Food Living

Cafes, caffeine and the truth about coffee

Breakfast coffee, home brewed

I was given a Gaggia Brera coffee maker for my birthday. Actually it was a birthday and valentine present combined so I’m not nearly as indulged as that first sounds. Nevertheless it was an expensive version – but nowhere near the cost of buying a coffee-to-go each morning. In our now-so-hip corner of North East London a latte is at least £2.50. That amounts to a staggering £1825 in takeaways if both he and I had one every day. This simple calculation turns my birthday treat into thrift. Even with the most expensive roast beans and organic milk we are quids-in. Youngsters never do those sums and that is exactly what marks me out as being over fifty, and of course, born in Yorkshire.

Everyone my age knows that the UK’s relationship with proper coffee is quite new. I grew up with instant – jars of  Mellow Birds, followed by Nescafe Gold Blend. Only on special occasions and Christmas would the percolator be brought out for ‘real’ coffee. I say real not fresh. The ground beans had been in the cupboard for several years. It sat on the stove bubbling away, filling the house with the bittersweet and slightly burnt aroma of coffee that had been stored too long. In 2016 you cannot move for artisan or ‘craft’ coffee roasters who use jargon like single-estate and sea-levels in order to differentiate their beans. We are warned that once ground these beans lose flavour so quickly it is a travesty to use pre-ground at all.  The Coffee Roasters now have their own website with a who’s-who of independent roasters alongside descriptions, information on brewing and, of course, an online shop.

I remember being first introduced to the Bialetti espresso maker by an Australian colleague when I was a fresh out of college 22 year old designer. I thought it (and she) was the epitome of cool and promptly invested in my own four-cup along with a packet of Lavazza. I spent the late 80s dressed in black, smoking Marlboro Light and hanging out in cheap Soho cafes where an Italian meal always ended with Zambucca and a bitter espresso.

A few years later I was indignant when the visiting father of an American friend suggested we go for tea as the English didn’t know how to make coffee.

It turns out that our reputation for bad coffee was the direct result of being an island that had to get used to the freeze dried variety after World War II. We imported the stuff from the US who refused to drink it themselves. We had been enjoying the real thing before that and coffee houses were so popular in 17th century England that they were nicknamed penny universities because of the stimulating conversations they facilitated for the price of a penny cup.

Caffeine has always been used as a stimulant. The 18th century French writer Voltaire reportedly drank ‘fifty to seventy-two cups of coffee per day’ in order to keep himself alert enough to write. Which brings me to all the reasons I should not be drinking coffee. Caffeine is top of every ‘foods to avoid’ list for menopausal women. While fatigue might make that second cup of coffee tempting the received wisdom is that it will make peri-menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and mood swings worse.

But, flying in the face of everything we’ve been told before there’s been a recent U-turn on the health effects of coffee.  The decision behind my new coffee machine was partly prompted by news reported in Medicine News Today that coffee may actually have health benefits. It lists positive links between coffee consumption and diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, liver disease and a healthy heart. An even longer list has been compiled by Jen Reviews: 36 amazing benefits (and side effects) of coffee – a balanced view based on science.

My philosophy is a simple one. A little of what you fancy does you good. I love a proper, creamy, nutty coffee first thing in the morning. Sitting down and stopping to have breakfast and taking time out for the ritual of my coffee helps to set me up for the day and enhances my mood. It’s all about moderation isn’t it. And knowing that we’re saving well over a grand a year in the process.

Avril x

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