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11 October 2010

In defence of coffee

Don't mistake the crappiest instant versions for the real deal.

By Mark Watson

Contributions to the Very Late Review* have already started to come in and normally I don’t weigh in with my own opinions. However, it’s already clear that, unless the pendulum of opinion swings drastically in the opposite direction, coffee is going to score very poorly. A huge number of people seem to consider it undrinkable, too bitter, generally swill-like and absolutely inferior to tea.

I am a lifelong tea-drinker through and through so the last point doesn’t upset me. But the general distaste for coffee does. It’s normally impossible to change someone’s taste when it comes to food as it’s so subjective — why, only earlier on Twitter I laid into the whole idea of cucumbers. But I do feel coffee is misrepresented in this country so I wanted to speak out briefly in its defence.

What many people think of as coffee is instant coffee: things like Nescafé, which you buy in jars and make by adding water. This does indeed taste pretty awful (unless you add a mountain of sugar) and could also do awful things to your guts if you’re not careful. Then there’s the coffee you get in Starbucks, Costa and similar chain establishments. This is much better quality but it’s made with the lack of love you’d expect in chain stores so it’s fairly mediocre. But THEN you get what I would call proper coffee, made from a fancy Italian machine. You can get this from slightly more upmarket cafés or make it yourself at home. It is a different world from what often passes for coffee. It’s an awful lot nicer.

If you lived in, say, Melbourne, you could march into almost any establishment from a glossy restaurant to a dental surgery, demand a latte and walk away feeling pretty cool about life. Or Rome and no doubt other places besides. For reasons that aren’t clear to me, in the UK we don’t have the same culture of Decent Coffee Drinking; the crappiest instant versions seem to be interchangeable with the real deal.

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Many people on this blog have complained, in the past, of lack of motivation, tiredness, a general feeling of being overwhelmed by life’s challenges, energy shortages, all these kinds of things. I can’t help thinking coffee would help some of you out, big time. In relatively small doses, it can make you, as one commenter remarked, buzz like a hummingbird. (I guess hummingbirds hum, technically, but any time I get the chance to be likened to a hummingbird, I’ll take it.) For me, since Kit was born, it’s been the difference between staggering everywhere like a dead-eyed phantom and only staggering SOME places like that. I also doubt I would have got Eleven written without it.

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It ain’t tea. You can’t beat tea for comfort, morale-boosting, warming up on a grotty day and so on. But it certainly does have its uses.

Probably nine-tenths of the people who claim to dislike coffee will be unmoved by this plea for clemency. But all I’m saying is, make sure you’re trying the nicest possible incarnation before you write it off. If even one person, in the weeks and months ahead, puts the words “coffee convert comment” in this blog, I will be delighted.

And on the subject of odd acts inspired by this blog, yesterday (at the Stoke show), I got my first biro from Beth, the legendary Youngest Watsonian. She scored a bounty of Where’s Watson points and I . . . well, I got a pen. Which makes me happy. It doesn’t take much, sometimes.


*If you’ve not read the Very Late Review before, readers of my blog are asked to review a mixture of films, books, albums, people, experiences and anything else I feel I ought to have tried — but haven’t.

This post originally appeared on Mark Watson’s blog.