Saturday, April 23, 2011

Coffee, Anyone?

Today was a Saturday. In preparation for what was to follow, I began the day with several cups of freshly ground Columbian coffee. It was a measure taken to strengthen myself. Within the next twelve hours I drove the car almost five hundred kilometres in and out of the Laurentian mountains. Throughout that time I drank another cup of coffee over lunch, then afterwards two cups of espresso allongé while visiting with friends at their place. Small wonder, while not exactly bouncing off the walls, I am now the furthest from contemplating going to bed.

I confess there was a time when I regularly primed myself with caffeine not in preparation for long drives but rather before giving a lecture or delivering ritual in my fraternal society. Unquestionably the caffeine assisted the delivery by sharpening the mind. It was possible to overdose on caffeine, the ramification of which was to add an unwelcome staccato sensation to one's nerve endings. From time to time the edginess translated into testiness.

Some prefer tea at breakfast, but my choice has always been coffee. Apart from breakfast, however, I seldom drink coffee at any other time of the day, except perhaps after a large dinner if I am dining out or at home with friends.

With the proliferation of coffee shops (or whatever is the proper terminology for these retail outlets of designer coffees) the younger generation is familiar with every imaginable variation upon the standard cup of coffee. I on the other hand hadn't a clue what a cappuccino was until I was eighteen years old. Our family was at that time touring the Italian riviera. We landed at a rather sophisticated hotel where I recall there was a strict dress code. Apart from that the only other detail of any consequence which I recollect was the visit my younger sister and I paid to a bar in the hotel late one sunny afternoon. There we were served cappuccino coffee for the first time in our lives. We both of course tortured the experience by adding volumes of sugar to the mixture, proving once again that there are two categories of people who dislike anything new; viz., children and the uneducated.

I suspect it was many years before I revisited the world of exotic coffees. Not only was North America not yet buzzing with interest in caffeine, but my university student budget would hardly have permitted such luxury. And most certainly the cafeteria did not stock café latté as a regular commodity. In retrospect I remember in my undergraduate days putting on airs about being a hippie by occasionally stopping at a coffee house on what was then a Bohemian Yorkville Avenue in Toronto. But what we consumed there wasn't the coffee rather hot apple cider which came with a cinnamon stick and a glob of honey served in a glass mug with a handle.

My insular experience has kept me from becoming addicted to the Second Cup or Starbuck's vernacular. Besides in my small town no such emporia exist, and I have been here for over thirty-five years. It is only lately that the habit of a Saturday afternoon digression to one of these establishments in the City has transpired. It speaks to my changing life-style. For one, it acknowledges both the desire and ability to interrupt one's day for an innocent pleasure. As well it is an admission of the need for fortification.

Interestingly the development of the expensive coffee shop is as modern as the current grocery store. Not long ago, neither existed, though no one under thirty would believe it. Once these establishments have been around for a while it is as though they have always been here. Were it not for television series like "Fraser" and "Friends" I imagine it would have been even longer before I acknowledged the existence of the modern coffee house.

As I say I am still somewhat a stranger to the modern coffee house experience. What has however hooked me to a greater extent is the simultaneous appearance of expensive coffee machines which permit people to make their own in-house concoctions. While I haven't yet succumbed to the purchase of one, I admit that I never cease to stop in front of them for examination. It was one of those devices today which contributed to this evening's undaunted enthusiasm.

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