until the early 20th century. During the first world war American troops got a bit fed up with the bitterness and strength of standard coffee and started to add an equal measure of hot water to this ‘standard’ and thus was born ‘the Americano’. In the 60s and 70s percolators and drip coffee became all the rage after a few decades of tea obsession. It is the generation born between 1920 and the mid 70s that tends to have this argument about standard coffee. It’s purely because they forgot its true name.
I was born in 1972 and had almost a decade of drinking this so called standard coffee. By that I mean paying £1 – £1.50 for a smallish cup of filter coffee. Most of the time the coffee was fucking awful as it had been stewing for (if you were lucky) a few hours.
Then, at the end of the 90s came the advent of modern coffeeshops. Boo! They introduced that most hated of things to – choice. You have to pick the size and the type! Apparently this choice is too much and things were better before.
Ok, as usual I have gone on a bit here. My point is that coffee used to be the sludgy stuff for about 400 years. Then, for about 80 years they added hot water to it. Now they have lots more choice.
So someone saying, “I just want a coffee, a normal coffee!” is just referring to coffee as it has been made since the Americans invented the Americano 100 years ago. In reality they are probably referring to coffee since the percolator and drip – 50 years ago.
I was annoyed by the argument for two reasons. One was the arrogance of the gentleman in thinking that the way coffee was made from his childhood until the late 90s (in this country not the rest of the world) is the norm, and that everyone should know this. 50 years out of a 500 year history. I’m giving the guy the benefit of the doubt in that he had never been to a coffeeshop since the millenium and had therefore had never been presented with this irksome agony of choice. It isn’t too hard to remember ‘Americano’, so presumably he won’t have this argument ever again.
The other was the barista for not admitting she had had this discussion a million times and just given the guy an Americano. When people say they just want coffee, you do know what they mean, even if it’s annoying. Just politely explain that it’s called an Americano and always has been and please remember that.
If it was me I would be tempted to chuck some ground coffee into a small cup, add a small amount of water and hand the thick matter to the guy. “Here is some standard coffee as drunk for 400 years. Enjoy it. You might need a spoon.”
Anyway, bollocks to this place. Coffeeshops are rubbish to sit in these days. I’m off to the pub. Where I will have a beer. Just a beer, a standard beer!