How enjoying coffee can mean so much more than simple refreshment.
Let's have a cup of coffee
Do you have time for a coffee?
How many of us yearn for that moment in the day when the first sip of hot coffee hits the spot? For many of us it will be the first real access to the conscious world after a long, or maybe too short, sleep, and a real prod to get out there and tackle those tasks. For me it doesn't come until midmorning, when a cup of coffee indicates that I have earned a break from whatever I am involved in, and I sit with my mug and indulge in a glimpse at the newspaper or use the time to call a friend and chat.
Coffee is synonymous for me with relaxation. Sometimes it's snatched in the midst of a hectic schedule, a welcome break from which to relaunch an energetic attack on the day; sometimes, and at its most pleasurable, it's a long, lingering pause, planned and taken in some super cafe. What utter luxury it seems to me to sit on a large, comfortable sofa next to a roaring fire in the middle of winter - away from the chill and damp of the outside world - with coffee served on a tray in exquisite china. Or to find myself in a wooden panelled cafe with floors creaking as the waiter approaches, Bach being played softly in the background, and fascinating artwork on the walls.
When travelling, one can gain insight into a culture by investigating the way the locals take their coffee. Finding a cafe that replicates the traditions of that country is better than being hoodwinked into feeling comfortable in one of the ubiquitous chains that are now the same all over the world. Sitting on a stool at the bar in a Parisian cafe or at a table on a side street pavement is a unique experience. Having your coffee served with all the trimmings in Vienna's great coffee houses is very special.
It is a treat to arrange to meet up with someone over a coffee; it won't be long, but enough time to catch up on essential news or exchange views on a shared project. But if I find myself in that bohemian cafe alone, what fascination it is to sit and observe the other customers. I might choose from the newspapers available and set up a pose of deep intellectual involvement, but my gaze will inevitably wander around the room and my ear will strain to catch snippets of conversation that will enable me to understand from what world they have taken a break. Mothers chatting after dropping their offspring off at school; shoppers keen to take the weight off their feet; and businessmen with all their technological props spread across the table, eager to impress the person opposite them. And what about that couple in the corner? A snatched moment to be together, their eyes gazing at each other, the coffee between them hardly relevant.
And if you were to join me for coffee, how would yours be? Long and milky, with a semi-skimmed concession to that waistline? Or a short, sharp hit of double espresso? Would you like to drink it in a mug or a takeaway cup, or would it be in a beautiful china cup with a handle and a saucer sitting on a linen-covered tray? Would it be a sweet but strong Turkish or Arabic coffee, or an aromatic and moody Italian one? Would it be a comforting American filter coffee or would you dare to take a Nescafé and believe it was the real thing?
Mine would be an Italian cappuccino, an intense dark coffee covered with light, frothy milk, which rises above the level of the white cup, a sprinkling of indulgent chocolate powder on the top.
Come on. Let's snatch a quick one now.
Jane Goodhue is the wife of an expatriate businessman in Abu Dhabi