Is that coffee?

I was early for my train yesterday morning, so, unusually, I decided to go and buy a coffee.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Let me start again.

Yesterday morning I was running late for my train, so of course I hit every traffic light between my house and the train station, missed the train by 3 minutes and thus had 15 minutes to wait for the next one. City trains run more frequently, but I catch a country train, because I commute out of the city for my current job.

Sometimes – in fact, frequently through the long, icy-cold winter that has only just come to an end in Melbourne – I board the train at 7.58am for that 50 minute journey, rubbing my gloved hands together to warm them up, and look with envy at the people holding, casually sipping, a warm take-away coffee. I don’t quite do the Homer Simpson drool, but I probably do stare a second or so too long, my mind drifting, imagining the brief joy of holding and sipping a warm, delicious coffee. Mmmmm, coffeeeee.

I rarely, if ever, buy coffee on the way to work, before catching a train, or, in fact, on any occasion when I would need to drink it while walking or driving. In fact, I rarely buy takeaway coffee anywhere, except when I’m at work, where the “take away” part refers to me taking it back to my desk.

Contrary to what you may be starting to suspect, I’m not building up an introduction to a witty anecdote about some halarious past accident with a hot cup of coffee. No, I don’t suffer from FOSHCOM (Fear Of Spilling Hot Coffee On Myself)* – although given my clumsiness, it would be quite rational of me to take that risk into account.

No, the reasons why I don’t buy coffee to drink in transit, is because of my attitude to buying coffee, and, now that I think about it, to values around what is a luxury. In that set of values, takeaway coffee is a luxury, or so it appears.

Let’s take a few steps back.

I can clearly remember the first time I saw – or registered – someone drink a coffee that was not made at home from a spoonful of [Brand Name Removed] Instant Coffee. That someone was my mother, on an afternoon in town with me, when I was probably about 7-8 years old.  I was the oldest of 6 kids, so any kind of time with just myself and my mum was very rare, and this annual “day out” was structured around the very prosaic activities of catching the bus together (my mother didn’t drive) and going in to town to buy new school shoes and school uniform to replace those that were outgrown. (Most of our clothes, including school uniform, were second hand, so perhaps this annual trip was to purchase the really essential items like shoes and underwear.)

Next to the bus stop in town, there was a little run-of-the-mill cafe. Picturing it now, I imagine chunky pine furniture and checked plastic table cloths, but even that “memory” could be a construction I’ve come up with. I think that cafe was gone a few years later when I was catching the bus in and out of town by myself so it really does exist only in my earliest memories.

It was Mum’s little treat, at the end of the shopping, to stop at the cafe, sit at a table and have a coffee before catching the bus home again.

For me, this stop for afternoon tea was significant in many ways. Not only was the time spent with Mum a rare treat, but in addition, this was probably as close as I ever got to “eating out,” or even setting foot in a cafe, throughout my childhood – eating out was not an option for a family of 6 children, living in a small country town in the 1970s-1980s. It was not until I was about 16, earning my own part-time income, and quite competently able to catch a bus to town and get myself kicked out of nightclubs for being underage, that I and my 16-17 year old friends would end up spending many dismal Saturday nights in [Brand Name Removed] cafe as a sad second option, staring into a packet of fries or a goopy ice-cream Sundae.*

Eating out, as an event in itself, was a concept that I was not aware of as a child.  I doubt that my parents ever ate out, even without us. Yes, we were occasionally left with babysitters, but I think this was so they could go to a “show” – some amateur theatre production, or to the “trots.” Take-away pies, or fish and chips, eaten at home, or [Brand Name Removed] fried chicken eaten in a park on the way to my grandmother’s place, were the most exciting food items I encountered for most of my childhood, and I suspect my parents’ dining experiences were just as limited as my own.

Anyway, at the cafe near the bus stop my mother ordered the standard Australian Housewife Special circa 1978 – a cappuccino.  I have no memory of whether anything was ordered for me, but we’ll pretend I ordered an orange juice, just to keep this moving along.

This is my first memory of seeing someone enjoy the indulgence of sitting in a cafe, sipping a coffee. It must have really had an impact on me; the pleasure my mother took in enjoying this little window of relaxing time to herself (well, as close to being by herself as she’d ever get) and her sense of treating herself – the extravagance of ordering, not merely a coffee, but a cappuccino.

"Cappuccino with foam" by Johnny Lopez - http///www.flickr.com/photos/jrok/267218761/

(These days, my coffee of choice is, unsurprisingly perhaps, a daggy old cappuccino. I like to think it’s because it’s less milky than a cafe latte – we all know how much I hate milk.)

Surely this memory is the reason why, despite the years that have passed since that shopping trip, many of them filled with scenes of me ordering coffees on morning tea breaks – first at art school, and then in the various jobs I’ve had – I still consider a purchased coffee as a luxury. It’s something to be savoured, sipped slowly, ideally while sitting down and able to be fully appreciated. To me, buying a coffee to drink while rushing on foot, or in the car, to be somewhere else, is akin to wasting the price of the coffee, and the whole experience of indulging in it.

Luxury has its time and place. A coffee as a treat each day at work is allowable – I deserve a small treat to get through the day, surely! But I’ve never been able to justify picking up a takeaway coffee at my local corner shop when I get the paper, only to bring it back home to drink. At home, I make coffee in a pot, or go without it for the day, because a luxury that’s taken for granted no longer feels like a luxury. Maybe my upbringing in a country town with no cafes is the reason why it has never felt right to me, the idea of paying for a takeaway coffee a block or two from home, just to bring back home to drink. Going out for coffee should be an event. That’s what I learned on that shopping trip with my mother.

