My coffee consumption was low, very low for the next 15 months, and I was a bit leery of gravy as well. But my next posting was to the tropical paradise of Airlie Beach, with its waving palms, multitude of tropical islands and suitably attired backpackers and an incipient cappuccino strip that was bribing nescafe drinkers with views of the coral sea in order to get them drinking coffee.
It wasn’t great coffee. I know that now, and the foamy sudsy stuff on the far too hot cappuccinos wouldn’t even support the chocolate powder. But it was a start, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that their gravy was made well away from the coffee machine..
I do remember one new bloke who arrived at our office and asked “so where does a bloke get a decent lattÃƒÂ© round here?”.
Some laughed because they thought only gays drank lattÃƒÂ©s, some laughed because they knew the answer was that you couldn’t and others laughed because they had no idea what a lattÃƒÂ© was but if everyone else is laughing you better laugh right along with them or else they might get suspicious and start asking questions.
I took him aside later and explained the situation he’d got himself into. This was a town where beer was king, where wine was queen and where spirits meant Bundaberg Rum. Coffee was something that people thought came from a jar and we were both is serious trouble if our colleagues overheard these furtive whispers.
After I met my wife we got into the habit of Sunday breakfast and coffee at a little cafÃƒÂ© overlooking the ocean. The owner was working hard to improve the coffee but it was always a real struggle between the lack of trained baristas and the fact that the coffee was always stale.
I got hooked on the good stuff when we came on a holiday to Perth. 14 months later we’d moved here and were living in Subiaco which is not a bad place to start learning about good and bad coffee.
Along any coffee strip the quality is variable and this is true of Subi also. It was here that I got into the habit of trying an espresso first at each cafÃƒÂ©. I figured if they couldn’t get the basic unit of coffee right the rest of their coffee menu was worthless.
There was one place that roasted their own beans and that always fascinated me. I didn’t yet know how fragile a roasted bean is and how short its life. So many cafÃƒÂ©s had these big stocks of imported Italian beans that actually had dust on the packet. It was like they were trying to age the beans like wines. I also saw some operators (can’t call these guys baristas) re-use the coffee puck.
Think about it, you take the ground up coffee, put it in the filter, extract a shot of coffee and then you:
a) remove the filter, tap it into the knock-box and add more freshly ground coffee to pour you next shot.
b) Remove the filter and top it up with more coffee
c) Leave the filter in and extract another shot from it
d) Leave the filter in and extract multiple shots from it
I recently heard a story from a Perth barista that he’d encountered a variation of ‘d’ where you fill the filter with a shot of coffee each morning and use that all day. That’s a hanging offence surely!
I did see ‘b’ & ‘c’ all in action and thus it is no leap of faith to accept ‘d’ as well.
I drank a lot of coffee over the next year or so, but all the while I felt empty inside, there was no life in this stuff, no joy, no passion. And then I found it, a small coffee shop, hidden away, with a trained barista and coffee that was roasted locally to order – that is the shop orders and then the roaster roasts the coffee to be delivered 2 days later.
This was coffee. For a while I bought bags of beans and took them home, but they were going stale too fast and I had now been spoiled – I knew it was stale and that drinking stale coffee was wrong!
Next up – learning to fly. . .