(from Cambridge Dictionary of American English)
A dark brown, slightly bitter drink that is usually served hot, esp. In the morning and at the end of meals, or the beans from which this drink is made
Would you like some more coffee?
Of our five senses, smell is perhaps the most underrated. We all fear loss of sight, the thought of never hearing a loved one’s voice again or of never being able to reach out and touch them. Imagine biting into your favourite meal and not being able to savour anything? Awful. But smell? If you had to forfeit a sense, this would be the one to go. After all, the only time we comment on aroma is when it’s foul... Newspapers chronicling the death of an unseen neighbour only found due the “stench” emanating from the house, the “reek” of public toilets – the unique cocktail of body odour, vomit and defecation, the brain numbing stink of rotting food on a hot day. Not nice, not even thinking about it now. Face it, would never being able to smell again be a hardship? Are you still pondering or have you decided already? Sure... need another minute? No, great, time to continue.
Personally, I’d lose taste. Between my cooking and the pandemic of fast food joints, it would be a relief. Smell has to stay. Freshly cut grass, hot bread straight from the oven, the smell of that someone special which if bottled, would make millions. Smells can make us happy, they can transport us back to childhood (Candy Floss), brilliant holidays (Sun Tan Lotion) or times when we were at our best or worst (Pernod - both cases for some reason!). All of this is due to a small part of the brain called the amygdale buried deep in the medial temporal lobe of the brain. This tiny little receptor holds all of the feelings associated with our scent memories and emits impulses to the hypothalamus which in turn sends impulses to the rest of the brain. This tiny almond shaped cluster of nuclei are the reason you feel hungry at the smell of roast chicken or feel sad when you catch a whiff of a perfume which reminds you of someone you once loved and lost.
Of course, the other senses are also linked to the brain and I’m sure that they too have clever little nuclei clusters which do swanky things, but for me, it’s all about olfaction. If you read into it, it’s fascinating. Our taste buds can only discern five different tastes but our olfactory neurons can discern 388. These are the only neurons in the body which regenerate, so a really bad smell literally can kill off your sense of smell. The inability of to detect smells is called Anosmia, which sounds like an evil queen as created by the Brothers Grimm. Our Amygdala Nose Brain is responsible for so much, good, bad and indifferent but these memory triggers always lead us somewhere.
Enough Biology 101, it’s all just hyperbole to get me to this point
Wake up and smell the coffee!
The Coffee Girl
Chloe slowly opened her eyes and considered peeling her face from the pillow. She waited for the dense fog of sleep to slowly evaporate from her limbs and stretched satisfyingly beneath her 7.5 tog duvet. Another day, another dollar. Except this was North London and the closest Chloe had ever been to American Currency was that one time she’d been given a Cent mixed in with her change at the Kebab shop on the High Street. “Another day, another pound” didn’t sound quite so good. Edging out from under the duvet, she weighed up her choices:
A) Get up, go to work and get paid
B) Stay in bed and get nagged and harassed when she ventured in tomorrow
Every morning she faced the same decision and everyday she went with A. Someday, she would venture into unchartered territory and go crazy... a day off for the sake of it, but not today. Yawning, she stumbled out of bed and lurched into the kitchen of her tiny flat. Mornings weren’t her thing, she was incapable of coherent speech and frankly, she looked ready to be embalmed. Switching the coffee machine into life, she shuffled into the bathroom, confident that a hot shower and a healthy dose of caffeine would put her right. Her morning ritual hadn’t wavered in six years, Alarm went off at 6.30am, five minutes glaring at the snooze button fighting the good fight, coffee on, shower, breakfast, clothes and out the door at 7 to catch the 7.25 train. If variety was the spice of life, Chloe knew her life was as bland as mashed potatoes but she had no-one to please but herself so figured it didn’t matter what she did. The shower blasted down on her, tiny bullets of hot water raining onto her skin pulverising her body into life. The smell of brewing Columbian wafted through the tiny flat and for a moment, Chloe remembered the Tom and Jerry cartoons from her youth. Always the same, Tom about to pounce on a far from helpless Jerry when Mamma Two Shoes would remove a pie from the oven and Tom would get sidetracked, giving Jerry ample opportunity to escape. The pie smell would become visual, slowly curling from the kitchen though the house and out past Spike’s kennel, rousing him from his dreams and alerting him to Jerry’s plight. Poor Tom, bested yet again by pie! She laughed and turned off the shower, pausing to wrap herself in the ancient bathrobe and allowed the imagined curls of caffeine to summon her to the kitchen.
