5 December 2010

My Coffee Pet Hates

One thing I really don’t like about the Anglo-Saxon/American way of life is the fact that everything is about instant gratification. People will put something like ‘it’s the journey that matters, not the destination’ in their Facebook status and then will go out and max out their credit card on clothes and gadgets. Unless by ‘journey’ they mean the distance from their house to the shops, it seems to me that they don’t really understand the meaning of the quote.

Instant gratification. I like that term, as much as I hate its effect. We want everything right now. We want food ready the minute we feel hungry. We want a drink in front of us the second we feel thirsty. We want to get that pair of shoes now, even though we’ve just spent this month’s wages. Foreplay is getting undressed; enjoying a meal is throwing a frozen meal in the microwave and eating it on our lap while watching TV; drinking coffee is buying a bucket of brown water from Starbucks & Co and gulping it down while rushing to work in the morning. It’s all about now, now, now…and pay later, when we find the money.

Well, as you may have noticed in my blog, I have already started addressing the problem of cooking, so you have no excuses to eat crap food. I am not going to show you how to improve your sex life, as I never disclose well kept secrets to the opposition ;)

I will, though, speak about coffee in this blog, because drinking coffee is one of those little pleasures that have become a mechanical activity without a soul.

I love coffee. Not just because it gives me that caffeine boost I need to wake up (I’m really not a morning person) but because it tastes great. And I like strong coffee. The kind that smells, tastes and looks strong. A tiny dose that packs a ‘hit’ of nuclear power proportions. I don’t like milk in my coffee; I don’t like any other Xmas tree decorations like cream, marshmallows, cocoa dust and the like. Just strong coffee, water and a bit of sugar.

So, I love Greek coffee. Others will call it Turkish coffee, but I don't know anyone who calls their Xmas dinner ‘Roast Greece’, do you?

I love espresso. I really hate it when people pronounce it ‘ex-presso’ instead of ‘es-presso’. It’s not a bloody fast train to London people!!!! It’s a coffee!!! Learn to read and learn to pronounce correctly what you put in your mouth (not while your mouth is full, of course).

I love Greek Frappe in the warm, summer days. Pure raw coffee power to keep you awake all day and night.

However, as I said above, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. I don’t see food as a source that simply keeps me alive but as a journey of exploring various tastes, combinations, cultural dos and don’ts. A trip of social activity, knowledge expansion and sensual overdose. I don’t just want to sit, eat whatever comes my way, burp and move on to my next activity. I enjoy the journey of searching for new and exciting recipes. The journey of walking around the markets and getting fresh and exciting ingredients for a dish. I get excited when I arrive in the kitchen and start experimenting with new ideas. I get proud when that recipe has been successful and I see it in the reactions of my friends. I am happy when I then forward that recipe to others to try it. Eating the dish is a very small part of the whole process, the destination. The actual journey is what makes it so exciting for me. It is food. It’s what keeps us alive, so we may as well make the most of it and enjoy it.

It is a lot like sex, after all. Another activity which is important because, after all, passes our genes to the next generations. But wouldn’t it be completely boring if it was just a matter of ‘wham bam, thank you m’aam’ all the time? A 1 minute missionary quickie every single time? Who would have enjoyed sex so much if the excitement of a new position, place to do it, partner, method, was not there? As in eating food, having sex (or making love for the romantics, although for me it sounds like baking a cake) is all about the journey.

Anyway, back to the coffee. Having a coffee, especially in the continent, is similar to eating or ‘baking a cake’. If you visit Greece, Italy, France, Spain, the Middle East, you will see that having a coffee is much more than receiving your caffeine fix. It’s a social activity, similar to the British ‘having a drink’ but without the hangovers of the following day. Friends sit for hours in a café, discussing, debating, and gossiping, while reading a paper or watching people go by at the same time. It is a time where the journey (spending time with friends, chatting, relaxing) is more important than the destination.

Unfortunately, instant gratification destroys this journey. And the UK and the US is the very example of how this is happening.

Walk into a Starbucks, Costa, Nero, Coffee Republic and any other franchise selling coffee. The first thing that strikes me is that it’s a self service place, where you have to stand in the queue, play the part of customer and waiter and then try to find a table to sit. Most of the time you will also have to play the part of the cleaner, since your empty table may be full of empty cups from previous customers.

You will also notice that there are two different prices for the same item. The cheaper price is for taking your order away, while the expensive one is for sitting in. I have always been curious about this. Why is sitting in is more expensive, when the staff does not make anything different? It’s not as if they serve me if I sit in. I still have to play waiter/cleaner, so why do I pay more for actually doing their work???? I actually asked a manager at Costa this question once and here is briefly our dialogue:

Him:    It’s because of all the extra costs if people sit in.

Me:    What extra costs? I am still getting everything myself, I will still empty that     table over there myself because no one has cleaned it up yet.

