Commentary – Something to go with your morning cup

Joe McWilliams

“Don’t talk to your father until he’s had his first cup of coffee!”
That was our mother’s advice. I didn’t understand it, but I certainly took note of my dad’s devotion to his early-morning java. I awoke to the smell of it most mornings. It made me feel slightly ill and that may have been one of the reasons I had no interest in trying it. When I did –
a sip or two – it came across as unpleasantly strong. Why would anyone drink the stuff?
I was a tea drinker for 30 years before I finally overcame my dislike of coffee. Like a lot of the stuff that prevailed in the wild west of Canada in my coming-of-age years, it was pretty crappy. Brown water, as the German gal in Baghdad Café called it.
“That’s not real coffee! I’ll show you real coffee!”
The same went for beer, now that I think of it, although the good stuff turned out to be milder, not stronger. There was none of it in our house, though; dad had gone on the wagon when I was a toddler and thankfully stayed on it. It coincided with him joining Alcoholics Anonymous, a program he stuck with for the rest of his life.
My impression of AA when I was growing up was it consisted of rough-looking dudes who drank gallons of coffee and smoked cigarettes pretty much non-stop. Those were probably addictions in their own right, but considered an acceptable alternative to the demon liquor.
But coffee, as we know, is big business. I may even have written something about it in this space before, and if so, apologies. Something else I’m doing in the waning stages of my column-
writing career (besides drinking more coffee) is repeating myself.
The coffee plant originated in Ethiopia, so they say. The trade in coffee beans developed slowly, and was pretty much unknown in Europe until the invading Ottoman Turks left some behind in Hungary. Coffee house culture in Vienna, Austria dates to 1683, shortly after the besieging Turks were defeated.
Supplies, however, were quite limited. In 1720, a French businessman named de Clieu brought a few seedings to Martinique. Fifty years later, half the world’s coffee was being produced on the island now known as Haiti. It wasn’t long before Brazil took over as the world’s leading producer, it has remained ever since.
Something like 25 million people make their living growing coffee. On the consumption side, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands lead the world in coffee consumption per capita, according to one online source.
Another interesting tidbit in the history of coffee is the invention of the moka pot, by an Italian fellow named Bialetti. He got the idea from observing a type of clothes-washing machine in use at the time, called the lessiveuse.
Coffee has, of course, been frowned upon and even banned at certain times and by various regimes. Some representatives of the Catholic Church, for example, dubbed it ‘The Devil’s Drink.’ But Pope Clement VIII put an end to that nonsense, saying, “We shall cheat Satan by baptizing it!”
So have I now become a version of my father, not to be spoken to before I’ve had my first cup of coffee? I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’ll just say it’s OK with me, in moderation of course.
Meanwhile, the drive-through lineups at McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and all the others don’t seem to be getting shorter.

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