So, on the morning in question, I was preparing to do something that I hardly ever do – buy a takeaway coffee to drink in transit, on the train. As it’s a 50 minute trip I figured that a coffee could be focussed on and savoured, along with the book I planned on reading. I ordered a takeaway cappuccino from a local cafe, and took it back to the station, where I stood sipping, waiting for my train. But, inevitably, the experiment was a disappointment. The quality of the coffee was nothing to write home about, and the experience didn’t end with me settling smugly into my seat on the train with a nice warm coffee. By the time the train arrived, I’d finished the drink and thrown the cup away.

On all counts, it failed the standard set by the cappuccino my mother ordered in that daggy pine-furnitured cafe, all those years ago.

*

 

Pic Credit: “Cappuccino with foam” by Johnny Lopez – http///www.flickr.com/photos/jrok/267218761/

*FOSHCOM – a term I’ve only just coined, but surely bound to become a familiar part of the lexicon once this post hits the airwaves.

*Actually,  I remember that in primary school I was once taken to dinner at the Pancake Parlour, when my friend won a dinner for 4 there. It was probably the most exciting night of my life to that point.

 

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11 Comments

  1. weebluebirdie

     /  October 19, 2015

    Oooh dear, my takeaway coffees have become my daily medication, without which I cannot function! This despite a similar upbringing where I cannot remember eating out at all as a child. My coffee necessity is borne out of a long commute on the bus – an hour to an hour and a half – at the end if which I am utterly brain dead. I even have patterns of coffee drinking. If I get the second bus, I can get a lift into town with the Kid and Himself. I go to the deli where I order a takeaway coffee – he makes it as soon as I enter, only casually enquiring whether I want a bus coffee,which means he doesn’t fill it right up, to allow for coffee movement on the potholes in the road – I taught him that:-) Then I sit down and have a chat with him until it’s time to cross the road for the bus – I can see the bus stop, and keep a close eye on it. I don’t drink the coffee until I’m on the bus – that would be cheeky, because he charges less for a takeaway coffee. And I don’t have a sit-in coffee because there isn’t time to drink it before the bus comes. When I get to town, I buy another coffee on the way to work. They are always double Americanos with a touch of milk. I used to drink cappuccinos, but now I need a stronger hit. I’m picky about where I go for coffee. My work often involves a fair bit of travel during the day, and I have a whole network of good coffee places I use.

    Gawd, another case of should-have-written-my-own-damned-post instead of filling up your comments!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Doesn’t bother me, I’m a rambler too & I enjoy the little stories & bits of info that are offered in comments like yours. It sounds like you are a serious coffee drinker! I thought “Americano” is what Europeans called that weak black stuff that comes from a drip filter or percolator?? In Australia I don’t think I’ve seen Americano on a menu. Certainly we, like the Europeans, hold Americans in scorn for their God-awful drip filter coffee. It’s not surprising that they invented the franchise that disguises coffee by filling it with syrup & whipped cream!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      • weebluebirdie

         /  October 20, 2015

        The Americano I know is the strong stuff! I only go to places with the fancy grinding scooshing machines. Never the coffee in a jug American diner style! I can’t bear the insipid bleugh of a certain global franchise either 🙂 It’s mostly just the morning I do coffee…then I’m on to water, Earl Grey or even herbal tea. Unless I have a meeting in a cafe – I refuse to pay for a teabag in some water, with the coffee there’s a bit of effort goes into it.

        Like

    • PS that’s an incredibly long commute so I understand you giving in to the need for coffee before & during the commute!!

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  2. I have FOSHCOM syndrome! I am too clumsy, it’s a wonder I am still alive.
    One day I myself treated myself for a coffee on a rainy day. At a metro station. Coffee was good,I took the metro home. Only to realise I had forgotten my newly bought umbrella… I went BACK .. only to find it on the ticket counter and not some train. Sheesh that was an adventure!

    Gosh.. your post and all the coffee talking, has me craving for one. Gonna have that cuppa now. Have a great week!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. I too regard milk with suspicion but have attached my comments on it to your post on the topic (link in your text).

    Like you, I rarely buy takeaway coffee, partly because I dislike consuming eatables or drinkables on the hoof in the street and partly because in the UK the average quality of bought coffee is abysmal. Only a few establishments produce good coffee and I prefer to consume the product comfortably seated on the premises. As explained in my aforementioned comment, I drink my tea and coffee black. This means that I am very sensitive to the quality of the product and the supplier cannot mask its nastiness with over-hyped additives.

    I think the feeling of luxury emanating from drinking coffee (or anything else) comes as much from the occasion as from the beverage itself. It’s nice to think of your mother, all those years ago, taking a break and enjoying a beverage she hadn’t had to make herself. It’s also left a very special picture in your memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Thank you, and also for your comments on curdled milk, a topic that I feel very strongly about. I made my own coffee at home black for years because of my dislike of milk, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay $3.50 for a cup of water with nothing but black coffee in it, and I find that in a good coffee the chemistry between the coffee & the milk is such that I only taste coffee. If I can taste milk, I don’t buy coffee from that vendor again! In the end though, I must admit that black coffee didnt feel like a treat. Now, I don’t make coffee at home much but if I do it’s black coffee made in a pot on the stove, with a little bit of milk and sugar added!! I agree about the link between luxury and a sense of the occasion, too. Maybe why we have “epidemics” of overweight people in wealthy countries, because there’s no sense of occasion to eating on the run, or at the computer, or while watching TV.

      Like

      Reply
      • It Is certainly true that for a luxury to continue to be a luxury, it needs to be indulged in only occasionally. Indulge in it too often and it becomes just another routine.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You paint such a picture that you’ve changed the way I think of “takeaway” coffee forever. I think you’ve also inspired a future post. Thank you, truly, for this thoughtful piece of writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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