Pardon me, is that an Afghan melon?
A new coffee vendor has opened up around the corner from the office. In light of the fact that Mystery Sandwich Girl has now been verified as an utterly unsuitable pursuit (she smokes, doesn’t drink, and she obsessively enjoys Dan Brown novels), and also in light of the fact that their coffee was rubbish anyway, it seemed reasonable to give the new mob a try.
The first hurdle to overcome was natural cynicism: why the cart? Were they trying to get on board with this whole “quirky, independent coffee retailer” thing, or did they mount it on a cart purely because it’s cheaper to have a temporary outdoor licence during business hours only, and the cart’s a more practical way of moving their gear about? (You wouldn’t believe the size of the chip on my shoulder about people consciously trying to be a bit “quirky” and “street”… <cough>ISSUES!) Something which had also piqued my ire was that, in walking past them a couple of days beforehand, they’d put out a display board prompting customers with “What do you think we should call our company?”, and then providing dry-wipe pens so that people could vote. Voting for a company name. That just smacks of lack of preparation.
They’d been there a couple of weeks, and eventually curiosity got the better of me – the coffee options around here are generally only as good as they have to be, given that there’s loads of offices and most people wouldn’t make a special trip somewhere else for coffee after buying their sandwich/pizza/etc. Cappuccino thanks. The exchange was perfunctory, and having procured my coffee I scampered back to the office before taking the first sip.
Not fucking bad.
The next day was made of deadlines, as was the day after, so upon my return on the third day the toss-meter got flicked into overdrive. The cappuccino was duly ordered, and while preparation took place the smalltalk began – “You were here the other day, weren’t you? What did you think?”. “Nice beans”, I said. Here it came. “A lot more people now are really interested in where their coffee comes from…”.
Thankfully, my phone rang at this point and stopped the torrent of wank issuing forth. I paid, and scurried, letting my latent anger run its course rather than carve out a spiteful niche for the java-vending dude. I’d spied on the blackboardy thing that the bean roast currently being served was a blend from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe Londoners, on the whole, are more geographically wise than I give them credit for – just seems weird to promote point of origin as a selling point when there’s a good chance that a large number of the consumers wouldn’t have any idea where any of those places are on a map, or indeed what difference it makes that the beans are from there. Sort of an extension of the conversation that happens to cute exchange students at every single party they ever go to:
Keen guy: Hi, where are you from?
Cute girl: I’m from France.
Keen guy: Yeah, but whereabouts in France?
Cute girl: [names a part of France that isn’t Paris]
Keen guy: Oh.
My assumption had always been that coffee came from places hot and leafy, and it turns out I was right. Beyond that, I don’t really care much. If I think about it too much then I’ll start wondering about how much fuel was used in transporting it, how well the farmers were all remunerated for their toil, and worst of all, trying to make sense of what characteristics each one has, so that ostensibly in future I might be able to use that information to make a decision – but in reality I’d just use it as a conversational crutch, should it ever come up.
A while back I was at a certain London market, and was in a bit of a hurry to be somewhere, however I needed some more coffee and it seemed silly not to get some here. The discussion was along the following lines:
Me: Hi there, I’d like 500 grams of espresso-grind coffee. Strong, dark roast.
Coffee Lady: This is our [something] blend.
Me: Good, I’ll have that.
Lady: It’s got 60% beans from [somewhere], 20% from [somewhere else], 10% [third place] and 10% from [fourth place]…
Me: Excellent news. 500 grams please.
Lady: Would you like to perhaps try some?
Me: Yes. I’ll drink that while you bag it up.
Lady: [looking puzzled that I could possibly want to buy coffee without trying it first or having heard its entire family tree] Oh, wait… 500 grams… how many cups would you say you drank a day?
Me: [thinking “none of your damn business”] Oh I don’t know… 5? (a lie)
Lady: Hmm… it’s just that 500 grams would take a lot longer to get through, and we find that after about 7 days the beans start to lose some of their complexity.
Me: (thinking to myself that of all the coffees I’ve ever made for anyone, nobody’s yet complained about the complexity of my beans) Oh OK, good point. Make it 250 grams then.
Her: Oh wait a minute… 5 a day… oh no, you should be OK…
Me: Nope, too late now – 250 grams. Go.
Maybe I was wrong in assuming that the relationship was one of purchaser to vendor: perhaps she was some sort of historian/guardian figure. I suppose equally what was going through my head was the conversational exchange to be had next time I had a guest over that I made a coffee for:
Guest: This is great coffee!
Me: Thanks – 60% of the beans are from [somewhere].
Moot point really – wasn’t going to be having anyone over for at least 10 days, and there was no way I’d serve them complexity-depleted coffee. What a massive faux-pas.
The “point” is: the guys around the corner do a bloody good cuppa joe.