Considering my interest in food (preoccupation, some might say), there will always arise the question of what I don’t like. And for a long time my answer would elicit surprise. COFFEE. I couldn’t stand it. It was the only thing I detested, the last hurdle of flavour that I’d yet to conquer; I’d sooner stuff my gullet with offal than take even a sip of a coffee. Not that I didn’t try it – I did, many times, hoping I’d find some hidden magic. I couldn’t. The taste was revolting. Of course, many people told me I would grow into it.
“Try a macchiato!” they said,
“It’s like a hot chocolate!” they said,
“It doesn’t even taste like coffee!” they said.
ALL LIES. No sweetness could mask the vileness of the nasty bean. It’s why coffee ice cream or capuccino cake were firmly off-limits. Taking a chocolate from a selection box without a menu meant the risk of getting a coffee cream, like confectionary Russian roulette. (Getting it wrong was mouth death.) But believe me, this wasn’t how I wanted to live. I wanted to enjoy it all! In a world full of flavour sensations, to dislike something as vehemently as I did coffee, well… it felt like failure. Plus, there were the social elements. When people say, “let’s go for coffee”, of course this includes tea, but deep down it felt like being in a sub-class of hot beverage drinker. A pat on the head: “There, there, you get yerself a wee tea. Poor you with your unrefined palate.” Then there’s the variety. If you’re a tea drinker you get, at best, leaves in a pot. At worst, you get a bag in a cup. That’s more or less your lot, and although I explored the world of tea with as much love and loyalty as I could, celebrating independent loose leaf producers and wiling away hours in the Twinings shop, ordering tea out was limited. (The sign of a cafe that gives a damn is one that offers lemon with your earl grey. These are surprisingly rare.) Coffee, on the other hand is like a respected member’s club, with its own secret handshakes and special code. Decaf? Latte? Skinny? Roast? Drip? Espresso? Double shot? Americano? It was a fascinating world, but one that I was destined never to know.
Turns out I was wrong. Exactly one year ago, something changed. I was in Iceland, of all places, doing a food story, and the photographer was shooting early morning coffees at Reykjavik Roasters. My bleary eyes honed in on the frothy latte left there on the table. Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was because I was tired, maybe the eerie Icelandic atmosphere had an effect on me. But I had a sip. And I didn’t hate it. Panicked that this spell would wear off, I took another sip. Then another. And then another – and oh, wait, there we are. BLEEUUURGH! Yes, I still hated coffee, but for the next three months I couldn’t stop thinking about those first few illicit sips. So began my slow dalliance with coffee. Now, I love it. And a whole new world has opened up. I get to say things like “Arabica” and “ristretto” and “don’t even TALK to me until I’ve had my coffee”. Everything is a novelty and as such, I’ve continually taken pictures of my coffees, frustrating every Instagrammer who’s ever tired of seeing another arty latte shot with a Valencia filter. But it’s been fun. Here I’ve shared a few excerpts of my conversion to coffee. My caffeinated diary.
9 Nov: NYC bound. Paced airport looking for decent coffee place. Think have become snob.
11 Nov: Tried Starbucks in NYC as I needed wifi. People drink this stuff? Had name spelled ‘Glen’.
29 Nov: Love finding independent coffee places around London. Confess: am stuck on lattes.
4 Jan 2015: Friend introduced me to filter coffee. Not just diner fodder! God. Still much to learn.