Sunday, December 22, 2013

How the USA Taught Me To Love Coffee, by a British Expat

My standard reaction to the question can I get you a coffee? had always been "no thanks", accompanied by a vague feeling of disgust.
I come from a nation of tea lovers, though I am not myself an avid tea drinker. As a matter of fact, for the first 31 years of my life, I didn't care for hot beverages at all, beyond a simple hot chocolate—a soothing drink that appealed at once to my laid-back nature and my admittedly sweet tooth.

However, unable to overcome its smell, coffee was the drink I detested above all others. Somehow, its aroma always brought to mind something undrinkable that had festered beneath a stack of inexcusably dirty dishes, left to sit for three weeks. Over the years, my standard reaction to the question can I get you a coffee? had always been "no thanks", accompanied by a vague feeling of disgust.

This feeling wasn't improved, either, by the (false) notion that all coffee drinkers were somehow perpetually anxious about something; that the phrase I need a coffee usually equated to this day cannot get any worse!

Meanwhile, you could be forgiven for assuming that my aversion to coffee had grown stronger (pun intended) following my move to the United States. And you'd be right, if you were analyzing the first 4 years.

During this time, I'd watch my wife—with her Starbucks gold membership firmly in hand—order drinks whose titles were utterly unfathomable: a grande peppermint iced and spiced no-whip mocha latte espresso coffee, please! At times I needed a translator, while she seemed to speak the lingo as if it were her first language. 

Perhaps it is the American in her. After all, it is well-known that Americans drink coffee in greater quantities than citizens of the United Kingdom; the average American consumes around 4.2 kg of coffee a year, compared to the 2.8 kg consumed by people in the UK.

Indeed, not only do Americans drink more coffee than my compatriots, but they eat more coffee-flavo(u)red food items. Occasionally a partaker myself of tiramisu, you could say that it was these food items that laid the foundations for what would later become a life-changing experience.  

But even after treading the waters, after appealing once more to my sweet tooth, I still couldn't get past the smell. I was around it more now than ever, following a recent career transition that had landed me in an office full of writers.

Of course, being in such an office was a good thing; on a professional level, it's where I wanted to be, and honestly—having just moved to a relatively big city—I was about the happiest I'd ever been.

With that in mind, why—thought I—would I want to change anything else? What were my coffee-drinking colleagues getting that I didn't already have? The answer was simple: caffeine.

Working as a full time editor by day and a freelance writer by night was, and is, a highly rewarding, but ultimately exhausting process. Sometimes, I would find myself working on a freelance assignment—very much by choice—until after 1am, only to play the role of editor some seven hours later.

The only major source of caffeine during this time had been the occasional Dr. Pepper or Red Bull—hardly drinks to soothe the soul. And so, one day a couple of weeks ago, I did it; I had my first full mug of coffee.

They say that coffee has an acquired taste. On the one hand, it took me 31 years to acquire it; on the other, it came the moment I finished that first mug. Wow. Within an hour, the fatigue had washed away and I felt, for a few hours at least, like I was 18 again and could take on the world. Okay, perhaps that is an exaggeration. But I had found a way of invigorating myself, of feeling somewhat less comatose.

Moreover, the taste was wonderful. Like tiramisu, only stronger and hotter, with an aroma that suddenly seemed acceptable to mine nose, and a driving force that made it seem perfectly okay to use phrases like mine nose. Clearly, I would need to rein myself in.

It is perhaps not by accident, though, that my burgeoning love of coffee had coincided with possibly the most prolific period of my freelance career, the success of which will ultimately depend on my ability to remain awake.        

Now at this point, you may be asking the following question: what does the USA have to do with all this? Wouldn't you have ended up in a similar scenario had you stayed in England?

Possibly. But there are two things the United States has in greater abundance than England: 1) coffee; and 2) the individual desire to succeed. In my case, it was a quest to achieve the latter that necessitated the latte. If I was going to live the American Dream, however unconventional my route, I was going to do it with the following three things as my guide: a keyboard, The Beatles album Rubber Soul, and coffee.   

Henceforth, while I no longer equate the smell of coffee with that of dirty dishes, there is one dish that will play an important role in my future: a coffee mug.

A coffee mug with my name on it.      

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11 comments:

Studio Kaufmann said...

I did used to buy cappuccinos back in the dark ages of 2000 when I was still living in London but do remember sometimes the cappuccino even at Starbucks being really lukewarm and pretty bad but of course I had never lived in the US and had no idea I could complain about such things! Shit coffee was just one of those things Brits put up and shut up about. I think coffee drinkers are born not made - frankly if you are not a morning person like me you will drink any kind of hot black liquid to get you going in the morning although I draw the line at Bovril.

Anonymous said...

Coffee also suffers from two decidedly negative trends. Like most things, when you roast them until they burn, most things taste the same. This is important, since we (as Anglo-Europeans) get our coffee aesthetics from Southern Italy. It starts with Sicily as an Arab/Muslim (Tunisian) dominion. They had access to coffee and addictive drugs are wonderful things. But they were also a backwater, so they got the bad stuff. Making the best of a good thing, they roasted it until it was burnt and developed a taste for it. When Venice came to power, Southern Italians kept buying bad coffee because they were poor while Northern Italians bought better coffee an enjoyed a lighter roast. Now, the poor are the people who emigrate, at least historically.

I love me a dark coffee because I've acquired the taste, but I have to think it would be easier if lighter roasts were a more common entry point.

Melissa S. said...

Another tea drinker bites the dust? Surely not. Still, I despair that we have converted yet another pour soul. Thankfully I never worshiped the bean and hope I never will.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Laurence, I should like very much to rap you on the knuckles right now! You've no business drinking coffee. You must start reading my blog every week (I post on Thursdays) so that I can convert you to tea. I have taught many How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea. Vastly superior to coffee!

Laurence Brown said...

Jean, your blog is wonderful and I am certainly not a tea hater. Perhaps I can learn to love the Stones as well as the Beatles, if you know what I mean.

Jean | DelightfulRepast.com said...

Laurence, thank you! I've just posted about my latest afternoon tea outing. I'm busy as ever trying to convert Americans to tea, the beverage, and afternoon tea. Though I can't say I've ever learned to "love the Stones as well as the Beatles," I can enjoy a Stones tune (or a cup of coffee) now and then!

Miranda said...

I also detested coffee, quite strongly. My mother in law bought us a Keurig and I was going to add it to the white elephant pile in the closet. Then I realized it made hot chocolate, so it squats in it's anointed place on our counter. I truly love the smell of coffee, but to drink it...well I feel it equates to licking an ashtray full of month old bloody scabs.

james william said...

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your site and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your site. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.


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Anonymous said...

Sellout. Fk coffee and american dreams ; loyalty for tea,the british in me.

Roving Jay - Expat in Motion said...

I converted to coffee when I crossed the ocean, and haven't looked back.

fyi I added your article to my Expat Carnival roundup of Expats guide to coffee and tea
http://www.rovingjay.com/expats-guide-to-coffee-and-tea-blog-carnival/

Kelly Spencer said...

I just love to drink coffee! It is more than just black water, there are many nutrients in the coffee beans do make it into the final drink.
jamaican blue mountain coffee

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