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A Family History of Coffee – by Justyna

7 Oct

There is a certain consumer transition my woggy family has gone through when it comes to food and drink. When I got off the plane in Sydney, back in the 80s, as a small kid entering the land of plenty, I was gobsmacked at the amount of choice of foodstuffs in the supermarket. Namely Franklins. My love affair with potato chips developed fairly quickly, a taste sensation foreign to my then commie palette (my first love will always be chicken flavoured Smiths). My parents, I remember, were both in awe at the variety of food that came in plastic packaging but also a bit worried about the lack of root vegetable choice. All in all, we were all ecstatic that we finally made it to a place where Coca Cola was in abundance, symbolising we had entered the West. And so our drinking patterns changed from home-brewed black current juice, to Solo, Sprite and Pepsi. We were fizzy with happiness. As time went by we grew wiser and more aware of our rotting insides. We switched to cordial. Ribena to be exact. Then ‘juice’, then the proper ‘freshly squeezed’ stuff from the fridge (by this time my parents were shopping at Woolies). Then bottled water. And finally, in the ultimate stage of assimilation, we were drinking water straight from the tap, but chilled from the fridge. Just like proper Aussies. With the occasional glass of cold milk in the morning. We were truly home.

When it came to coffee the pattern was not dissimilar. In Poland, back in the day when we left it, the only way to drink coffee was in the most primitive fashion (still in practice today and very popular with grandparents). Namely by way of the infusion method. I, however, prefer to call it ‘stewing’ or better yet, ‘festering’. You take a glass (not cup or mug), you put in a few teaspoons of ground coffee into the said glass, you pour boiling water over it all, and you watch and wait and see how the coffee ‘festers’ before the sediments drop to the bottom of the glass, at which point you start drinking your horrible brew. Making sure to sip and blow simultaneously, so you don’t get remaining bits of coffee grind stuck to your teeth or lips. The result, as you can imagine, is disgusting. So, when my parents arrived to Oz, and discovered instant coffee, a coffee that actually dissolved, they really did think that immigration was the absolute bomb. Nescafe become the new God. Then they grew wiser and more aware of their rotting insides, making the transition to filtered coffee (which, let’s be honest, is just another way of making muddy water). Soon the plunger arrived, a nice alternative to the festering method, then the percolator and finally the espresso coffee maker. It was at this point that I started to drink coffee and really started liking it a lot.

Arriving to Krakow, I was devastated to learn that the Poles here did not make the same transitions as their woggy counterparts in Oz were doing. Upon arriving at somebody’s house, I was offered either a festering glass of mud or an insides-destroying instant cuppa. Six years ago it was also hard to find a cafe in Krakow that served decent coffee that did not cost you the equivalent of a glass of the best French champagne. Luckily things have improved incredibly of late. Maybe not in the domestic sphere of the parents’ generation, which appears to have stagnated at the Nescafe is the new God stage, but revolutionary changes have taken place with my peers who are now paying attention to the way coffee is prepared. The new cafe movement has also created a competitive edge with cafes trying to outdo one another by purchasing the best possible brass coffee makers, importing from Italy and France.

The only thing so far missing in the Polish coffee drinking scene is the wank. I’m sure that will arrive soon enough. Krakow has now about four independent coffee roasting houses. The floor is set.


Coffee – by Karen

5 Oct

A friend who is Indian told me the following anecdote. “If you ask my brother whether he would like coffee or tea, he will always answer with the option you said last. He makes a rule of it, because of the Hindu concept that duality is bad; you avoid duality.”

A bolt of interest shot through me when she said this. I’m fairly familiar with the concepts of Eastern religions, provided that they have featured prominently in Keanu Reeves movies. Somehow, however, the practice of avoiding dualism, to the point of abstaining from beverage selection, has escaped my notice. In a perfect demonstration of Baader Meinhof-style cognitive bias, shortly afterwards I read about the concept again in a novel. It described (from memory, because it’s taking too long to find the page) a cult of people who hang out in graveyards doing unspeakable things to detach from the duality of good vs evil. I am impressed that this non-duality concept can be held superior even to that most universal moral frisson, the flight from evil to good.

If you’re in the mood to ponder morality, by the way, this video is worth a watch. We liberals don’t lack morals – we just have fewer. Actually, it’s a bit of a stretch to call myself a liberal these days. I mean could a liberal enjoy this blog? I’ll leave it to you to spot which of Haidt’s moral roots it offends. Drinking game.

So getting back to my Indian friend’s brother. He practises detachment from a preferred beverage. Australians are gagging to define themselves by their particular requirement for a piccolo latte of a certain consistency and provenance. During a period of adolescence that occasionally stretches well into the 30s, we aspire to discriminate so finely between sub-sub-genres of pop music and attribute to them such importance that we’re incapable of being friends with 99.9999 per cent of the world’s people. Most tragic of all, Tabitha’s academic prowess precluded her from participating in sport for many years.

Can the concept of resisting duality be usefully explored when one does not entirely believe that “we do not experience the environment itself but rather a projection of it, created by us” and that “Maya is the principal deity that manifests, perpetuates and governs the illusion and dream of duality in the phenomenal Universe” (quote from the ancient veda of Wiki)? I think so.

