Notes on coffee

What does coffee mean to you?

For me, coffee is a reliable benchmark against which I can measure my general happiness. Sometimes it’s the icing on the cake. Sometimes it’s the best part of my day.

On really busy days, coffee is an act of defiance against the chaos that surrounds me: a moment carved out just for myself, to wrap my hands around a warm mug and take a deep breath, re-fuelling myself for whatever comes next.

Maybe that’s why people tell me I take too long to drink my coffee. My last sip is never hotter than lukewarm, and I know this offends the piping-hot people, but I won’t be rushed.

I’m not a snob when it comes to the particular mode of caffeination. I make room for all of it.

You know how, with music, even a song you don’t really like can give you goosebumps in the right moment? I feel the same about coffee.

I like fancy coffee, made for me by an East London barista in perspex-rimmed glasses, and sipped in an establishment that charges me £18 for the privilege of sitting against a peeling wall, on a wooden chair salvaged from a skip.

I appreciate a lovingly-homebrewed coffee, savoured in bed while I do a crossword on my phone - a morning ritual I began during the first lockdown and have guarded passionately ever since.

And in a different way, I find just as much gratitude for the coffee that’s made in huge quantities and poured straight from an urn into a too-small china cup: a speck of warmth to anchor onto amidst a crowd of conference attendees; 70th birthday party guests; black-clad mourners.

But when a choice is offered, I have my preferences.

I like coffee best when it’s dark and punchy, with notes of rich sweet things, like chocolate, caramel and vanilla.

Once upon a time I liked coffee one of two ways: completely black, or milky as a latte or cappuccino. Perhaps that said something about how I saw the world, back then.

These days I most often have an Americano with oat milk.

I think it’s important not to get too comfortable, so I invite other coffee into my life often. These deviations are usually inspired by the orders of those I drink it with. “Oh you’re having a cortado? Make that two, please.”

And if you think I sound like someone who doesn’t know my own mind, be reassured that I do (or that I’m getting there, at least) - it’s just that I like to peek inside yours, too, sometimes.

There is just one thing I’m resolute about:

I never have sugar in my coffee.