Monday, October 31, 2016

Joe always makes me happy!

Just a whiff of Joe and instantly I am transported to a good place. I feel equally mellowed out and elated, ready to take on anything. I’m talking about coffee, of course. A cup of fresh brewed coffee made from fragrant roasted beans, with just a touch of frothy hot milk, always puts me in a good mood. I know people, including my son, B, who don’t drink coffee. B can’t because it gives him headaches. I look upon him pityingly, because although I feel for him when he needs caffeine, life just isn’t quite worth living without coffee.

My relationship with Joe began decades ago. As a child, only on occasion,I would be permitted sips of hot, black, sweet coffee, usually together with a sweet pastry. I knew it was an adults-only drink and thought it was so sophisticated and decadent. Why the name Joe? Some people think it's because the drink of the common man. Or possibly it's a combination of Jamaica and mocha, becoming Jamoc and then Joe. Who cares, right, when it smells and tastes so wonderful?

When I went away to college, I realized that everyone there drank coffee. Mainly to stay awake, either furiously completing assignments or studying through the night for exams. Before the advent of Starbucks and Italian roasts and baristas, we only had instant coffee, usually Nescafe. At best, we could hit a coffeeshop round the corner for perked coffee that was stewing, diner-style, on a warmer plate on the counter. In the seventies, a cup of diner coffee in New York only cost about 75 cents, with free refills. Ah, the good old days.

Even though the coffee didn’t taste great, drinking it constantly was a habit that I formed and couldn’t break. When I started work in an advertising agency, it was back to instant coffee. There was a quaint tradition back then where a tea lady would come around with our drinks on a cart. She would serve us twice a day, and incredibly remembered how we took our tea or coffee. Mine was with a dash of milk, no sugar.

Before Starbucks arrived on our shores in Asia, we had a whiff of what was really great, brewed coffee in nearby countries like Australia, where the coffee culture began much earlier, thanks in a large part to its Italian immigrants. About 20 years ago, when my friend, K, and I went to Sydney, we entered a cafe to be greeted with a long list of coffees on the board. Now, the Aussies have different terms for their coffees, using names like long blacks and flat whites. K and I had never heard of them before, and figured that long blacks were large coffees. So we tentatively placed our orders, “Um, two short whites please.” The barista grinned and said, “Well, I’m short and white, but we don’t have short white coffees!” He then patiently explained what all the terms meant to the two of us who were red-faced with embarrassment.

It really is an audacious coffee!
Since then, we’ve had an explosion of coffee joints and now, young people think nothing of paying what we old-timers consider an astronomical sum for a frappuccino. I was gifted with an espresso machine but am way too lazy to make my own coffee that way. I’m also not enamored by Nespresso machines, because somehow the coffee that comes out of a capsule doesn’t taste very fresh. I also like my coffee steaming hot, so I make do with my french press at home, and try to buy good quality beans. My sister in law gave me a bag of organic coffee beans she bought in Vancouver and it lives up to its name with its bold, audacious taste!

Of course I adore drinking coffee anywhere in Europe, and in particular Italy and Spain. These two countries have perfected the art of brewing a great cup of coffee. You can step into a cafe anywhere and be assured of really good coffee, every time. I still find espresso way too strong, although I got a kick out of watching people streaming into a tiny cafe in a working class neighborhood in Rome for their shot of espresso in the mid afternoon. Even the Asian migrant workers had picked up the habit!

My coffee drinking days may be numbered though. I limit myself to just a cup a day and have to drink it by early afternoon, otherwise the caffeine keeps me up all night. No, I don’t like the taste of decaf, no matter what people say. Rather than chugging my Joe mindlessly nowadays, I savor my long black, especially after a good lunch. I breathe in its wonderful aroma, and always think, “Ah, life is good.”

I know coffee has some health benefits, although I’m not totally convinced. I don’t need to rationalize my drinking it though - It’s purely for its aroma and taste. Have a look here and see what you think.

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