The afternoon coffee chat

Coffee is best for me when served strong and chilled (not simply with added ice cubes). The strong feature I find is best captured by espresso, at the very least a “double” ( though I am never certain that it or anything beyond is propitious given the brewing method).

Espresso Italian: is a coffee brewing method in which a small amount of nearly boiling water is forced under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. From Italian caffè espresso (literally pressed out coffee).

My sister and I discovered espresso on the Italian riviera one bright sunshiny morning in 1963 while sleuthing the breezy bar in the hotel where we were staying. We perched on the bar stools and asked the barman for a coffee. As a result of the impromptu introduction I will if necessary accommodate my physiological yearning with a cappuccino instead.

A cappuccino Italian: is an espresso-based coffee drink that is traditionally prepared with steamed milk including a layer of milk foam.

Typically cappuccino is served with sugar. Which I presume is why I momentarily abandoned coffee in my first year of undergraduate studies at Glendon Hall; viz., to escape sugar (no matter whether it were white, brown or coloured, served in a bowl or packaged in crisp wrapping paper).  It may also have been my mistaken belief that multiple spoonfuls of Nescafé instant coffee sufficiently collared the taste and impact of caffè espresso (which of course it did not).

In law school I accelerated my passion for unobstructed caffeine by using an inexpensive aluminum or metal percolator. To the upper chamber of the percolator I added egregious quantities of dark finely ground coffee beans and then initiated the circulation of boiling water. The effect of the consumption was often meteoric; and latterly disquieting, even adversely affecting my stomach.

Now I have to confront another reality about coffee; namely, that it is a diuretic. Accordingly I no longer drink coffee in the morning (unless I am at a restaurant or the golf club). Otherwise the coffee station is always aligned with a restroom. I preserve myself from liquids of any description (including water for pills) as best as possible until after I have completed any afternoon agenda (most notably a drive into the city to the car wash and then the return ramblings about the countryside).

The language of the popular coffee houses has me perpetually confused.  I view the publicized assortment of coffees not as constitutional but rather derivative or definitional (deductive rather than elementary). I understand for example that cappuccino was only first promulgated as late as the 1930s. Meanwhile the coffee houses and their baristas (ORIGIN 1980s: Italian, barman’) have popularized various elucidations which frankly I consider little more than a distinction without a difference.  Nonetheless I universally persist in my ambition for a small, strong coffee.  Getting a so-called “Americano” (Caffè americano, a style of coffee prepared by adding hot water to espresso) is basically a blunt and prosaic submission to the addition of more water (of which I am always served too much because the person taking my order at the counter is not the one who prepares the coffee and who ends adding too much water).  It is no doubt for this reason among others that I tend not to frequent coffee houses (though even to this day Country Life magazine repeatedly expounds upon the peerless gravity of coffee houses for community activity and historically for revolutions and civil wars).

Summary: Cappuccinos are made using equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, while lattes involve adding steamed milk to an espresso. Meanwhile, macchiatos are made by adding a splash of milk to a shot of espresso.

I am overall neither frantic nor objectionable about coffee houses. We have locally what I recognize as two well liked venues for lingering over coffee while chatting with a friend or neighbour; and that is Equator coffee (from which the smell of roasting is not uncommon) and across the street Hummingbird Chocolate Maker which to me is better known for its variety of sweets and chocolate assortments. The seating at neither is in my opinion ideal; though being able at both to sit outside in fine weather is incomparable.

This brings me to the putative pinnacle of my monologue concerning the afternoon coffee; namely, the chat, the chinwag. In my old age I have acquired a burgeoning interest in and familiarity with the art of chatting. It helps maintain the flippant and whimsical flavour of the afternoon chat that it develops between or among those who for some reason are seminal (however distant) to one another. The resource no matter how capricious is viewed as one of intelligence.  There is an obligation – albeit only an underlying vein, the faintest elixir – to deliver something of consequence to the blather. The paramount ambition is however informality and chitter-chatter; and to share nonsense and the latest drivel about which one has been preoccupied. There is seldom time for the past other than to embellish the present.  In that respect the afternoon coffee chat is all about currency; for example, young people – children and grandchildren – who are especially known to overtake the colloquy. Yet the mystique of the coffee shop is memorable capitulations, summaries and abbreviations both metaphorical and literary. Hidden within this sometimes complex web of conversancy is the value of socializing, the transparent need of animals of any species to commingle and communicate.  Sometimes, as today, the opportunity revitalizes distant and dwindled associations, not to mention the anticipated gloss of marriages and deaths, all proof that time has meaningfully advanced with or without our encouragement.

In memory of Mrs. Molly Panton Wells