Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Tag: coffee

What Hope a Decent Brew?

“Go to the French cafe by the departure gate. It's got really good coffee, and sandwiches too.” Dressed like a character from a Jack Kerouac novel, a connoisseur of places subterranean, my friend knows his coffee, and the city he lives in does too. Forget paired and halved slices of bread, I have been in Melbourne three days, Australia’s second city and first city of art, culture and coffee—soon to be largest city by upwards trend of statistical metric—and sandwiched in an airport coffee lounge queue, post check-in and pre board-on, I am going to steam it, pour it, drink it one last time, order it extra strength in a double sized cup. I should have known better when I saw the queue. I should have called it quits then, turned around and walked away. I should have seen past hope and expectation for reality’s cold, half empty glass. Not the size of the queue but the position, the opposite side of the food cabinet, the opposite side of common sense. Till and people queuing to the right; food, barista and people waiting for coffee to the left—this café expected people to queue, order and pay for food that they could not see, and such little touches nay blindly splayed brush strokes on the canvas of life suggest a business run without a clue. What hope then a decent brew? “Hi, do you have any sandwiches that are vegetarian?” At the head of the queue, face to face with girl taking my order, I had to ask for a recital of the food cabinet contents that could not be sighted. I had left the carry-on bag to briefcase packed queue to inspect the uninspiring, un-kosher selection of ham and cheese condiments earlier, losing my place in doing so to a pair of airline pilots, accustomed on ground as in air to being in front of everybody else, but hope against hope, thought it worth asking if something, anything solid might be joining my liquid, caffeinated must. In life hope is a welcome, cheerful friend, but disappointment a more consistent companion. Preferred company unavailable, the girl behind the counter answered my question with a lack of understanding bordering confusion, and with no small effort, shifted sideways to double check what comprehension could not. Unwillingness, written on face in letters larger than the blackboard behind, remained firmly in place. “Um... no, they’ve all got meat in them.” And then silence. No other suggestions forthcoming, even half-consideration a cup drained bare. She shifted back, impatience joined us for company. “Then could I have a croissant?” Although chalked in white and capitals on the menu one row below “obvious”, this request may have been confusing too, because the girl, furrowed brow, tangled thinking as apparent as gaudy lipstick, queried that which common sense and opening question had already answered. “Did you want the ham croissant?” Something other than the croissant in this cafe appeared to be served plain. “No, plain, thank you.” I am well used to this sort of treatment. I have been swimming vegetarian in a stream of meat-eaters for fifteen years, and am not the kind of person who paints the entire world white just because it is the colour I’ve chosen to wear. Callousness and deliberate unwillingness though are harder to swallow. Perhaps the “croissant toasted with butter and jam” description of the menu was optional, perhaps for me only imaginary, for I was handed a “plain”, room-temperature croissant, sans condiments and toasting in a white paper bag. The only thing toasted about this croissant was my starting to burn at the edges temper. “I’ll have a mocha too” I added in measured, deliberate tone as total was added, note proffered, change returned, no recognition of my request shown other than correct price charged. Taking croissant in hand, taking bad with bad, I moved to the opposite side of queue and counter willingly, with relief, to the barista and coffee machine, where two shots of heart-palpitating happiness would be made. Things were looking up, my welcome, cheerful friend returned, hope a half full growing fuller coffee cup. About eighteen, about eighteen years away from mastering his trade, the barista emptied coffee grind from the previous shot with a rushed, hasty jolt, then returned handle to head without cleaning it. Live long enough, pay attention to memory and intuition close enough, practise meditation well enough, you get a foretaste, premonition of the outcome of every action before you act. I could taste the coffee being made as though already drinking it, and it tasted dirty, gritty, acidic, as though drinking from the bottom of a used, uncleaned mug. My cup grew fuller quickly with a dark, brooding, dirty brew, hope drained quickly away, cup half empty, now gone. On second thought, but thought too late, my well-meaning, well-discerning friend had said to go to the French cafe by the departure gate, and the only thing French about this café were the stale croissants, baked so long ago that they could have been shipped from Paris. The clock struck boarding time, the airport announcer chimed, I made my way past duty free stores and just free, just arrived passengers to Gate 24. With a queue for coffee almost as long as passengers boarding the plane, the café I should have gone to was literally next door.

