The advertisement promises 43 beans

Count the beans

Just down from the Mercer St Corner, opposite the Myer Store in Yarra St Geelong, was a cafe. In the cafe, on the tables, sat woven straw – covered glass Chianti bottles. Lodged in each bottle was a candle. At night the candles lit the otherwise gloomy room. Behind the counter the staff busied themselves serving their customers cups of steaming cappuccino. Such was the mystery of this enticing bohemian facade – all too frequently I postponed preparing my trainee teacher class lessons, due the next day, to sup late in the wicked atmosphere. This was my first mischievous deed in the world of adults three generations ago.

It was not my first cappuccino. I had had one earlier at Circular Quay in Sydney a few week before. On that occasion I met my sister Elizabeth traveling home on the liner “Oransay” after her first visit to Scotland. These big noisy drink makers took sometime to change the drinking patterns of this nation but they did. Before they became ubiquitous we endured some terrible brews. Let me introduce you to a journey through coffee.

We were (we are still) first a tea drinking family but our pretence at sophistication meant coffee was served on special occasions way back – when? War time privations meant coffee was unavailable- especially to families like ours. We made do with a delicious drink – Bushels Essence of Coffee and Chicory. This syrup was poured into a cup, to complete the ritual you then poured hot milk or water over that – And you were expected to enjoy it. Yuk.

Image Museums Victoria

It really was bad. If you would like to transport yourself back seventy years it is still possible to buy its modern substitute. Bushels Coffee Essence with added Caramel is still sold in supermarkets. (If you like the product you should stick to your choice, just don’t confuse it with a drink of coffee.)

By the time I left to start a home of my own the coffee we drank depended on how stretched our budget was. When it came to coffee we drank Instant Coffee. (It was only when I started to write this entry I made the discovery instant coffee was introduced around the years our fathers were born.) Possibly the biggest name internationally was Nescafe. In our time we have drunk litres of coffee infused by this brand. At various times we have tried dozens of other brands. You might know, or remember them. Some of them were awful. How would you rate Maxwell Hose, Pablo, International Roast, Moccona, Nescafé, Lavazza?

Sixty countries, or seventy – if Wikipedia is your source, grow coffee. The most common varieties grown are c, robusta and c. arabica. It is assumed they all originated in Ethiopia. Robusta, is to my taste, more bitter. Perhaps that is why Turkish coffee is so sweet. Perhaps it explains why an espresso in Europe is so short. Similarly no one can reasonably explain why an Americano tastes as it does. Here in this blazing dry land when it comes to fresh coffee most of us are served Arabica.

Coffee has heaped my ignorance into mountains at various times. I remember with pride producing my first coffee made in the eight cup, Sunbeam electric percolator we purchased. To make it I ground some expensive beans in a manual grinder. It took the best part of half an hour to turn out half a cup of coffee grounds. That was the quantity needed to fill the infuser. After filling the body with water, I turned it on and it percolated until the brew was as black as coal and just as tasty. We kept that thing for many years. The longer we had it the less it was needed. No one liked what it produced.

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From that point I decided against filtered coffee and eventually bought a two cup Bialetti Stove Top Coffee maker. This was the first machine that we had that produced a reasonable drink. We kept that little gadget for ages. In fact we kept it until I was the only one in the house drinking coffee. By that stage I was addicted to my one strong cup a day. On Tuesday’s I lashed out and spent an hour with my former work colleague H. For nearly thirty years we have been chewing the fat over a Flat White each week in coffee shop after coffee shop.

Some time ago I expressed my individuality and spent more money than a “one-cup-day” drinker should and I bought a Rancillio Silva manual coffee machine. Now everyone will join me when I make my coffee each morning. My Faerie will have one with me if it is an Italian sweet called an Afagatto. This little drink is a double espresso poured over a serve of ice cream. (Hasn’t that caused some trouble over the years?) When we first started journeying around the country it was impossible to get one. The best reason given for not making one was given to us in a small cafe in Charlton. The waitress give us the pragmatic answer to our question. She said, “This is Charlton – not Carlton.” (Carlton is known as a centre for all things Italian.) Now it is possible to find one almost anywhere as most places can afford to buy an automatic espresso machine. However not all coffee is equal.

Good beans are more necessary than a good machine. Country stores are still reluctant to purchase good coffee, what scientists tell us it will soon become very expensive.The first reason is – coffee has replaced tea as the drink of choice. The second reason is – as the globe warms traditional places where coffee grows will become too hot. Growers are now searching the globe for new regions in which to grow it. Another major problem is the great distances the beans have to travel. Currently we are buying our Fairtrade beans from Timor Leste. This still means a journey of 5,000 kilometers before we get them.

Interestingly coffee waste is worthy of a story of its own. This will be my next story. Please revisit my site and learn a little more about this busy bean.

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