27 July 2010


It is very much interesting to see how such a food product such as coffee revolves around the lives of many of us here in the planet. Coffee is grown in various countries, and we have come to know the names of countries such as Kenya, Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and even sub-national regions such as Java and Sumatra, all of these metonymically used to refer to the black drink that most of us here cherish.

Looking back, I realized that I have come across coffee in various incarnations. At the present day, I usually encounter it in the form of a doppio espresso, the one that I usually get whenever I want something to wake me up and keep me going in the middle of a long day, or if I want an extra boost in my morning. It comes in a small cup, and I just put in two sachets of raw sugar crystals and fill the cup with non-fat milk about two-thirds of the way.

When I was in Manila this past May and June, I got to experience my parents’ coffee machine. It had two functions, one that just functions as a regular drip, and the other one is an espresso maker. At that time, I didn’t realize why it is that my dad preferred the espresso over the regular drip. I preferred the quantity of things, and it would be nice to have several mugs of coffee that would last me the whole day, just refilling it with sugar cubes and milk. Of course, coffee being a diuretic, I always found myself inside the bathroom every fifteen minutes.

And then when I started traveling on my own, when I went to Ecuador back in 2007. I discovered the essencia, when they make coffee by brewing this ultra black liquid, and I presume it was very bitter as well. They give you a tiny amount of that in the cup, and the rest would be basically filled with milk to dilute it. It tasted great, but I would not want to try drinking that essencia just by itself.

Coffee is this amazing thing that humankind has discovered, that it revolves around plenty of social functions. First, it allows humans to stay up longer and prolong fatigue. There was a time when I was outside, around 7:00 PM, and I was in a market buying a fan, since my old one broke. I was so thirsty at that time, and I caught the displays in the refrigerated section. I saw a coffee-energy drink mix, and since I was quite a fan of this type of energy drink, I decided to buy it, since I haven’t tried this one type. Oh my, that was a regrettable decision. I was awake the whole day, and I couldn’t sleep no matter how much I tried. I ended up not sleeping for 40 hours straight, because I was afraid that if I slept the next morning, my circadian rhythm would be so disrupted that I would be like I had some jetlag.

Another function of coffee is that this can be a non-alcoholic social lubricant. If alcohol is deemed to be the social lubricant, easing conversation, social bonding and sex, coffee can be the non-alcoholic version of that. I am not saying that by drinking coffee, one can have a better social and sex life, but just by observing where coffee appears in human contact, one can deduce that coffee has a social role, that without it, life may be characterized as a little worse. Just observe universities for example, when they host conferences. I would be surprised if there is such a conference that would occur without a coffee pot in the side. Academics love their coffee. I myself cannot be without one in the lab. Meetings are always accompanied by coffee. In offices, there are people that are employed just to make coffee.

Coffee also accompanies the social wind. Pick a random coffee shop and people would congregate in them, accompanied by coffee. I could not think of other eating establishments where people can sit down, chat for hours, exchange news and other gossip, and do such stuff, but provide some other kind of food or drink aside from coffee. Even the Greeks institutionalized this, with their kafeneions, which turned out to be male bastions of society, rendered practically impenetrable by the female sex. This is where males find out what is going on in the world, this is where they listen to the radio as a group, and this is where they discuss the relevant current events that pertain to their lives.

Coffee can also be a romantic thing. First dates usually revolve around coffee. That’s usually the first thing that two potentially mutually interested people do. Coffee provides the necessary background noise to enable one to scan and see whether this person he is drinking coffee with has the potential to excite him more, and make him want to interact with more. Due to the seemingly perfect temperature of this liquid, coffee allows you to take a sip, enjoy the small amount of coffee you have in your mouth, savor it, and listen to your date looking at your date straight in the eye, while doing your mental check as to whether your date would turn out to be a good one or not. You can also look at your cup of coffee, and if the angle is right, surreptitiously observe your date’s face, and see whether you like the reflection you see or not.

Coffee also can end things. Coffee ends dinners, and is typically offered to one as a finale to a nice evening meal. If can also end relationships. One can break up with someone else over coffee, as evidenced by a song by Garbage released back in 2001. Coffee can be a weapon, especially when it is scalding hot. And finally, coffee can be a means for revenge, as you can spit at someone’s cup without them knowing and that would sufficiently provide the mental assurance that you have done this person something bad and you feel good about it.

Now I wonder if there is any other food item out there that has all these functions or maybe more. Currently, I tend to think in the negative. Here I am, already laughing internally, at the thought of substituting pie or cake to all of these situations, and how hilarious that would look like.

(Mountain Water, from my Salineras de Maras Series)

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