Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Daily Gullet Staff

Coffee Man

Recommended Posts

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1149481013/gallery_29805_1195_16614.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Tim Hayward

We stood at the door, staring at the "For Sale" sign, a confused turmoil of emotion. My wife had wanted to live on this street all her life. The house, the only derelict left in a gentrified district, was phenomenal opportunity for improvement and investment. She was thinking about money, about decoration, about room to expand the family, about local schools and about growing old together, happy in our beautiful home.

I was thinking about the smell. Not the musty honk of a long neglected dump but the penetrating, rich, oily odour of fresh roasting coffee drifting from the end of the street.

"You clearly need some time to think, Sweetheart. I'll just pop along and get us a coffee."

In a space between two tall old houses was a tiny shanty of a shopfront. A stovepipe spewing the intoxicating smell was jammed through a hole in the plate glass behind which lurked an elderly man, tinkering like some mythic kobold among a fantastic collection of antique machinery.

A hand-lettered sign, patently of the same vintage as shop and owner said "Coffee" so I tried the door.

"Go away!" he yelled.

He was of Mediterranean descent with a long, lugubrious face, dark bags under his eyes and an enviably full shock of grey hair.

"No coffee today. Closed." He spun the sign on the door and shot a couple of dozen home made security contraptions across the frame.

I was electrified. A lifelong lover of the bean, I'd spent a considerable amount of energy loathing the chain "coffee" emporia. I'd gone into print many times, bemoaning the death of family owned local cafes at the hands of unfeeling multinational chains. I'd decried the third-rate, slave-produced, ersatz cack they dispensed and now, I had the chance to live this close to probably the last surviving outpost of the real deal -- an authentic, cranky old eccentric who roasted and ground his own beans.

I rushed back.

"Let's do it," I gabbled.

"But it's a derelict shell."

"I'll do all the work. I'll build, fix, paint. It's your dream. You should have it."

My wife tells me it's the most romantic thing I ever said. If only she knew.

We bought the house and I did, indeed, spend six months putting on a roof, plastering, painting, plumbing and installing God's own kitchen. Often the neighbours would drop in to see how things were going. As each found out what I did for a living, the conversation would turn the same way.

"You're a food writer? Have you had Gregory's coffee yet?"

I hadn't. My Pavoni, my grinder, my cups and all the paraphernalia of addiction were in storage. I was deferring gratification. But each day I walked past the shop and slowly my relationship with Gregory developed from open hostility to a begrudging nod.

From my neighbours I learned his legend. He'd been an engineer. He'd left his country during some military upheaval. He built and maintained his own machines. He secretly ground special blends for all the best restaurants in town. He was an eccentric millionaire. His beautiful daughter was a politician in their home country and each neighbour proudly confided that Gregory made a special, personal blend just for them.

Finally, the house was finished. I moved the family in, unpacked, made sure everyone was happy, then headed off on my personal pilgrimage. I was going to my local, independent coffee-man. This eccentric genius, this zensai of the Arabica would create a personal blend for me and I would reach a pinnacle of happiness the envy of my peers.

Maybe I looked wrong. Perhaps it was something about my cheery demeanour that pissed him off. Perhaps, in some paranoiac way he loathed newcomers. Whatever the reason, the coffee he sold me would have choked a goat. It was vile in way you can't possibly imagine unless you've felt you've discovered your life's greatest wish, waited six months, spent everything on a wreck, destroyed your L4 and L5 vertebrae carrying bags of cement and then had a crap cup of coffee.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Eight times.

I kept going back, discussing with him various blends, grinds, roasts, hoping against hope that it was some momentary lapse. But the coffee just got worse.

I started lying. First to Gregory. I would buy cans of Illy from a delicatessen in another part of town and smuggle them past his shop under my coat. Then to my neighbours . . .

"We're still working to perfect the blend."

Then, when I felt I couldn't keep up the deception a moment longer, I confided in my neighbour, Keith, an erudite and respected psychotherapist . . .

"Gregory's coffee -- it's not terribly . . . good, is it?"

He looked at me as if trying to decide if I was a viperous disloyal cad or merely mad. I'd failed to support a beloved independent trader -- a cardinal sin in the middle class enclaves of North London. He'd have taken it easier if he'd caught me in bed with his wife . . . and daughter.

So that's how things stand now. Keith knows my shameful secret but I hope he's enough of a gentleman to keep it to himself. The rest of the street are drinking truly abominable coffee to keep a small trader alive and I'm still smuggling it into my own house and lying to the neighbours. But I'm watching. One day I'm going to catch one of these bastards with a can of coffee under his coat.

Tim Hayward is a freelance writer living in London, and former host of the UK forum. He publishes the newsletter Fire & Knives. Photo by the author.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How disappointing - the coffee, not your writing.

How wonderful - the support your neighbours give to the small businessman. But. Perhaps somebody should let him know his coffee is undrinkable.. imagine the business he'd get if he had good coffee!

Or .. you could switch to tea. Then you could drink it openly without offending anybody.

Great read - thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great story! Thanks.


Don't wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Orison Swett Marden

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You've got two options, either he sells crap coffee to everybody or he has just singled you out. To eliminate the latter you need to get some of the stuff he sells to other people, their 'special' blends, so get a neighbour to let you try their particular blend, preferably by giving you the beans. You can return the gift later using some of your own 'special :hmmm: ' blend. That way you can see what the rest are getting and in the unlikely event that it is better than the stuff that you get you might get feedback when you supply the neighbour. If it's the same old rubbish then you know your neighbours have no taste.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Have you been given a cup of coffee by any of your neighbours? And if so, what did they serve you? That's what I want to know ...

