Paul Strickland

Paul Strickland

Coffee

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a tea drinker. Although coffee had an appeal due to its smell, not to mention (to my inner geek/engineer) the appeal of so many different contraptions used to make it, I never learned to like its taste. And that became the status quo for me until only a few weeks ago. So why did I suddenly try drinking grown-up coffee?

I love tea

I don’t treat making tea lightly. As I said, I have been drinking tea for as long as I can remember, but during that time, I have also almost always been drinking tea made in a teapot. If a mug of tea was made without using a pot and given to me, I’d say I could tell that by its taste alone about 90% of the time.

For me, an important part of tea-making is the ritual of it all. Much of the experience comes with waiting: waiting for the kettle to boil and for the tea to brew before it can be enjoyed.

At work, “making tea” is not just a means for refreshment but also an opportunity to spend 10 minutes or so away from the desk. A welcome break from staring at a monitor for an hour or two. It’s also during those times that discussions are had that can be a means to share knowledge or solve problems. Just the change of scenery can be enough to make a breakthrough.

It started with crime

Some of my favourite evening TV in the past few years has been crime drama. Mainly in a foreign language and often Scandanavian (such as The Killing, The Bridge, Arne Dahl and Wallander), but also French (Spiral), Dutch (Salamander), Italian (Inspector Montalbano and Inspector De Luca).

Although I’ve also watched — and thoroughly enjoyed — a few series in English (The Wire, Luther and Ripper Street), they didn’t have quite the same sort of appeal. Perhaps the foreign language gave the other shows a more exotic or elite feel. Anyway, I was watching Inspector De Luca and I made a sweeping judgement about all of these different series: Italian crime dramas feature more food and coffee.

As with tea, coffee comes with its own ceremony, but in my experience this has mostly been removed by the convenience of instant coffee. Not in the world of Italian policing, however, where we see Inspector De Luca discussing a case in front of an old manual espresso machine. We see determined policemen discussing murder whilst drinking from tiny cups. And in Inspector Montalbano we see what seemed to me like the Italian version of tea at dinner time on a Sunday evening: the housewife producing a pot of strong coffee; just a small dribble into each cup.

And so it was, after being immersed in the sun-baked world of 1930s fascist Italy for a few evenings, I decided to give proper coffee a chance.

Coffee I’ve tried

Without having a starting point, a quick stroll down the supermarket coffee aisle was bewildering. Different beans, roasts and strengths. Where to begin? After a few minutes staring at this new world, I picked something that looked as distinctly “medium” as I could find. I added a cheap cafetière to my basket and I was ready.

The first coffee I tried was unremarkable. It smelt like coffee, and as I drank it apprehensively all I can remember was being pleasantly surprised that the bitterness I remembered from years before was no longer there.

With the concept of my drinking coffee tested and proven, I headed to my local branch of Whittard for some help. Since then I’ve been slowly working my way through the varieties on offer, and I thought it would be good to record my thoughts as I go.

Mexican Chiapas

The Mexican Chiapas is a mild roast and this was the first coffee that was ground in front of me. Its smell was very surprising; having been used to the standard coffee smell, this one seemed to be bursting with flavour. I don’t know what flavours exactly, but it seemed quite clean and almost refreshing.

When I made this coffee I found much of the smell made it into the taste. It was quite light, almost sweet in taste and didn’t leave much of an aftertaste; this was great for me as that had been one more thing my earlier experiences had made me wary of.

San Augustin Colombian

This was described to me as something along the lines of “coffee that drinks itself”. The San Augustin was a bit more of an adventure for me. It’s a medium roast and had quite a potent smell to my inexperienced nose.

I tried this coffee two ways: as a cafetière (also known as a French Press I believe) and in my next investment — a stove-top moka pot. I preferred it as a short drink, and drinking it in the morning was a great experience. It was certainly more intense than the lightly roasted Mexican, but I also enjoyed being to notice more subtleties in the flavour.

Dominican Republic

Having developed a liking for little cups of dark intense coffee, I went back for another medium roast. This one, from the Dominican Republic seemed to have both more of a kick to it, and was a bit more acidic. I couldn’t identify the chocolate that was described all the time I drank it, but mornings seemed to have a better success rate for that.

Conclusions so far

As I write this, I’ve been experimenting with coffee for about 4 weeks. I’ve certainly changed my mind about the stuff, and I’m looking forward to trying more in the future. Unfortunately (in terms of money), I am also prone to diving deep into my latest hobbies. It’s no different here — already I’m looking into coffee grinders, and I give the espresso machines I walk past in the supermarket a second glance every now and again…

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