Coffee. I both love it and dislike it. I will list some benefits below which will co-exist with Beth’s list from the previous post. I hope that next time she is offered a cup of joe, her choice will be random.*

  • Provides sense of euphoria and insight for particularly susceptible people (such as myself)
  • Reduces risk of dementia (incl Alzheimer’s), gallstone disease, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, gout, dental caries, numerous forms of cancer, suicide and diabetes
  • Reduces sensitivity to pain
  • Stimulates conversation
* Actually, I don’t really want to affect your coffee choices Beth. It was just a nice way to round off the entry.

Coffee, happiness and the future – By Tabitha

4 Oct

One Sunday morning in June last year, Nathan and I ate breakfast at Restaurant Five on Hang Be street. That restaurant went into a steep and alarming downhill decline before abruptly shutting down, but this breakfast was before then. I ate the stuffed French toast, which was like a French toast sandwich with fresh fruit inside, and crusted with slivered almonds. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

After breakfast, we ordered coffees. It would have been Nathan’s second double espresso of the morning, and I would have had a long black. I had only started drinking coffee again when we arrived in Vietnam. The local speciality of yoghurt coffee was the gateway drug which sucked me in, and soon I was drinking two or three Vietnamese coffees a day. This was no doubt one of the reasons I gained about six kilograms in the first six months here. Who knew that condensed milk was so fattening? Or maybe it was all the stuffed French toast.

As we drank our coffees, we pored over the several pages of notepaper we’d been using to map out our next step after leaving Hanoi, which we were due to do in three months’ time. I still have those pages. They contain some pretty random ideas, like hiking our way across France, or finding corporate jobs in London, or seeing how long our savings lasted us on a tropical island somewhere. Staying in Hanoi definitely wasn’t on the list. We were ready to move on.

At about the point in the discussion where we seemed set on moving to Bangkok, even though it was on fire at that time, Nathan received a phone call out of the blue from the Australian Embassy in Hanoi, telling him that the job he’d applied for, many months previously, had come good.

Before we’d even finished our coffees, the decision had been made: we’d be staying in Hanoi for another two years.

I don’t regret that decision in the slightest. In fact, it was the best decision we ever made. Nathan found a new career, which he really enjoys, and started a degree by distance education. I landed the luxurious opportunity of spending my time writing. We moved to a lovely neighbourhood, met some lifelong friends, and changed our whole outlook from one of “just passing through” Hanoi and “just taking a year out”, to considering ourselves proper residents of this town, and proper expatriates too.

Nathan and I have now been a couple in Hanoi longer than we were in Sydney. This is where the majority of our personal history has played out. And although I can’t consciously identify how, being here must have shaped and defined our relationship.

I have been thinking a lot about that momentous cup of coffee recently, because it’s time for us to scrawl out some “what next?” plans on notepaper again. If I have learnt anything from the experience, it’s that while there’s value in decision-making models, and bullet point lists of pros and cons, it’s also okay to just let the cards fall where they may.

This is pretty hard for me to accept. I take a while to get used to ideas. I remember my family once deciding to go on a completely unplanned, impromptu holiday when I was about seven. My reaction was to burst into tears, for no reason that I could understand at the time. The seven year-old in me is really struggling at the moment with not having a visual image of where I’ll be this time next year, and compulsively weighing up all the options.

So I’m running with this line: if you know how to make yourself happy, then you can make yourself happy, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.

That phone call which interrupted our coffee didn’t really change the course of our lives, or come to define our relationship. If we had spent the last two years hiking through the provencal countryside, living it up in London, or lying under a palm tree, we would be just as happy as we are now.

Coffee and Me – by Beth

4 Oct

Coffee and Me, we don’t sit in any tree. I’ve never liked it. I did try to like it for a brief period because I was in a relationship with a coffee fanatic, but it just never stuck. Made me all jittery. Hated the taste. Etc.

My parent’s relationships with coffee is more interesting. My Mum is a coffee addict. If they had Coffee Drinker’s Anonymous she’d go. She’s given up a number of times, but she always ends up going back for the sweet nectar. It’s her heroin.

Dad was never into coffee until a few years ago (in his 60s). I was trying to work out what it was that got him started and I’m almost certain it was free wifi at Gloria Jeans and the like. You have to buy something to get the wifi code and so it began. It was that easy. And now he has a tradition of going for a bike ride with his friend every Sunday and they drink coffee and eat banana bread. Hooked.

11 Reasons I am glad I’m not a coffee drinker. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a coffee drinker. Some of my best friends are coffee drinkers… but

  1. It’s very addictive. My mother is living proof of this.
  2. Rules what addicts do after waking up in the morning. They have to be close to a good source of coffee or else they go all narky and are prepared to roam crankily for miles in order to get their fix.
  3. Bloody expensive habit.
  4. There’s a lot of shite coffee out there.
  5. Can shut down a conversation with coffee wankers pretty fast.
  6. Didn’t have to worry about “cutting down” when I was pregnant. I saw a lot of women struggling to cut down and feeling guilty if they had more than one or going through withdrawals. So much easier.
  7. Makes your breath stink.
  8. Don’t have to worry about the Fair Trade factor (for coffee at least).
  9. Don’t have to learn what all the different coffees are.
  10. Never have any desire to own a coffee machine.
  11. It would keep me up at night.