Him:    You forget electricity bill, wear and tear of furniture, etc

Me:    So, if I buy something to take away, will you warm up the water with your     breath, under a candle lit counter???

Him:    Ha ha, no, but you know what I mean. Don’t forget that you get your coffee in     normal cups. All the water and cleaning stuff to wash it, eh?

Me:    Paper cups cost too. The water bill in the UK is the same no matter how much     you use. Are you saying that you use 20p worth of fairy liquid to wash one     cup???? Where do you buy your washing up liquid from?

Him:    No, but they also break, so they need to be replaced, don’t they?

Me:    Then charge whoever breaks it, when it happens. Don’t charge me in advance!     I know I’m Greek and I like smashing plates, etc, but that’s a bit unfair!

Him:    Ha ha

Well, at least I made him happy with my comments, because if you know why the extra charge by reading the above conversation, then please tell me because I am still in the dark.

Anyway, back again to our franchised coffee-robbery. Once you got your cup and sat down, you will also notice that all coffees come in 3 sizes:

•    Normal, which means that it’s the size of a small soup bowl in case you want to dip your cake in it too.

•    Medium, which is the size of a pop corn bucket at the cinema and will probably fit all the coffee you need for the rest of the day.

•    Large, which is the size of a KFC Mega Family Meal bucket, and with enough space to wash your tired feet in it.

This is coffee, not soup!!!!!!!! I asked for a dose of caffeine, not caffeine flavour water!!!! If you mix a bit of lemon juice with loads of water, you get lemonade. If you mix a bit of coffee with loads of water you get coffeeade, not coffee!!!!! If I want a coffee to last me half a day, I will most likely sip it very slowly, or order a second cup. I do not need 3 litres of brown water!!!!

And don’t get me started on doubles! To a normal, logical person, a ‘double espresso’, for example, would mean twice the amount of coffee you normally get. Double=stronger. Well, to those kind of places ‘double’ has two meanings, depending on the ‘training’ the staff got:

1.    Either same amount of coffee but double the amount of water/milk (so you get an even more weak drink), or

2.    Double amount of everything, meaning that your drink is not any stronger.

As you can see, not only the ‘destination’ in places like this is not proper coffee but the ‘journey’ is like ‘the road to hell’.

Where do I actually get my coffee? Well, when I want a Greek coffee I just make it myself, as here in the UK it’s very rare to find a place serving it outside of London. The same applies to Greek Frappe. For espresso, I prefer a nice, cosy little café which has the feeling of being in your own living room (less the mess), where I can walk in, have a sit and get served by a happy person, where I just say ‘May I have a coffee please?’ without placing the words ‘small’, ‘medium’, ‘large’, ‘mega’, in front of it. And especially where they know how to make it and it tastes as it should.

And finally, I come to my final pet hate. Coffee on the go!!! I’ve seen people run to catch a train, making sure that the only part of them not shaking is the paper coffee cup. I’ve seen people standing in a packed train with one hand holding the newspaper and the coffee with the other, while they balance themselves on the backs of other commuters. Having coffee in a rush, on your feet, is like having a glass of Dom Perignon while running to catch a bus. In other words, you get the same taste as sitting down but you completely miss the experience, the journey.

For me, do your running, your stressful hurrying and once you’re done, have a sit, get a coffee and relax. Then have a sip and enjoy it. Connect the coffee with the pleasure of finally having made it to work on time and you can now have a breather. Make it seem like your reward. Have it during a break, to reflect upon the plans for the rest of the day, or to think about a problem or a holiday. Otherwise, it just feels like a normal day to day activity, which is as mechanical and has no meaning, just like the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ of our everyday speech.

I love coffee. But most of all I love the little moments while I’m enjoying it, whether with friends or on my own. Life has become too fast. Make it be your little break from your hectic life. You will notice that you will appreciate it tenfold.


  1. Quality.


  2. I love your Blogs Stam they are so insightful! :) I agree with the basis of what you say here. Being an American, I agree- the instant gratification fever here has been a bit of a detriment to our society and our economy. Sure convenience is nice but is it truly necessary? In most cases I do not believe it is. Regarding coffee I agree what you are saying. I often wake up, make a pot of coffee (not the nice greek coffee you talk about) and start my morning. It is nice to be able to just sit for a short while and get my thoughts together and reflect on thing before dealing with the daily chaos. However if it had been a long night (not enough sleep), and an early morning where I just didn't leave enough time to make and sit down and drink it, I do know I can stop on the way to wherever I am going and grab a massively overpriced cup at Starbucks so I can get a dose of caffeine that I do need most of the time. I hate to do that- not just because I know I am paying way too much but for what you state in your blog. I haven't seen the two price thing you mention but seriously it does not surprise me at all. Corporations will think of anything just to milk another penny out of consumers. We don't have that here I do not think but give it time. People need to slow down here in America, it is ridiculous. I love that picture you have of the guy with a coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other while "driving" his car. That is the picture of the stereotypical American. It makes me crazy to see that every day. I love to drive but feel so unsafe because of exactly that especially now that texting is so popular here. I am guilty of having coffee in the car a lot, but most of the time I bring it with me from home) I am in the minority these days. I would say 95/100 coffee drinking drivers will have that typical paper cup in their hand instead. It is this hurried society that causes it and I can't stand it. People just need to slow down and "taste" their coffee!

