Friday, July 10, 2009

Liquid Esperanto

I borrow my title from Steve Turner, a British poet who opened up my eyes to the true purpose of a cuppa (his poem is listed below).

I am a beverage lover. I drink black tea, white tea, herbal tea and chai. I drink dark, strong espresso with no sugar as well as milky, syrupy, hazelnut flavoured lattes from dodgy coffee chains. I can take my coffees with full cream milk, half-cream milk, actual cream (mmmmm), skim milk, rice milk or soy milk. I am a hot drink floozy. I will take anything I'm offered ... except for one thing.

I can't come at green tea. I've tried. I've REALLY tried. Don't start suggesting Green Ginger Tea or Green Peach Tea or Green Lavender Spiritual Harmony Tea. No matter how you make or mix it. It still has that acrid taste. It actually tastes mean. Like an evil herb has snuck in. I know it is fabulous for me and full of anti-oxidants, but I just can't drink it. I can't. I don't trust it. Offer me something else, please.

But offer me something. We get so anxious when people don't want a cuppa. It is the ice-breaker at awkward P&F meetings or church gatherings. Once business is over at a board meeting, members need a cup to 'dangle their lips in' when they can't think of something to say (see poem below). When the invitation is being passed around - "Coffee, tea anyone?" It is met with grateful cries of "White & one", "Weak black", "2SM", I'll have a 'why bother' (skim, de-caf)" until you hear "Nothing for me, thanks." The room falls still.

"Nothing?" says the host incredulously.
"No, I'm right thanks." Is the cheerful response.
"What about a herbal?"
"No. that's okay"
"I've got de-caf."
"I'm not much of a coffee or tea drinker." S/He confesses, trying to keep a casual tone.
A heavy pall descends over the still room.
"Oh." The host's brain is frantically trying to rectify this social disaster, this flaw in his/her banquet of beverages.
"Hot chocolate!" S/He announces triumphantly.
"No, really. I'm fine just as I am." The non-drinker responds wearily.
"I'll get you a drink of water." Says the host as s/he leaves the room satisfied.

I know many adults who have forced themselves to develop a liking of one hot beverage or another in order to feel comfortable at social gatherings. Truly.

I am from a northern European background and I'm married to a man from a southern European background. We love our coffee and we love it strong. Saturday mornings are filled with the loud but not unpleasant sound of the coffee grinder pounding Fair Trade beans into perfectly sized granules. My husband is the coffee officianado and I have deliberately refused to learn how to make it. He does it so well. Much of my delight in the rich espresso he produces comes from the fact that he's spent 30 minutes making it for me.

Once ground he puts the coffee into one of a number of bizarre looking metal vessels laid out on the kitchen bench. He has cleaned, dried and polished the metal parts which resemble more a dismembered robot than a coffee maker. This is the real deal. A stove-top espresso pot. No machines, no gadgets. Old fashioned Italian love of simplicity & quality.

He flattens the ground coffee with the tamper. He takes a long time over this, ensuring it provides a consistently dense sponge of coffee for the steaming water to filter through. He prefers purified water in the base of the pot and starts the assembly. There are spouts, rubber rings and assorted parts, but eventually it looks like an elegant, tall, silver teapot and he places it on the flame.

And we wait.

Soft gurgles precede the first arrest in our nostrils of a unique aroma that immediately awakens any portions of the brain still clinging to sleep. My husband fetches the tiny cups we purchased at an art gallery in southern Sydney. Each cup & saucer is a different coloured glaze and when filled and standing together they look like a steaming Mediterranean rainbow.

He knows just when to pour. I don't know how. It might be the gene ... the southern European gene. He was born here in Australia, but he knows things that Australians don't know. Like how to enjoy a chilli straight from the plant, whole on a piece of hearty white bread with a dash of balsamic (Modena) and olive oil. Or how to insult someone with no words - just the evil eye and wild gesticulations.

He pours. The rich brown liquid comes halfway up the cups and all of a sudden we're surrounded by sons emerging from their sleepy Saturday bedrooms. "Can I have some?" He has anticipated this and pours for all of us. Some add sugar, some don't and we all sip silently. Although it is a small amount - maybe 20 or 30 mL, it reaches down to the depths and satisfies.

We are ready to start our day.

White With Two Sugars (please)
by Steve Turner

Coffee gives you
a legal shot of
energy when your
eyelids are feeling

Coffee kills time
when you’re washed
ashore on the streets
of London.

(Coffee can even
help rainstorms

Coffee is something
to dangle your lips
in when conversation
is scarce.

Coffee is a good
place to take a
new friend.

(Coffee is an excuse
to stay half an hour

Acquaintanceships end
on the doorstep but
friendships begin
with a coffee.

Coffee can be
appreciated by all

Coffee is multilingual,
multi-racial, liquid esperanto.


There’s something quite
religious about coffee.


  1. Very good site
    I follow u now