So here I am this morning, sitting down to do some writing and what do I have in front of me? Right! My trusty coffee! Of course coffee has moved on a cup or two since the days of my youth; Then it was just black or white; now I find myself standing in Costa, just behind the guy ordering a double decaffeinated half-caf soya milk skinny latte with one shot of syrup, extra hot and could I have that in a glass, not a cup PLEASE. (I’m reminded of that wonderful sketch in LA Story with Steve Martin.) Of course, I’m just as picky, my current favourite is a Costa gingerbread latte (2 pumps not 3) extra hot, with cream in a cup not a glass. My husband refuses to order it for me for some reason, but I’ve found the lovely staff in Costa nationwide are extremely patient and will often say “It’s got to be right for YOU” as they make my coffee again having overshot on the gingerbread syrup the first time.
Coffee has so many positive connotations, “Meet for a coffee?”, “Lets get together for a coffee”; even the term “Coffee Morning” made so famous recently by the wonderful Macmillan cancer charity, all conjure images of cosy chats with friends and good times. Even though the British cuppa is far more ingrained in our national identity, coffee seems to bring people together.
Starbucks started in the USA in 1971 founded by three college students. There are now nearly 30,000 Starbucks globally and the branding is as familiar as McDonalds. I remember visiting America in the early 90’s and buying a Starbucks latte! What a revelation! There was nothing remotely comparable in the UK at the time, and indeed it was 1998 before the first Starbucks arrived here. Costa also opened back in 1971 with Cafe Nero the relative latecomer, brewing its first cup in 1987.
Coffee shop coffee for me is a real treat; it’s something that I look forward to and enjoy as something a bit special. I have friends who moan about the cost, (the cost for my favourite gingerbread beverage is £3.60) and I agree it is expensive, but it’s money I’m happy to pay. My daughter and I stand in the queue and ponder the choices, and there are many; are we fancying an iced coffee, a Frappuccino; do we want almond milk, soya milk or coconut milk ( a new revelation to me and very nutty in flavour ) – the possibilities are endless!
Some people of course prefer the make their coffee at home themselves and a quick scan around the kitchen department in John Lewis offers the potential home made coffee officiando a staggering array of coffee machines, (the invention of which occurred in 1938), retailing up to €1000! There is even a pop up stand in my local shopping centre selling flavoured pods. But still there is nothing like going OUT for a coffee.
According to Wikipedia, coffee was discovered by a 9th century Egyptian goatherd who noticed how the goats loved the taste and aroma of the Coffea plant. The earliest evidence of it being used regularly was in Southern Arabia in the mid 15th century. Coffee gained credence in the 17th and 18th centuries as coffeehouses grew in prominence, starting in the East but finally arriving in Europe in the 17th century and, by the beginning of the 18th century, there were 3000 coffee houses in London alone. Poets and playwrights gathered to sip coffee and discuss the latest news, literature and thinking. Interestingly, with all their individual elements; these coffeehouses were all loosely based on the same format in that it was quite acceptable, expected even, for patrons to sit down next to a complete stranger and say “What news have you sir!” Coffeehouses brought people and ideas together, inspiring thoughts and discoveries that became the envy of the world. The coffee, of course, was secondary, but the environment created was a revolution. Stocks and shares were first traded in Jonathan’s Coffee house which became a significant meeting place in London famous now as the original site of the London Stock Exchange. The coffee house was also implicated in the plot to assassinate William III! The fledging insurance industry also apparently started in this way. The coffee itself tasted bitter and was compared with the taste of soot and sweat!
Coffee drinking today is a lot more palatable and is said to have major health benefits. There is evidence for example, that long term coffee drinking in moderation can reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. There is still research ongoing as to whether it can really slow the progress of some cancers and inhibit the development of dementia, but it is generally agreed that coffee consumed moderately is certainly not BAD for us. Which is great! Especially as a lot of other liquids I imbibe certainly are!
Apparently there are more antioxidants in coffee than most other foods or drinks we consume, including fruits and vegetables! Imagine! Even though they have MORE antioxidants, the human body can consume more from coffee! There is also evidence that the aroma of coffee can have a calming effect and it has been linked to lower levels of depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s even good for your liver if you drink alcohol! It can reduce risk of Type 2 diabetes and is linked with improved brain health. It can even make you more intelligent according to some studies! Who knew?
My advice is to get down to your nearest Costa now, (make sure you buy a reusable cup, the takeaway coffee cup is not generally recyclable and is very bad for the environment) and don’t forget to turn to the woman next to you and say “What news have you madam?!” Who knows where it could lead…