Ode to Coffee

Ode to Coffee

(ˈtɒn ɪk)
1. a medicine that invigorates or strengthens.
2. anything invigorating physically, mentally, or morally.

Today it is 6.56 am when the first hot splash of coffee hits my insides and slides down with a warming hello. I cradle my tiny cup, and have a look at the bubbles that congregate at the bottom of my vessel like a tea leaf reader looking for patterns that will map out my future. Come on coffee, enlighten me; or bring me to a state of awareness at least. No, no gypsy secrets here — I have a high degree of certainty that the future is brighter — the immediate future at least — for having had that cup. No interpretations necessary.

That’s my ‘starter coffee’ — the very first, somewhat disorientated cup of the day. The kickstarter, the game-changer — hey, suddenly this day seems doable; agreeable even. This is the coffee that prepares us for the experience of coffee; when we carefully make our next cup, our mental faculties will have returned, the fog will have cleared, and we will fully be able to appreciate and luxuriate in the art of coffee drinking; rejuvenated.

If I couldn’t, three times a day,
be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee,
in my anguish I will turn into
a shriveled-up roast goat.

             (Kaffeekantate, JS Bach)

Bach knows what I’m talking about — his tongue-in- cheek Coffee Cantata rhapsodizes about his revered thrice-daily tonic ( — oh, yeah, aside from all the religious stuff, Bach did like to have a bit of a laugh). In fact, I believe that all the world’s great thinkers have been highly caffeinated; fuelled and inspired by coffee; their impetus to press on and brew ideas. Furthermore, who can deny that coffee-houses have shaped culture; they have been hubs for the development of intellectual and artistic ideas for centuries — from Enlightenment-era London coffee-houses to Sartre waxing nonchalant about existentialism in Café de Flore, while across the pond Kerouac pours out On The Road in 3 weeks, fuelled by coffee (and maybe a little Benzedrine).

— How do you take your coffee? Very seriously, thanks. I must admit, I’ve always been ever so slightly suspicious of those that don’t drink coffee. I can’t quite pin down why, however. Maybe because it is such an integral part of my day, that I can’t imagine how people go without; as though they are missing out on an essential activity such as brushing their teeth.

Back to that sainted first cup. Not to be taken lightly (unless we’re talking roasts — which is a matter of personal preference). I can’t remember whether it was me or Spike that coined that ‘starter coffee’ term, but we fast discovered that our feelings were mutual regarding the necessity of that enlivening cup, that invigorating tonic, upon waking. That morning in Spike’s apartment in Montreal (about two cups in, mental acuity at peak) we saw eye-to- eye on the matter, and we lamented the woefully watery gas station cups on the road — filling stations with no fuel, so to speak — well-stocked selections of frightful flavour options like ‘snickerdoodle’ and ‘blueberry’, but apparently devoid of caffeine. ‘It’s just not going to do what I need it do for me,’ Spike says. ‘It’s just brown water,’ I agreed. ‘Yep..’

Coffee concordance. Spike tunes and repairs pianos and makes piano sculptures. He puts together musical repertoires for a local choir, and is planning a Peruvian jaunt — mainly for dental work — but he makes it sound mysterious and intriguing. His apartment is an inventory of parts and pieces, and I warm to it and him immediately. He has a great record collection, and impeccable taste in everything, as far as I can tell. His big dog Oldboy is a central figure in his life. He has adopted that distinctive Montreal drawl, that is in harmony with the pace of this city’s inhabitants — they take it easy in Monto town. ‘You know why we call it Monto?’ he asks with a somewhat shark-like grin. ‘As in, take her up to Monto, langeroo?’ I reply, referring to that much-drunkenly-yelped Dubliners refrain. ‘Yeah. That song is about this disreputable part of Dublin where depraved characters conducted their trade — full of brothels’. Later, a quick google search would confirm that Montgomery Street was once the biggest red-light district in Europe, with an estimated 1600 prostitutes — news to me. ‘Have you ever seen ‘O’Donoghue’s Opera?’ I asked. ‘The first Irish musical’ — I thought he might get a kick out of it.

Later that morning over an after-brunch coffee at Penny’s Dépanneur Le Pick Up (highly recommended — great fried potatoes and mysterious sauce secrète) Spike unexpectedly delivers us the laundry-driven lyrics of Dylan’s ‘Clothes Line Saga’; clean and dry, unfaltering. We drank up and hatched plans to reconvene later to watch raccoons at sundown on top of the city.

Coffee: the liquid social lubricant, the inspiration, the what happens while you linger over a cup. Plans are formed as caffeine kicks in intermingled with motivation, inciting a rising stir of effervescence and enthusiasm for tasks ahead.

To those who abstain from coffee, I urge you to reconsider — there may be liquid enlightenment waiting for you in a double macchiato. It may very well be the ticket to your realising your full potential. If coffee gives you the jitters — fear not! I have a solution for that too — take L-Theanine as a calming accompaniment to quell any caffeine-induced anxiety. Get what coffee can give to you. Join the club. Allow yourself to be seduced as Dylan pleads ‘one more cup of coffee for the road’, and George Clooney gives you those caffeine-dilated bedroom pupils. Why do you think he looks so complacent in that Nespresso ad? It’s in the coffee. I almost added a ‘...what else?’, but I won’t.