Has beans and ever was

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By Tony Deyal

Because I didn’t have the money to study law, and in the cold winter nights of Canada I drank lots of coffee to keep me awake, instead of being a barrister – I became a Barista. If anyone asked me how I took my coffee, I told them, “Seriously. Very seriously.”

I grew up with coffee. I was born in 1945, just after the Second World War ended, and every hot drink was a “tea”. We had coffee tea, bush tea, Milo tea, Ovaltine tea and “green” tea. Why I stuck to coffee was not just the taste but the company. Female wrestler, AJ Lee, warned, “Never trust anyone who doesn’t drink coffee.”

David Letterman, who next to Johnny Carson was my favourite Television Host, claimed, “If it wasn’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.” Steven Wright, my favourite stand-up comedian, in addition to one-liners like, “A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory” and “Ambition is a poor excuse for not having enough sense to be lazy”, said, “I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and almost went back in time.” My favourite coffee lady is Louisa May Alcott. Whether it was praise for Little Women, Little Men or Jo’s Boys, she made it clear, “I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

What also strengthened my love for coffee was its association with different kinds of rituals almost everywhere in the world. As Newsweek said: “Long before Starbucks had a location on every street corner, unique traditions had developed around preparing and serving the daily brew in almost every country. Whether you preferred a coffee spiced with pepper, a half-caf venti no-foam soy latte from your favourite barista; or a coffee with cheese…”

It could be lengthy ceremonies lasting hours, like those in Ethiopia, or the “Fika” of Sweden which is both a noun and a verb, meaning you can fika with friends or just by yourself. If you don’t give a fika for fika, you can go to Italy and start with moka, followed by an espresso or two (or even three) and then head for Turkey, not to eat one but to try their “cezve”, a small brass or copper pot in which the finely ground coffee is prepared.

Perhaps this is what started the joke, “This coffee tastes like dirt!” with the reply, “It has to be. It was just ground a few minutes ago.” Interestingly, in Turkey the colour “brown” is know as “kahverengi” or “coffee colour.” In Vietnam, war or no war, even in the years without electricity, the favourite brew is like a thick, strong espresso with a chocolate flavour. One of their favourites is iced coffee with condensed milk. Mexicans have their “café de olla” which is coffee with cinnamon and brown sugar in an “olla” or clay pot. In Ethiopia the beans are roasted, ground and brewed in a clay pot called a “jebena”. They have three levels of coffee but the “ground” floor is “abol”, condensed and very strong coffee flavoured with sugar, salt, and butter. In Brazil, wherever you go, whether to the dentist or even the gas station, the coffee is free.

The only coffee I am likely to run from is Austria’s “Kaisermelange” which, though it means “fit for a king (or Kaiser)” is espresso combined with egg yolk, sweetened with honey and spiked with brandy or rum.

In Trinidad and six other Caribbean countries, we also have our own Rituals Coffee shops. When the company first started, the coffee was great but then quickly dropped in quality. One of my friends complained to the owner that the price of the coffee had gone up but the taste had gone down. In fact, my friend joked that the coffee was like a “fortnight” (two weak). The owner’s reply was, “Listen. I am not in the coffee business. I am in the money business.” From the time I heard that, I got out of the Rituals business and returned to my morning ritual, my cup of black coffee.

The Rituals boss and other coffee vendors can make all the Star Bucks they want but not from me. Every day, very early in the morning, I let out both my steam and esteem from my percolator. I am like the “Dog Face Soldier Song” of the US Marines but will make a slight change in the lyrics from, “I wouldn’t give a bean. To be a fancy pants Marine. I’d rather be a dog-faced soldier like I am,” to “I wouldn’t take a bean, From a Rituals machine. I’d rather take a sup from my enamel cup.”

There are many reasons to do this. A Dallas media network grabbed my attention with the headline, “Coffee Makes Your Brain Run Better.” It explained, “Coffee is pretty much rocket fuel for your brain…according to recent research, it may be doing more than just providing an additional jolt of energy; coffee may be rewiring your brain.”

Now that is very serious business. I doubt that even a rewired brain can be better or smarter than an unwired stomach. While our stomachs warn us that they’re empty, the brains, especially those of politicians, do not. In fact, since the dawn of time the brain has been a big grey area and those of most Caribbean politicians demonstrate daily that on the left side of their brains there’s nothing right, and on the right side, there’s nothing left.

If what I wrote about the brain makes you think, I have some good news to sweeten your mood. CNN reported that coffee protects your heart and aids in treating other diseases like liver problems. Its flavour and aroma can not only act as antioxidants but also have anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing properties. An article in “marthastewart.com” showed that moderate coffee consumption (three to four cups per day) could have a positive effect especially in dealing with blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, heart failure, cardia arrhythmias (an abnormality of the heart’s rhythm) or diabetes mellitus.

The Annals of Internal Medicine just published a study which proves that no matter how you take your coffee, there’s good reason to stick with it because added sweeteners don’t make a difference. In fact, adults who drank “moderate” amounts of coffee (1.5 to 3.5 cups a day), either unsweetened or with sugar, are more likely to enjoy improved longevity and longer life spans. The only problem is that the people tested were averaging about one teaspoon a cup and that is much less than you would get in a tin of condensed milk. CNN, in a report on the same research, stressed that “If you drink sugar-laden lattes and caramel macchiatos, you’re out of luck.” The way to deal with this is to tell your partner, “Hold the sugar please darling. You’re sweet enough for both of us!”

 *Tony Deyal was last seen quoting the woman who when asked, “Why are men so much like coffee?” answered, “The best ones are rich, warm and keep you up all night long.”

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