Coffee: By Captain Terry 'Flash' Gordon
Coffee. By CaptainTerry ‘Flash’ Gordon.
Liquid gold, a cup of joe, a brew, java, mud or whatever you like to call it. The source of life, at least for me. It's generally the first thing I do when I get up in the morning. I brew a cup and then sit and drink it, waiting for my heart to start. After a while, I can feel my body begin to function and gradually get up a head of steam. What would I do without coffee?
In the air, at work, coffee is also really critical to your feeling of well being and your level of alertness. Tragically, most airline coffee is rubbish. However, some of the better airlines use coffee pod machines for their first and business class passengers. Fortunately, at Cucuracha, they give it to us pilots too.
For everyone else, the news is not so good. A little known fact about coffee is that it has a triple-layered lifecycle*. This can be the only explanation for the differing standards. It is initially consumed in the classier coffee countries or regions such as Italy, Scandinavia, Australia, etc. The used grounds are then sent, exposed on the deck of a ship, to the USA. There, Starbucks and others reuse them as their primary offering, thus giving the stale insipid brew that Americans so love. These twice used grounds are then sent to the airlines for a third life, where they are mixed with sump oil to add some colour back in before serving.
*Just an assumption based on results.
As I've travelled the world, I've had the best and the worst of coffee. So it's worth talking about some of the history, culture and statistics to help you become more knowledgeable and a true connoisseur so that you can wax lyrical and appear more interesting to the opposite sex. (Or the same sex if that's your thing.)
It is thought that coffee was originally discovered in Ethiopia over 1000 years ago, and if this is true, then good on them and three cheers. The world owes them a debt of gratitude. In the last 500 years, coffee has spread out across the globe, and different cultures have absorbed it in different ways. Let's look at a few.
Italy is famous for its coffee culture, where rules are rules, and if you don't want to embarrass yourself, you need to stick to them or look like a tourist. Most Italians drink expresso (ask for un caffe') as a shot of energy, standing up at a cafe, and then they go off to do whatever sort of mad shit Italians do. I like to savour the taste and contemplate life, so that doesn't work for me.
In Mexico, cafe' de Jolla is prepared in a pot and served in a traditional glazed mug with cinnamon and a raw sugar chunk. Mexicans then sleep under large hats when the effect wears off until it's time for the next brew.
The Japanese coffee culture didn't take off until the second half of the twentieth century. But it's not hard to find a coffee shop anywhere in Japan. They're everywhere. The atmosphere in cafes is typically fairly subdued, though, not like the manic atmosphere in other countries. The Japanese are big on canned coffee which can be bought hot from vending machines. It's better than a poke in the eye when you are cold and need a fix.
Coffee in Saudi Arabia is steeped in tradition and in ritual. There are strict rules in formal social settings for who gets served first and by whom. The coffee is served from a traditional Arabic coffee pot with a long curved pouring spout called a dallah. Coffee cups are small and porcelain. This all sounds way too hard to me. They can keep their rituals and their camels, and I'll move on.
In The USA, the coffee culture revolves around large coffee chains, and the coffee is generally reasonably horrid. It's challenging to find a nice brew anywhere, and if you did, the establishment would probably be run by a foreigner. The best I've found is the 'bold' Denny's drip coffee which is a sad statement on American coffee.' Muricans' drink about 450 million cups of coffee a day. Coffee in Murica is also steeped in tradition, much like in Saudi Arabia. It is served in paper cups with your name spelt wrong and written on the side. Someone yells, "Venti, extra shot, skinny soy mocha for Scooter," and the rest of the customers size you up as you go and collect it. In spite of the fact that their coffee is so bad, Muricans are happy to line up in queues up to 75 metres long at airports for a cup of Starbucks. I find this quite stunning and a little bit scary, given they're a nuclear superpower. All that said, the best coffee smell I ever experienced was outside the Kona Coffee Company in Hawaii.
In Britain, coffee is an enigma. You can get some of the finest brews in the world at cafes there. Yet their own statistics state that over 80% of British households keep instant coffee at home for personal consumption. WTF is this, Nigel? Instant coffee is a crime against humanity. It must be insurance against an invasion from abroad or perhaps from next door. The thought of all that instant coffee would be very off-putting to visitors or potential invaders. I can't think of any other explanation.
Countries known for having the best coffee are Japan, Italy, France, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Russia, Algeria, Ethiopia and the Scandinavian countries. There are others, and an omission here should not be taken the wrong way.
Countries known for their horrible coffee are, ummmm, the USA.
Countries known for consuming the most coffee per head of population are from 1st place down, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Countries known for producing the most coffee are Brazil, Vietnam and Columbia. Around seventy countries produce some coffee.
There are many weird coffee traditions in the world. In Hong Kong, they sometimes mix it with tea and call it 'yuenyeung'. In parts of Sweden, they dip cheese called kaffeost in their coffee. Indonesia rightly takes the gold medal for coffee weirdness with its 'Kopi Luwak'. What has gained notoriety as some of the most expensive coffee on earth is also one of the most bizarre. It's known as civet coffee or, more accurately, 'cat poo coffee'. Kopi Luwak is made from coffee cherries that have been eaten, digested and excreted by a civet, a cat-like mammal. As you can imagine, three things have happened with this. It has become cool with 'foodies' and 'trendoids' to say they have tried it, the civets have been exploited and not treated well, and there is a huge market for counterfeit coffee claiming to be cat's poo. I had the opportunity to try it once in Bali and declined.
A discussion on coffee wouldn't be complete without mentioning Nespresso. Sure it's convenient, but the capsules are an environmental nightmare. And I've never had a Nespresso that wasn't bitter tasting. When I was last in London, I went to the Westfield Mall, which has a Nespresso shop. I liked this spot because you could go there and get served different flavours of Nespresso by a fine-looking young lady, for free. What's not to like about this combination? All you had to do was have a thoughtful look on your face and hint that you may make a purchase if you found the right flavour. But no matter how hard the girl tried, she couldn't find me a flavour that didn't taste bitter. I 'jittered' my way out of their eventually, totally defeated.
Nespresso's marketing leaves a lot to be desired too. George Clooney used to do it for me until I saw him running like a girl in' The Descendants'. And now they are using Brad Pitt when they could have used Kate Hudson. WTF? Are they targeting women only?
The good news about coffee is that it has many health benefits if you don't drink it all day. You can look them up for yourselves. I'm a correspondent, not a research assistant.
I'll finish with a personal story about coffee from my early days in the airline in about 1986. The crew had been out in San Francisco having a few beers and a meal somewhere, and on the way home, we stumbled (literally) onto an upmarket establishment that did fancy drinks. The Captain led us in, and we all decided on an Irish coffee. After that, it seemed like a good idea to try a Mexican coffee. Then it seemed like a fantastic idea to go right through the coffee liqueur menu until we had tried them all. At the time, this was a barrel of laughs. Now, as I sit here writing at 3am in 2021, I wish we hadn't done it as I haven't slept well since. #coffeeculture #captain #coffee #nespresso #kopiluwak #java #starbucks