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4Mjnzqi5gs


  5. I really enjoyed your post Stam, especially the "So, I love Greek coffee. Others will call it Turkish coffee, but I don't know anyone who calls their Xmas dinner ‘Roast Greece’, do you?". Never thought of it that way.

    Being a Greek myself and having lived abroad (UK included) almost half of my life, I think it's a matter of mediteranean way of thinking rather than a wrong kind of thinking. (We) Greeks have learned to enjoy whatever we do. We are hedonists (there was even a philosofical movement back in the day). We enjoy the coffee, the sun, a talk with a friend (or twelve, all talking together and all in the same time), sitting on a bench in the park watching life go by. We so loooooove talking, critisizing everything and everybody. We know the best, 'cos we have sat enough hours on that bench, just thinking about everything and anything we can't think anymore. We just know, ok?

    We also enjoy everything that includes the least physical activity apart from the muscles inside and around our mouth. We 've taken this "enjoying thing" that far, we no more do anything we don't enjoy. I mean how many Greeks do you know who enjoy waking up in the morning to go to work? Most don't. Anybody who likes the gym? Most of them don't as well, but they do it 'cos they (are so fat and so single, they) have to. Who enjoys reading a book or even the newspaper? Some do, but most enjoy having someone else read it for them. That's why they enjoy watching the news so much on the telly. Some, even enjoy the arguing and the gossiping on the telly 'cos they don't have any energy left to go to the kafe and do the arguing and gossiping themselves there.

  6. (...) So, where am I getting at with all this bitching about my compatriots? I myself, sharing the same greek genes, enjoy many things in this life, coffee and food included (one can tell from my looks and hectic movements), and I mean both preparing and consuming them. I am afraid though, that it's exactly this kind of our unmoderated hedonistic behaviour, as well as our way of thinking, that is responsible for the economic and political situation we 've put our selfs and country into. This is where everything stems from (I think): We have forgoten that in order to really enjoy anything, one must first struggle (usually, but not always) through hard work. Otherwise there is no real enjoyment, no feeling of satisfaction and reward from it. And this is where the problem lies: we have taken the satisfaction of the reward away from the enjoyment of whatever we do. And since everybody does it (here in Greece at least), we see nothing wrong about it.

    Once abroad though we see things are completely the opposite. People work hard but they enjoy nothing, at least not the little everyday things like food or coffee. Instead, they work the whole year, wait 'til summer comes, go to some greek island and lay under the sun until their skin becomes "as red as a monkey's ass". When evening comes they get dressed (or undressed) and go binge drinking all night long. Next day same thing, different day. And they call that holidays.

    I think the truth lies somewhere in between. One doesn't have to work his ass off all year and then try to enjoy a couple of days in the summer and call it a holiday. They are kidding themselves and make the Greeks laugh. On the other hand, one doesn't have to say "opa" to whatever he does or he doesn't do it 'cos you know what the IMF is capable of. There are little things in our everyday life we SHOULD all take the time to enjoy, whether passively or actively (or both in whatever order you may wish). And I am saying we SHOULD enjoy them because we are worth it; because we 've earned it.

    Enjoy the food you are eating, prepare it and serve it with respect even when you are in your own company. Feel every drop of that wine or coffee or even tea, you are drinking (I heard sipping it make it taste far better, so remember this next time you see a Greek sipping, not just drinking, his GREEK coffee). On the other hand, it's ok you don't enjoy your work. It pays the bills (and that wine). There are other things to enjoy, after or before work, including talking. So shut (the f...) up and get back to work.Both the Mediteraneans and the North have a lot to learn from each other.

    BTW Stam, I enjoy my Starbucks "Coffee of the Day" a lot. I always get the extrahuge-megagalactic-massivebig-familysizebucket one. Why? "Because I am worth it". And because I am a coffee junky too. Next time it's on me.

  7. Συγνώμη Σταμάτη, κάποιο λαθος έκανα μάλλον και το δημοσίευσα τρις φορές το ίδιο πράγμα.

  8. Starbucks and all most of the coffee shops in town are an insult to the name. Coffee time is my favorite time of the morning where I usually sit outside, watch the sunrise and watch nature start it's day too. As long as my coffee is Strong, Hot, and Black!