There are some addictions that I won’t admit to publicly, and there are some that I won’t even admit to myself…but I wear my coffee addiction like a badge of honour. I love it. I make myself a coffee everyday before I ride to work, and yet every time I pass someone drinking a coffee on the way to work, I think ‘Man, a coffee would be so good right now!’, despite having had one no more than 10 minutes ago.
What’s more, I have added insult to injury by becoming a ‘coffee snob’. I’ve walked out of cafes when I saw they way they were making other people’s coffees…I’ve walked right past cafe’s because a cursory glance at the coffees being drunk by people at the tables outside didn’t look like they would make the grade…I have even asked the person making my coffee in small town in the Mallee if they would mind if I came behind the counter and made the coffee myself!
This is not socially acceptable behaviour! I would never walk into a Thai restaurant, order my Pad Thai and then stroll into the kitchen telling the chef “I’d use a bit more fish sauce. Actually, step back from the wok…I’ll take it from here.” But such is the power of coffee that I will transgress social norms just to ensure that I get a good coffee.
Now the purpose of this blog is not to tell you what makes a perfect coffee, or where to go for the best coffee (although I will be dropping some pretty blatant hints about both of these) because, like many of the finer things in life, a ‘good coffee’ is a very subjective thing. Some people like it weak, some people like it strong, some people like it scalding hot and some people like soy milk. So instead of telling you the coffee you should like, I’m going to tell you some of the things I’ve learned over my 20 year coffee drinking career.
How to find a good coffee
OK, look around. Are you in Melbourne? If ‘yes’, then you should be fine. Just walk into any non-franchise coffee emporium and order your coffee with confidence. If ‘no’, then I’m afraid you have your work cut out for you, but here are some key pointers:
– If they are offering ‘Mugachinos’, run
– If they start heating the milk, and then walk away to serve another customer, you are doomed
– Don’t get too picky with your order. Yes you may like a 3/4 latte with 1/2 a sugar, but order that and at best you are going to get some horrific fraction based version of a coffee (I’m talking to you Geelong!)…or at worst you are going to get a withering sigh from an elderly woman who really doesn’t have time for this crap (hello Numurkah), or the distinct impression everyone else in the shop now wants to kill you (hello Rainbow/Orbost/Waragul).
All you need is love
A passionate barista who doesn’t have the best materials, but is determined to make you a great coffee, is going to do a hell of a lot better job than someone with the best equipment who just doesn’t give a damn.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places with great coffee, great people and great equipment. If you are ever in Melbourne, then you need to go to:
The League of Honest Coffee
Because these people love their coffee, and the lines of people waiting to order show that people love their coffee too!
Get a coffee machine
Some people frivolously wasted their baby bonus on plasma TV’s, and those people are clearly not fit to be parents. We on the other hand purchased a coffee machine and grinder. Now before those of you without young children get all angry and say that we were being selfish, think about this- by purchasing the machine and therefore having our coffees at home, we were no longer cluttering up your local cafe with prams and screaming children, leaving you to read the newspaper/pretentiously work on your laptop/nurse a hangover in peace…so we were basically providing a community service!
We got a Rancilio Silvia machine and a Rocky Grinder for about $1,100. For over four years they have made at least two coffees everyday and have not missed a beat.
Also, the cred attached to saying ‘No I don’t need the beans ground…I have my own grinder at home’, is pretty much the same as introducing yourself as a Formula 1 driver.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
I have had some truly memorable coffees; a coffee with lots of cardamon in Sharjah, my first ever espresso coffee at a little cafe in Kew that was the only place that would let my friends smoke in there before school, and any coffee that provided respite during a freezing cold bike ride. But if I know my audience, you don’t want to hear about the good times…you want to hear about those moments that make you glad that you are you…and I am me.
So let us cast our minds back 4 years to our family holiday to WA. We had a toddler and a baby in the car and we were driving from Margaret River to Pemberton (about 4 hour drive). We had decided not to get a coffee in Margaret River, and instead find somewhere along the way so we could break up the trip. In Victoria, as you travel through the countryside you can usually find somewhere that offers a serviceable coffee, but after 2 hours of driving (and the dull thud of caffeine withdrawal starting to emminate from the back of my skull) we finally made the executive decision to go to a McCafe. The logic was that it wouldn’t be a 10/10 coffee…but it would be a dependable 7/10 and that was all we needed. So I parked the car and went in and ordered two lattes. The girl behind the counter went to grab the percolated coffee. I said ‘No, no…I’d like them from the machine’. After a lot of huffing, the girl went over and put the steam wand into the milk to warm it up…then went of to serve someone else. By the time she returned the jug was glowing red hot…and I think I was weeping a little. She then made the espresso and walked away again (clearly the burnt milk would balance out the lukewarm espresso). She then came back and filled the cups to the absolute brim with scalding hot coffee, and I walked back to the car doing that thing where the cup is so hot that you have to rotate which fingers are doing most of the holding for fear of burning them. When I got back to the car I discovered that our baby needed a nappy change and was screaming about the fact that this was happening…at the same time our toddler was trying to drown out the cries of our baby by screaming louder…causing the baby to cry even louder. In a state of zen like calm that can only be achieved by a true addict, I was in the process of removing the lids from the coffees and adding the sugar. The first coffee was fine and I had put it in the cup holder for my wife, and having added the sugar to my coffee I was replacing the lid when I somehow pushed down to hard and tipped the contents of the cup all over my lap.
I’m not 100% sure what happened next, but I do remember both children suddenly going quiet…and my wife hurriedly saying ‘You can have my one!’
Within about 30 seconds the coffee in my lap had gone from scalding hot to tepid and clammy…and thus began one of the least comfortable drives of my life.
But for all that I still come back to coffee as the perfect start to my day, the best way to reward myself and my happiest vice. But anything that gives so much and takes so little must have some sort of horrible secret, and when in 20 years time people look back at the way we drank coffee with much the same horror as we look at the smoking in Mad Men and say ‘But didn’t they realise how much damage they were doing to themselves?!’ I’ll just smile and say ‘It was worth it!’