Great story, by the way. Definitely had me chuckling.


One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

Virginia Woolf

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
i also want to hear a review of a neighbors special blend!

Exactly the same as mine. Exactly the same as each other's :sad:


Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
i also want to hear a review of a neighbors special blend!

Exactly the same as mine. Exactly the same as each other's :sad:

Kind of funny, are you sure Gregory knows how bad his coffee is? Makes me glad I only have to trek across Vancouver and not across London for the great coffee I can get! Enjoyed the story, reminded me of how silly we all are about where to live!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So what strange juju does he have going on?

Is it the grateful upscale earnest demographic that allows him to get away with this cack coffee? His rich mysterious daughter, whose funds let his business stay alive?

Have you considered confronting him and making him take a sip of his product? (I'm glad the house is pretty.)


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Of the chains in the UK, my currrent least favouite is Costa Coffee, their Americano is actively unpleasant with even less real coffee flavour than the usual instant swill I guzzle down every day. Had a very nice take out from Carluccio's in Brighton the other day though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This parable can unfortunately be applied across the board in the UK, where few have any real knowledge of what things are meant to be like. Sausages spring to mind, in particular.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Of course, another option is simply to invite a neighbor over to your house. The reason doesn't really matter. Serve him or her up a really good cup of coffee. The more neighbors you invite over and more good cups of coffee that they are served, the better educated they will be as to what makes a good cup of coffee.

Who knows, maybe a little competition will cause your local shop to improve their ingredients or technique. In the least, it will allow you to vent your feelings and your neighbors will know not only what real coffee is but that you know what you are talking about.

-Art


Amano Artisan Chocolate

http://www.amanochocolate.com/

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We like to think that the old guy who's been doing it for ever really knows his stuff, but I've run into quite a few old guys in the coffee business who just keep doing it the same way they learned it and have no clue what's going on in the larger coffee world.

If you want something really interesting to try out in your machine, get yourself to Monmouth Coffee Company on Monmouth Street near Leicester Square. I was there a couple of weeks ago and had a terrific macchiato. They're the real deal.

--Richard Reynolds

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Loved it Tiim. Maybe it's because there's so little community glue anymore... and you just burst their opium bubble. Mediocre neighbourhood restaurants are frequently treated with the same baffling reverence.

"But I, being poor, have only my dreams, I have spread my dreams under your feet, thread softly as you thread on my dreams" - WB Yeats


Corinna Hardgrave aka "Corinna Dunne"

CorinaHardgrave Twitter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There was a little neighborhood coffee roasters/cafe in my old neighborhood everyone raved about, but if you happened to be behind the building the scent of burnt beans was overwhelming. I went in on a cold day and couldn't bring myself to try the java, so I ordered a hot chocolate. It was served lukewarm. It left me feeling the same as you do, is it me? has everyone else lost their minds? are we supposed to like this because Starbucks moved in down the street?

I agree with the idea of having some neighbors over for some of the good stuff. Maybe people are used to Folgers or something and have never learned to appreciate the flavors in well-prepared coffee. The first time I tasted a hint of blueberries in a cup of Sidamo I was in love!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you want something really interesting to try out in your machine, get yourself to Monmouth Coffee Company on Monmouth Street  near Leicester Square. I was there a couple of weeks ago and had a terrific macchiato.  They're the real deal.

Started smuggling it in a couple of weeks ago :wink:


Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just returned from a holiday in Port Douglas, way up north in Queensland, here in Australia. Visited a coffee plantation there and came home with a 1kg bag of their espresso roast beans. Glad I was such a pig buying so much as it is truly great. They do mail order: www.jaquescoffee.com.

We arrived there the day they started harvesting so it was a really interesting visit.


Edited by Pat Churchill (log)

Website: http://cookingdownunder.com

Blog: http://cookingdownunder.com/blog

Twitter: @patinoz

The floggings will continue until morale improves

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1149481013/gallery_29805_1195_16614.jpg"  hspace="8" align="left">by Tim Hayward

Maybe I looked wrong. Perhaps it was something about my cheery demeanour that pissed him off. Perhaps, in some paranoiac way he loathed newcomers. Whatever the reason, the coffee he sold me would have choked a goat. It was vile in way you can't possibly imagine unless you've felt you've discovered your life's greatest wish, waited six months, spent everything on a wreck, destroyed your L4 and L5 vertebrae carrying bags of cement and then had a crap cup of coffee.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Eight times.

I kept going back, discussing with him various blends, grinds, roasts, hoping against hope that it was some momentary lapse. But the coffee just got worse.

Hahahaha...this was hillarious. Thanks for the piece. Your account basically tells a tale of something that would happen to me. I'm glad to know that I'm not alone in my food follies.

Maybe you should get some green beans and roast your own? It wouldn't take any effort to create something that is at least drinkable! What the heck is the old man roasting anyway? I'm thinking that it can't be THAT bad, but then again you are a food writer packing a Pavoni and grinder. Hmmm...enquiring minds want to know.

Now for your neighbours not noticing, it is entirely possible. It wasn't that many years ago that for the life of me, I couldn't get a good cup of coffee in London. Blech.


"Grilling with real charcoal? NOW, you're cooking with gas!"

Cooking Gurus Blog

Coffee Gurus Blog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...