Chloe Giffeert was a Barista. Not a Barrister as most people assumed upon hearing her job title, but a Barista, keeper of the time-honoured tradition of coffee brewing. You know the one’s I mean, the terminally chirpy crew you order you Grande Latte with Low Fat Milk from. The ones who ask you totally straight faced whether you want that with wings? WINGS!!! It’s for taking away not taking off! The one’s who take themselves so seriously that a request for plain black coffee makes steam blow from their nostrils and who, when asked for a Mocha Choca Loca Focker would probably ask if you wanted that with whip, leaving you giggling like a small child.* The Coffee Shop was once the last bastion of students and pseudo intellectuals who drank endless cups of coffee because they had read that Voltaire drank 50 cups a day. Now no town or even High Street is complete without at least two franchises and at least one independent. These behemoths are identical across the world, pine clad, squashy sofa strewn dens of hyper caffeinenation draw us in to imbibe a substance that raises our adrenaline, supposedly boosts our sex drives and generally bankrupts us. The coffee shop is to the new millennium what the wine bar was to the eighties, the height of sophistication to the youth of today and the go-to spot for Mother and Toddler groups... I swear, Baby Espressos?! It’s steamed milk in an eggcup people, come on! Once upon a time, you had two choices, black or milk, now you need a degree in advanced biochemistry to process the choices available.
Perfecting your beverage takes trial and error and don’t get caught out thinking your choice is universal. This is a classic schoolboy error, a Grande in one chain is a Venti in another. Starbucks is stronger than Costa and avoid anything flavoured with Hazelnut anywhere. Also, don’t get duped into buying the Daily Special, it’s on offer because it’s disgusting, or in the case of the Chai Spiced Latte I had at Christmas, disturbing. Cardamom, cream, coffee and frothy milk is just wrong. In an ideal world, no-one world, no-one would inhabit these places, we’d prefer a nice cafe with ambience and a coffee and cake for under £5 but these chains are everywhere and modern life seems to be too busy to sit and savour, we run in order and rush out again. We know what we like and we know where to get it, and with an average wait time of 2 minutes 37 seconds we always get what we ordered **
** Grande Caramel Macchiato with an extra shot of Espresso £3.75 from Starbucks
But I digress, the Coffee Shop has been around from years. Once the home to Men only, they were places to talk about politics and current affairs, to get away from the women. Essentially the pub of yesteryear. Lyons Corner Houses emerged in 1909 with special areas designated for Women, it was here that the Suffragette Movement was born and where Emmeline Pankhurst held meetings of the Women’s Social and Political Union. In 1971, Starbucks and Costa Coffee were started, each with one store, Starbucks in Seattle, Washington, Costa in Lambeth, London. But the catalyst for our Modern Coffee Culture truly began in 1994 with a TV show about six beautiful New Yorkers hanging out in Central Perk. This was a lifestyle we wanted to emulate so there were thousands of Rachel haircuts and an unquenchable thirst for something which turned out to be overpriced coffee.
Chloe paused from polishing the already gleaming countertop to glance at the framed photograph that took pride of place upon it, the cast and crew of “Friends” had stopped in for skinny non-dairy latte’s during the filming of their London episode and Chloe’s manager Evelyn had almost choked on her Biscotti in her haste to ask for a photograph. After much pleading, begging and hair tweaking, the shop was several low-fat muffins lighter but the proud possessor of a glossy 8x10 . Their ice white smiles beamed out even now, their natural bonhomie radiated through the glass and Chloe smiled to herself, there amongst the beautiful people you could see her, far left head down concentrating on the milk frother. Evelyn used to lovingly point out the photograph to everyone who entered, embroidering the story each time she told it until she was telling people that she was Jennifer Aniston’s sister-in-law and that Jen had brought them all over as part of a family reunion! Ben, another Barista, had gently pointed out that this would make her Brad Pitt’s sister and as she was Mauritian via Peckham, most unlikely. Evelyn now just pointed the photo out and offered reprints at a very respectable £6.99 alongside the current Ecuadorian Folk Song Compilation CDs. Chloe often looked at the photograph and tried to imagine herself as part of that world, a beautiful young thing surrounded by the same, all living glamorous lives and generally untroubled by the usual run of the mill stuff. She had one read that the show was totally unrealistic, that the combined wages of Monica and Chandler was something like $2500 a month and the rent on a Manhattan apartment like theirs was $6000, but she didn’t care. It wasn’t about realism, Chloe liked to enter into the fantasy of it all, the notion of a group of friends who were there for you regardless. Although knowing her luck, she would have ended up working at Central Perk and Gunter would probably make her clean the bean grinder.