On Journeys Through the Australian States

Time passed writing about passing time in an airport coffee shop... Coffee at Melbourne AirportTravelling. Again. In Melbourne Airport, for four and half hours, but not my final destination, or even second to final in this marathon, budget airline leapfrog across the Pacific, Tasman and Indian Oceans. I am in an airport café sipping the oh so treasured caffeinated chocolate beverage I swore yet again to give up. And shall swear again, once the well of heart-quickened words dries, trails to a final period, final drop of coffee swallowed at the end of this page... I am flying to Bali today, a Christmas holiday come a month late but not a moment too soon. A break from work and yet more work, a break of some considerable force to my cheerfully forgotten, paid just on time bottom line. Work to live or live to work? In truth I would prefer neither, but forced to choose I am working to be alive, and right now is the time for living. It is not such a bad place to be stranded, this sun-burned, lucky land. I have always liked Australia—more so than anywhere else on Earth save the United Kingdom, it is just like home—albeit a sun-drenched, sun-worshiping version of such. Hotter of temperature and temperament than New Zealand, it is our louder, brasher “across the ditch” own. I admire the self-confidence and assertiveness here, rare in my home of birds that do not fly and single lone predator—the Katipo spider, a pint-sized beast of passive-aggressive hostility at best, likely to bite only when pushed into corner or shoe. New Zealanders, more like the sheep who outnumber us twenty to one than killer spiders, tend to follow the herd, herd instinctively to the back of a pen. Like the damp, green pastures from mountains to sea, we are softer round surface and edge than Australians; we shrink from a person of loud, sure hand. Australia has a vastness not just of its land, although perhaps learned of it; of wide open spaces and limitless, continental horizons—a vastness of heart and mind less sighted in smaller, skinnier isles. “Mateship,” the word for universal friendship between blokes really exists in Australia. The airport security officer who gave directions not with authority but airless amity; the student who made my coffee neither embarrassed to be serving me, or by way of compensation, haughty—such is far from common in less secure, narrow lands. It took a while, several hours in fact, and all of the previous words, before untold Australian flags, t-shirts and hats of yellow and green led me to realise that today is January 26, Australia Day, the one day of three hundred and sixty-five that Australians take even more pride in being themselves than their unabashed norm. Serendipity has a way of following me around, especially when writing...
Salutation To The Soul Of Australia My aspiring heart is saluting you. My illumining soul is loving you. In you I see the perfect combination of the body's service and the vital's dynamism. Your soul is at once the embodiment of the ancient sun and revelation of tomorrow's dawn. Your body's consciousness is the expansion of vastness. Your heart's delight is the perfection of illumination. Slowly and steadily your body walks. Pointedly and unerringly your mind runs. Devotedly and unconditionally your heart dives. Eternally and supremely your soul flies. Your life's greatness-dream is humanity's transcendental pride. Your life's goodness-reality is humanity's universal treasure. —Sri Chinmoy, My Heart's Salutation To Australia, Part 1.
* * * During my first year of university, a time now so long ago tales of such begin increasingly to sound like they belong in the history books I read there, one of the highlights of each week was the student newspaper, more read by the student community than any tiresome book or text. I would in maturity and time end up working for this newspaper—my first ever graphic design and typesetting role, and my first ever writing—but for now, unaware of greater horizons ahead, I admired those vaster in others. In the writing of the editor and staff of this newspaper there was an assuredness of thought and pen that I, just out of high school not yet out of teenage angst, desperately, instinctively craved—an assuredness of self I sought the words for but could not actually name. Meditation would eventually provide that name. That year the editor wrote the same editorial twenty-six times, every week of publication drafted different versions of the same theme—how to get to the end and find the words to fill his long past due, inspiration long past gone editorial. It was an editorial on writing an editorial if you will, and was often surprisingly funny. Some fifteen years later I am reminded of this editor’s confident, stream of consciousness notes about nothing, for it seems I too am writing a story about writing a story—a feat I literally thought myself incapable of once upon a distant time. Like running a race I expect this story will have an ebb and flow, tired and energetic patches, and in time, one foot and word in front of the other, a second wind. Then, hopefully and finally, second cup of coffee consumed, an end. * * * Hours are passing slowly, words less easily in this airport coffee shop, sitting in a corner surrounded by no-one, monopolising a power outlet meant not for laptop but lamp. My coffee is finished, once confident pen not so loud or bold, its flight near grounded and my plane, hours yet to board, not yet departed. They say the most common opening sentence in blogging is “Sorry I haven't written for a long time...” Is this the internet era version of every English teacher’s most hated closure, “And then I woke up”? I certainly hope, as my pen leans into a drifting doze, that unlike newspaper reading students in a university lecture, my readers are still half awake... It's a funny thing, the waxing and waning of creativity, writing’s ebb and flow. When you ”want” words they often do not come, for writing is a horse that can be ridden but not controlled, a ship to be sailed rather than boat to be rowed. Like meditation, you don't “do” it—it is a state that comes to you when you forget to ”do,” cease to strive and struggle, control and command. Becoming a good writer is often described as a process of finding your “voice;” an analogy to the meditative discipline of listening to the still small voice within. Like true meditation, good writing comes from a place deep within, beyond the noisy, scattered and often directionless voice of the mind. So am I doing good writing? I hope so, but can a writer truly judge his own cover? Such is surely the prerogative of his readers, not pejorative of a caffeine-addled ego, and to know the answer to this question it surely would not hurt to listen longer to the writer’s voice within...
“We can listen to the dictates of the soul, or feel the presence of the inner voice, without being guided by a very deep meditation. Even in the hustle and bustle of life we can hear the inner voice, but if we meditate, then it becomes extremely easy to listen to the voice within. Without practising spirituality we may hear the inner voice, we may even see the soul, but we will doubt our experience. We will say, “This cannot be the soul; this voice is not coming from the soul.” But if we have a very good, deep meditation, we can hear the voice, we can see the soul with inner certainty.” —Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 13.
January 26th, Australia Day, 2009.

