AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY

 

WHILE your bowed head is clenched at the breakfast table after a night on the occasional "sports", be consoled that restitution is available to you. And though the shakes may cause the black coffee to spill, spare a thought for the poor souls who making your recovery possible. (Go on, one more sip.)

In such a condition, the first priority is to take things slowly. No high decibel greetings from your dear, sweet, little children.

Imagine this vital, final stage of the coffee's journey to your gut has been travelled since the 15th century at least. Another blast from the past regarding coffee is that, even yet, the messengers between ship owners, their agents and cargo insurers at Lloyds' Underwriters of London are still called "waiters". This is a hangover from the days of a certain Mr Lloyd's coffee shop, which has diversified somewhat since.

Bushes, Berries and Beans

You're not interested, but I'll tell you anyway, that coffee plants can grow to 10 metres in height, but are pruned back to a third of that size in the interest of better bean growth.

Such plants, or bushes, produce some two or three kilos of berries per season and stay productive for 15 years. The roast ing of these berries, more commonly referred to as beans, results in that glorious and cheering aroma that envelopes one in and around and about Bewley's in Grafton Street, and George's Street and Westmoreland Street and Mary Street and outside Dublin altogether.

"Ugh. Grafton Street", you murmur, fists clenching as you remember ... something, and withdraw back into your shell and under the covers. This is when the old beans begin their work, be it psychological or physical. Now that you are horizontal, if not asleep, I will relate something more about the history and present status of the "wonder drug".

You're dying to know where the name comes from, of course, it can be traced back to the Arabic world, "gahew" meaning "the drink", and it originated in Ethiopia. In that early period, the beans were ground to mix with animal fat and it was then eaten. The relative medicinal qualities were recognised, just as they are now by the jaded members of our own flock.

Tea, or "tcha" as it was known, appeared in Europe from the Orient at a similar time, and remained the favourite drink for the venturous English. It was the French who took the plunge, so to speak, on coffee.

Instant Gratification

The market demand for beans is greatest, on a per capita basis, in the US. There, with the beneficial aid of science and technology, the hassle free tonic of instant coffee was first identified as a necessity for American troops in the second World War.

The manufacturing of instant or emulsified coffee involves brewing in large vats. Then the water content of the final soup is evaporated and removed, leaving the granules which we know as instant coffee.

"Instantification" involves the grinding of coffee beans to make a class of enormous, percolated stew. A residue is granulated, to be variously packaged. It is then sold as a gift from the gods.

Instant coffee this writer's life blood - has been accused, time after time, of being harmful to its consumers. Thankfully, the demands of the market place won through.

A derivative of boiling or chewing coffee beans is caffeine. Some current generation forces argue about the effect, particularly on those who are pregnant. (And mental drifting causes me to wonder if the term "pregnant women" is not a Misnomer?) However, the stimulating effects of this new drug were recognised by monks, who chewed the raw beans as a means of keeping themselves alert during long periods of prayer. Now that could have kept the wits about one, had one had it on the Skellig rock.

Indeed, such was the effect of the discovery at the time that Frederick the Great of Prussia prohibited coffee drinking altogether. Your friend and mine, the political animal, rears its ugly head wherever we go and even influences the tea and coffee markets. Such interference came when our US brothers and sisters indulged in the Boston Tea Party, dressing up as a raiding pack of Indians and forcefeeding a cargo of tea to the fish overboard.

Gaelic Artistry

With nationalist feelings running high, coffee gained a previously untapped market. Since then, the north American nation has established itself as the world's largest consumer market for coffee.

There is probably no consolation in the fact that the commercial mind never sleeps. For as well as the Turkish, Arabic and Italian types, there are Dutch, German and Japanese coffees the Japanese version being sold in cans, just like cola.

But in this country it is Gaelic coffee which reflects the commercial mind. As we all know, it first appeared at a catering college in Shannon and was a winner, from birth. As a trainee barman, many moons ago, I was drilled on the care required in the creation.

None of your lobbing in a lump of whipped cream. Oh no. The stemmed glass is gently heated, for fear of it cracking when the hot liquid is infused to protect the glass. The cream should always be poured in on an upturned teaspoon, so that it doesn't quite break the surface of the blended coffee.

Then there is the care required in transport from the bar to thirsty throngs. Why? Because a jolt of the tray could cause the precious cream - the unwhipped "natural" variety - to dissolve with the coffee.