There was a lot of coffee drunk in the prefects' room in my final year of high school. That was the year we studied T S Eliot. There is a line from "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" -
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons
that is forever linked in my memory with that year.
I had been a slow starter when it came to coffee. It was only as a teenager, when I started going to "socials" that I realised that most of my contemporaries were drinking beverages other than milk and cordial. I was at a Presbyterian Bible Class social, and was asked whether I would like tea? - No thanks. - Coffee then? - No thanks - leading my friend Fiona to ask me "What are you, a Mormon or something?"
I figured that for the sake of my social life, I would need to learn to drink something. I settled on coffee. Our Bible Class ran a baysitting service, and I was going out on evening babysitting jobs from the age of about twelve or thirteen (difficult to imagine now, despite the Babysitters Club books that my daughters used to read). There was always a tray of supper left out for the babysitter - the makings of tea and coffee, along with biscuits or cakes. It was a perfect time to practice my coffee drinking skills, with no one to see if I tipped half of it down the sink. Gradually I learned to tolerate the bitter taste, always with plenty of milk and sugar. (Years later when dieting, I managed to abandon the sugar habit).
In post war Wellington, European migrants were bringing new tastes and culture. It was the era of the coffee bar. Not that I dated much. But the standard date was to go to the movies, and afterwards to go to a coffee bar, usually the "Chez Paree". Entrance was through a cave-like passage. I remember a dimly-lit, smoke-filled room. Red gingham checked tablecloths. Candles in Chianti bottles. A folk singer on acoustic guitar. The coffee was strong Cona coffee, bubbling away in glass jugs. It was too strong for my taste. I can't remember what I drank there instead, but I think it may have been a "spider" - rather like an ice cream soda, made with a tall glass of Fanta (bright orange soft drink) or Coca Cola, with a scoop of ice cream, cream and chocolate sprinkles.
I went to university, got married, raised a tribe of children. Some time when I wasn't looking, the coffee bars faded away. And then sometime when I wasn't looking, cafes arrived with their new coffee culture. I still drink my coffee as I have always done - instant coffee, lots of milk, no sugar. I'm confused by all the cappucinos, moccachinos, macchiatos, espressos. As far as I can tell, the nearest thing to "coffee with milk and no sugar" is a flat white, so that's what I usually order. Unless I have hot chocolate.
So I was rather surprised to see on Mark Sarvas's blog that he hadn't encountered a flat white before coming to Australia and New Zealand. And that he seems to think it is something quite special.
More musings on coffee over at Sunday Scribblings.
For more on the post war coffee bar scene in Wellington, click here.