Experience Mocha

A surreal visit to a Chinese coffee shop, made less believable by a brochure gained... Experience Mocha“Experience Mocha!” it commands, and obeisance is mine, weak-willed and supine in the face of advertorial imperative, a surrendered slave to caffeine’s seductive call, writ large as headline on front-of-counter brochure. So experience I do, like there was ever a possibility that I would not, tourist hardly accidental in a franchised coffee shop, Qingdao, China, where an extra-large mocha is served with time and care disproportionate to the value purchased, by staff in Santa hats, seasonal cheer worn yet fitting not here in the decidedly secular People’s Republic. I have lost my will and gained much blood sugar, but have a semblance of increasingly agitated wits still; my attention hyperactive turns in circles to the written instigator of my downfall—counter-side brochure with hypnotic headline I am still chanting inside: “Experience Mocha... experience mocha...” * * * Statue or me?Written in English but thought in Chinese, the brochure is so absurd as to, koan-like, transcend absurdity and become good again, almost as though you had dug a hole so deep it was no longer a hole, but rather a tunnel to... China. Although unintentionally good, because to write like this on purpose—with irony and innocent sincerity mixed frothier than steamed milk—really would be an act of genius, and genius is difficult to ascertain when it's lustre may just as well be malapropism from the original Chinese. Whether intentional or otherwise, to me at least the brochure had an innocent sincerity, a quality now rare here in the West. Can you even imagine a major franchise, or pretty much anything or anyone else for that matter, writing a first person account of a man surreptitiously eavesdropping on a coffee shop conversation that wouldn't contain a hint of innuendo or allusion? To me this is more refreshing than even a “cup of sweet melancholy and expectations.” Like the brochure said: No full-stop in SPR coffee...

Experience Mocha

Like most people to and from work everyday. I want neither to stay in the office nor go home at times Then I always walk over to a coffee house named SPR, pretending I'm a drifting cloud. The coffee house sits at the crossroad. The bar area is just in front of the left-side wall. Tables and chairs are arranged along the windows facing the street. It can only accommodate 30 guests. It is not big yet elegantly furnished. The nostalgic tiles, western styled wail paintings, glass windows and curtains with U shaped small brown flower patterns contribute to its elegance. After coffee snack, it is quiet again and I always come at this time. Then, the barista, perhaps a young couple, would readjust the jazz music to much lower volume. I would order a cup of Mocha, take out my paper and start writing a short essay. I'm about to pick up my pen when my attention is distracted by the talk of the two girls. Fashionable, modern and young, they look like college students. They talk in a low voice, but I can still hear them and I can sense the anxiety, loneliness and expectations behind their laughter and talk the sweet melancholy of the young. On a winter afternoon, a man snatching a little leisure is sipping the cup of sweet melancholy and expectations... Mocha.....Mocha.....Mocha.....Mocha.....

Coffee drenched links

  • engrish.com: Engrish can be simply defined as the humorous English mistakes that appear in Japanese advertising and product design." It can be found in other places also (like China), but engrish.com insist that the Japanese variety is usually superior
  • Hanzi Smatter: dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in western culture
  • SPR Coffee: Experience mocha at the source