Wake up and smell the tae – An Irishman’s Diary on how a new brew swept all before it
You are beginning to feel very sophisticated. You turn your nose up at the older brand. “I wouldn’t be seen dead drinking that. This is much better stuff.”
When do you think we Irish became sophisticated? Was it coffee that did it? Do you remember drinking instant coffee for the first time and feeling cosmopolitan? We all started out on a rot-gut popular blend, feeling very adventurous and then wondering what the hell is this stuff? It tastes like tar.
Of course, you persevered because coffee has cachet that a cup of tae doesn’t. You spend a bit more on a better brand. You are beginning to feel very sophisticated. You turn your nose up at the older brand – “I wouldn’t be seen dead drinking that. This is much better stuff.”
You are an expert in coffee now. Then they start selling it in shops – real coffee. Your slightly more expensive coffee is not just as good.
Here comes the next challenge – you have got to learn some Coffee Italian. You hate languages. You curse the waste of time that was studying Irish. Irish is not sophisticated. They have only one word for coffee in Irish. Irish speakers drink tae, big cups of tae. You do not drink tae. You drink coffee. You are sophisticated, modern, European, outward looking. You take a chance on the word that you think you can pronounce: “I’ll have a large cup-o-chino.”
You do not realise it but you have make a big hames-o-chino of the pronunciation. You do not get the right emphasis on the middle syllable. It is all right. The barista serving you the cup-o-chino is from Drogheda and no more knows the correct pronunciation than you. You learn Coffee Italian. You drink coffee. You are sophisticated, modern, European, outward looking. You start having latte and mocha and espresso – but you keep pronouncing it as “expresso”, like “express” because that is the bus you get home! No one notices your bad Coffee Italian.
However, now comes another hurdle. You have to learn Breakfast French to go with your Coffee Italian. You drink coffee. You are sophisticated, modern, European, outward looking and you must therefore eat croissants. You ask for cruxunts and crocunts and kussants. (Damn all those years you spent learning Irish. What a waste. There is no Irish for croissant!)
No matter. You drink coffee. You are sophisticated, modern, European, outward looking. You keep getting cruxunts, crocunts and kussants with your expresso from that little barista-run shop at the corner. You learn fluent Breakfast French and even ask for pain au raisin now and again.
Still, you have to point at the pain au raisin because the barista is from Belfast and thinks you have a speech impediment.
They introduce bagels. You are a bit wary about bagels. Bagels do not sound French and, therefore, may not be sophisticated enough for you. But wait? They eat bagels in New York? New York is very glamorous and hip and trendy. You too will eat bagels.
You learn Breakfast American: “I’ll have a bagel and cream cheese.” (You pronounce “cheese” as “cheezzzzze” because that is how they do it on the television.) Bagels are cool, man. Yeah, dude, they are. High five, bro! You drink coffee. You are sophisticated, modern, European, outward looking.
Then you notice one day that they are serving something called the Breakfast Bagel in that nice barista-run shop at the corner. You are a bit suspicious of this. A breakfast bagel? What the hell is that, man? It is a bagel – bagels are cool – filled with bacon, sausage and egg.
You are Irish; you like bacon, sausage and egg. However, you also drink coffee and you are sophisticated, modern, European, outward looking.
Can you really have the breakfast bagel filled with lovely bacon, sausage and egg and still be on trend? No one is looking. You buy the breakfast bagel with your semi-skimmed, lightly frothed, latte-mocha and eat it at your desk.
In truth, you say to yourself, a breakfast bagel is fusion cuisine; it is the bringing together of two traditions and making a new, fabulously tasty, one.
You are Irish. You like bacon, egg and sausage. You forgo the cruxonts and the pain au raisin for a while. You start eating the breakfast bagel until, one morning, there is a queue out the door of that little barista-run place you frequent. You are forced into the local shop where you never go. (They do not have nice coffee.)
They do, however, have breakfast rolls, huge monstrously lovely white rolls filled with half a pig and enough eggs to keep you going till Easter.
You get it with tea – they do not have nice coffee – go back to your desk, eat like you were at a feast with Fionn Mac Cumhaill himself and wake up in a cave, saying: “Ah f**k it! I am not sophisticated after all. I am Irish.”