You’ve heard of coffee snobs, right? Those one who sniff their noses at grocery house brands, or Tim Hortons, or try not to gasp if you tell them the only coffee you have in your house is Nabob instant freeze dried?
I think I must admit to being an ‘anti-coffee snob’.
I grew up in an instant coffee house, made with milk, (café au lait my parents called it) When mom and dad had ‘real’ company, mom would ‘perk’ a pot of coffee using the percolator, and fresh ground coffee beans. We had an only fashioned grinder mounted on the kitchen wall by the sink, and my job was often to climb up on the counter and grind the coffee beans into the tiny glass holder underneath that would slide out. To this day, my favorite part of coffee is actually the smell!
But I don’t’ remember ever being offered coffee to drink as a child, and if I was, it did not particularly agree with me. Then, as an aspiring teen volleyball player, I heard the adage ‘coffee stunts your growth’, so I refrained, wishing to maximize my height at the net. I learned about the addictive nature of coffee, watching my university colleagues unable to function without, it, and eschewed the brew all the way thru my undergraduate degree. ( I did pull thru more than a few late winter nights on hot chocolate/sugar serum, but somehow never was addicted to that- although my family will tell you that I do have some serious chocolate cravings) I also recognize now that I think I have (had?) a higher than average number of bitter taste buds, so perhaps the bitter aspect of coffee made it an acquired taste that I had little motivation to acquire.
At a certain point, not drinking coffee became an official, almost principled, position of mine. The principal at my first teaching position was fueled by strong Danish coffee, and I flat-out laughed at him when he reported that my students told him he had terrible coffee breath. I like to tease my Baptist brothers and sisters (especially my sisters) about the coffee dependency in church functions. As the pastor’s wife, often early at church, I resisted being asked to make coffee at Elim (until they got a Bunn-o-matic, which I was willing to tackle on occasion). I occasionally would jokingly ‘complain’ about discrimination when only coffee is offered at functions, or when tea was made in a coffee carafe, creating an undrinkable brew that is neither tea nor coffee. I prided myself on the reduction of coffee and the increased offering of teas and other hot drinks, especially at our ladies’ function, long before coffee bars with a myriad of drink options became popular in big churches.
However, I do still love the smell of coffee, and coffee and mocha flavored items have always been very enjoyable to me. Asa parent, long cold days and early mornings at the rink, when the boys were in hockey, gave rise to drinking a ‘mocha’, which is hot chocolate with some coffee added. My own version is still only about 10-20% coffee, but unless specified, the rink canteen made it 50/50, which is still too much for me. A little instant coffee would sneak into my hot chocolate at home as well if I was heading out early with a Contigo mug.
Then a number of years ago, someone- I think my son John- introduced me to Tim Horton’s French Vanilla cappuccino, which I would treat myself to occasionally. Coffee snobs will, of course, argue that neither of this nor a hockey rink mocha are really coffee, but nevertheless my gradual slide had begun. When I discovered a slightly more economical version at the Bulk Barn, this insidious coffee product made its way into my house. Made with additional milk, I used it to jump start Cari thru her last years of high school (when she was not taking breakfast), and therefore began to imbibe it more frequently myself. And then I moved to Africa.
In all the regions we have lived in here in Cameroon and Nigeria, mornings ARE cool, and making time to have a cup of something hot while reading my Bible early in the day has become an important routine I try to adhere to. I successfully located in Yaounde enjoyable varieties of teas, have modified the local hot chocolate product with additional whole milk powder and sugar to make it something ‘more like home’, and have successfully created a chai tea latte mixture somewhat reminicient of the Starbucks version (although that one is far too complicated for regular consumption). Here in Africa, of course, the French vanilla concoction is not available in a recognizable form, so I would ration the precious amounts I would bring from home, or which my friend Dori would add to a White Cross shipment coming our way. Not naturally being a morning person, and trying to function in a culture which is running full speed for about two hours before I would naturally want to open my eyes, I began to appreciate the caffeine. Suddenly, as my last ‘stash’ was dwindling, I realized that it must be possible to create a reasonable facsimile of this dry powdered mixture, because the magic ingredient needed might be vanilla sugar, which is reasonably easily available in Cameroon (but not my region of Nigeria).
So the experiments began, and by the time I went to Canada last year, and stopped in Croatia for a holiday with John, I was proud to present to him my home made version. It’s actually relatively difficult to produce the same way in the west, because here I use full fat powdered milk, which is actually super creamy compared to the low fat, or the ‘non-dairy powdered creamer’ versions you might see on the labels. So I regularly stock up on sachets of vanilla sugar, learning some versions are better than other.
Additionally, since we are stuck in Nigeria now with the COVID-19 situation, I have to make it without the vanilla sugar, so it’s powdered milk, sugar and instant coffee, bringing it basically back to the café au lait (powdered) of my childhood- heavy on the milk and sugar, of course. (Next idea…figure out how to make my own vanilla sugar?)
O how the mighty have fallen! -or at least come full circle!! Since I now regularly purchase instant coffee, my husband recently pointed out that it is now a bit hypocritical for me to say I don’t drink coffee, when I have gone to such lengths to create this. I argue that I am still not ‘really’ a coffee drinker, but his point is well taken. However, if you are ever able come to visit me in Cameroon, I should warn you that all coffee served will be instant version, although in both my ‘houses’ in Cameroon, (neither of which I cannot get to at the moment) I can possibly help you with the use of a French press if you bring your own ‘real’ coffee.
Meanwhile I hope you all have a good supply of your favorite beverages as you ‘lock-down’ , ‘self isolate’, maintain essential services, or, if you are a health care worker- work around the clock for the rest of us.