By Stan Stewart, co-owner of The Mercury Bay Informer
My Dad always told me, “British people drink tea. We don’t drink coffee.” And so the die was cast.
The only coffee available back then was coffee essence, coffee mixed with condensed milk, a kind of novelty party treat. It was not for regular imbibing.
In the 1950s, instant coffee arrived in a big way. Backed by huge media campaigns aimed at young housewives, the product soon became established. It was a must-have in every kitchen.
It was when the gleaming machines that hissed and burped arrived, that coffee really took off. From being a kind of space age novelty, it became a must-have “can’t start the day without it” drink. Now it is much more than that.
Recently, in downtown Brisbane, just before 9:00am, I saw smartly dressed women clicking along the street in their high heels, all presumably on their way to work. Most of them were carrying a disposable cup filled with steaming coffee.
It dawned on me that carrying a cup of coffee to work has become a fashion statement. It tells the viewer, “Not only am I looking my best, but I am also with it - up with the play.”
For eight weeks now I have queued for coffee in a large hospital. My son drinks an “almond milk” latte. What is almond milk?
I have noticed that wherever people go for coffee, they queue. Queuing was never something I liked to do. In the past in other queues, I had experienced bad tempers and complaints. Not so for coffee.
The coffee queues vary - occasionally six, but on other mornings, up to 16. Everyone comes for coffee - cleaners, nurses, surgeons, patients, administrators and security. The wait can be substantial, five to seven minutes is common.
What has surprised me is the good humour that pervades these gatherings. The machines hiss and burp. The chatty baristas move with speed, wiping and pouring. No slackers here. They cheerfully call the names of the persons whose coffee they have prepared. I never knew there were so many ways to prepare coffee.
Frequently, we hear grumbles these days about the behaviour of our contemporaries. Has common courtesy gone out the window? Well, judging from my experience in coffee queues, I don’t think it has. Perhaps I am an old fossil with my head in the sand, but my coffee queue experiences have me thinking that our world is becoming more courteous and caring.
Certainly for me, standing in a coffee queue has been a peaceful, even pleasant way, to start the day. I am not talking about the coffee, but I get the feeling of a co-operative community. It sets a good tone for the day.
However, I don’t drink coffee. English Breakfast Tea is my hot drink of choice. My Dad would approve of my steadfastness to British principles.