Monday Musings… Coffee Culture

Every morning I would hear the kettle whistling. My mother would have her white coffee mug perfectly placed on the counter, and beside it, her beloved bottle of Nescafe instant coffee. She’d carefully ladle one teaspoon of the black granules into the cup, and then prudently pour exactly the right amount of water to within a quarter inch of the brim. Within seconds, (I guessed that’s why they called it instant), a rather pungent scent, would ascend into the air, and I would tell myself to never, ever, subject myself to consuming that strange brew. After all, it didn’t make any sense as a five-year-old to want to drink something that looked like tar and smelled like it too! I’d rather have my 100% sugar infused Kool-Aid, thank you very much!

I soon discovered that this bizarre morning ritual was happening all over my neighbourhood. On occasion, I’d invite myself in, unannounced, to my friends’ houses and, lo and behold, their parents were drinking the same goo too! What on earth was wrong with these adults?

I was absolutely astonished the day I sauntered into a neighbour’s kitchen and saw a vaporous vessel sporting a glass knob on its top, where I watched in wonder as the sooty sludge swooped up and down. This, they told me, was a slowed down version of making coffee, and was far superior to the freeze-dried instant variety. Whether the coffee-making speed was fast or slow, I didn’t care. I still vowed to never partake of the poison!

I stayed true to that oath, even when, at age 13, I actually worked on a coffee plantation. I was literally submerged in coffee beans for days on end, and never once felt the lure, let alone the appeal, to lap up this liquid.

But apparently, I was the odd person out. I now realized that drinking coffee was a global phenomenon, and somehow, I was impoverished by passing over this pleasure-producing product. I was resolute, however, and stood my ground against the bean!

Fast-forward to university and the sudden emergence of coffee shops! What? People were not just drinking this debauchery for breakfast or after a meal, nor primarily in the privacy of their own homes; now it was accessible and encouraged anytime of the day, or in the case of a student, night! People would sit in groups, for hours, socializing, and consuming this new form of ‘instant’ coffee, that was ready according to their particular preference before they could even pay for it. I was captivated by these changes, yet still unmoved; however I was keenly aware that my commitment to contra-caffeination was becoming more isolating by the minute.

How had this Coffee Culture evolved, I contemplated.

As a kid, drinking coffee appeared to be nothing more than a morning starting ritual that only adults did along with brushing their teeth, combing their hair, and getting dressed. I assumed it was part of their hydration plan, like Kool-Aid was for me. I then came to understand that coffee consumption was not unique to my home or my neighbourhood, but, in fact, it was a universal practice. And then, it didn’t take long for human beings to see the humble bean as a lucrative franchise and social enterprise. It became the tar that bound people together in casual conversation. I’d regularly hear in the hallways and the marketplaces the common refrain, “Let’s go for coffee!” as if this was the missing link to help humans connect with and care for each other.

And so, Coffee Culture thrived! The Non-Caffeinated, like myself, became fewer in number. Some who said they wouldn’t cross over to the dark roast, caved, giving in to peer pressure, while the rest of us who are stalwart and steadfast, remained solitary believing it to be too awkward to profess, “Thanks for the invite, but I’m a water drinker.” (Having graduated from Kool-Aid, I should add)

But the most interesting thing has happened of late, and perhaps the corona virus has caused this shift. Certainly, due to social distancing and coffee shops being closed for so long, the caffeinated conformists have had to adapt. There has actually been a movement backwards, to the grass roots, when coffee was consumed on an individual basis. In this past week alone, I have noticed a woman walking solo with her tethered dog, carefully balancing her coffee cup in hand. I saw an adventurous young man juggling a cellphone in his right, coffee in the left, all while riding a bicycle. On another occasion, I observed a young mother, pushing a stroller with one hand, while sporting her caffeinated beverage in the other. What creative genius to figure out this apparently necessary functionality! I now see that coffee consumption is not only universal, it is utilitarian. When you can’t socially sip, you can partake while you pedal or pound the pavement with your pet or prodigy! The Caffeinated have risen to meet the current challenge and will not sacrifice supping their favourite fluid no matter the restrictions before them! The mighty Roman Empire may have fallen, and yet, the resilient Coffee Culture continues its reign.

I still have not sworn allegiance to the Caffeinated Club. I prefer, or rather need to, walk my dog with 2 hands. I like to stroll with my grandchildren giving my full attention and strength. I’d rather keep my toonies (the apparent price for preferred percolation paid to another) in a jar for a rainy day. I don't mind being a social outcast and I’ve never found the need for a liquid chemical to jump start my morning ritual. Whenever I hear a whistling kettle, or a popping percolator, or residents rolling up their rims to win, it reminds me of my choice to be in the minority, coffee-free. And honestly, I want to live like that.

Now, I think I'll go grab myself a tall glass of water!

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