“Chlo, be a love and clean the bean grinder for us? Ev told me to do it but I so have to make a call so I can’t. You know what it’s like babe. Life and Death. Loves ya!”
Nicci flew past her out the door, grinning and clutching her iPhone 6 to her chest like a mother holding a newborn. Chloe raised an eyebrow and snorted, life and death meant either another audition or she was still trying to get through to Capital Radio’s Breakfast Show for Justin Timberlake tickets. She watched as Nicci legged it round the corner, pausing only to give Chloe a thumbs up and a diamante studded grin. She turned to the gruesome grinder and began taking it apart, cursing softly as half the contents spilled to the floor. Catching herself she glanced around the shop, no customers yet but even so... She hated the thought of seeming unprofessional, it was okay for Nicci to dash about, she was only there between acting jobs and auditions. Ben was a struggling/failed comedy writer who, bless him, thought there was still room for a sitcom about a coffee house and who stayed for the “inspiration”. As for Evelyn, well she was the Manageress and technically was only still there because most of their customers were gorgeous young men from the local offices. Evelyn stalked the floor at peak times, dishing out a smile and fluttering her eyelashes. When it was quiet, she would be found in her office playing Spider Solitaire. For Chloe, this was her vocation, her job was her life and she totally liked it that way.
“I bloody well got it, didn’t I!!! VIP pass and everything!!! C’mon Justin, you can cry me a river any day baby!” Nicci was back. “Got to buy a killer outfit, got to look foxy for my first date with the Trousersnake. Jessica Biel better watch her back. If Ev asks I’ve got a Doctor’s appointment, tell her it’s women’s problems yeah babe! Fuck, wonder if I’ll end up in “Heat” magazine? See ya Babe!”
Nicci was gone. Sometimes Chloe wondered if Nicci was real or just a figment of her imagination. Ben liked to say that Nicci was the human equivalent of a DVD on fast forward, always running at hyper speed and always catching on about 60 seconds after everyone else.
If Nicci was fast forward, Chloe guessed she would have to be Pause. Ben was Play, happily pootling along, Bless him, he did every stand up gig he could get, constantly trying to hone his routines. Chloe always laughed at his material even when she didn’t understand them, Evelyn got his humour but preferred not to laugh due to an unfounded fear that wrinkles would render her unmarriable and Nicci just went with the ubiquitous ‘L’ hand gesture raised to her forehead, usually accompanied by a high pitched “FAIL!!!”. He still plugged on, observational comedy was his forte, even when his muses were a faceless, nameless pack of coffee rats. It was honourable that he wouldn’t give up on his dream even when his only post was bills and rejection letters and his only phone calls were automated messages asking if he had ever been involved in a car accident. Ben carried on, citing this as all the ammunition he needed to trigger the next phase of his career. Chloe wondered what her next phase was and gave up when she couldn’t assign a current or even past phase. God, evaluating your own life was taxing. She almost wished Nicci hadn’t dashed off, she’d set her straight – an ‘L’ sign and a breathless squeak would swiftly end Chloe’s subconscious journey and set her up for another day of milk foam and servitude. Ben would be more gracious and supportive but he wasn’t due in till 10am and Chloe always worried how much of her life might end up in one of his unopened, returned scripts so she tried to limit how much she told him fearing seeing herself played by Sheridan Smith on BBC3 late one Tuesday night. Too late she remembered what she was supposed to be doing, the once pristine counter and half of the floor were now covered in rank coffee grounds. Bugger! She called out for Nicci to help her before realising she was probably already camped outside Primark waiting for them to open. Poor Justin Timberlake... he really had no idea what he was in for!