When gourmet coffee subscription company Kopi sent me a sample of what goes out to their subscribers on a monthly basis I figured it would be easy enough to slap up a review of the programme… but probably not that fair, as I’d be likely to sulk it was missing out on sugary-sweet seasonal syrups and be oblivious to its quality.
So instead I asked the actual writer of the house. As a novelist and part-time transatlantic podcaster, Stringer has more reason than most to sit up into the wee hours with a mug of the black stuff with or without added whiskey. Other than the coffee he received no payment for this piece (well, obviously – what kind of relationship do you think this is?) although I may spring for a Domino’s tonight if he’s good.
First order of business here, can we all stop telling the same joke? You know the one. We’ll talk about ordering coffee in one of the large coffee chain stores, and we’ll roll our eyes and complain that all the names are pointless because you just want to order a coffee.
It’s a joke that will change its flavour slightly to suit the person telling it. If you’re a science fiction fan, for instance, you might compare it to speaking Klingon. If you’re a football fan, then maybe it’s akin to that part of the Scottish football results when your eyes glaze over. I’ve never heard the joke told by a computer geek, but I imagine maybe it gets compared to binary, or whatever scary language they’re speaking.
This joke is old, folks. It fails on any measure of being a good joke. It’s not new, it’s not funny, and it’s not interesting. It’s the guy at the party who wants to tell you that the war in Iraq was all about oil, as if he’s the first person in a decade to have that thought.
Where the joke really fails is that it’s not insightful. It’s not pointing out any hidden truth, nor is it reminding you of something obvious that you forgot to laugh at first time around.
The real problem with all the names, titles and sizes in these coffee shops is that they miss the point. Coffee, it seems to me, should be named after its effect on you. You should be ordering something that tells you exactly how it’s going to save your day.
Some days you want to be able to walk into the store and order a cup of please-make-this-hangover-go-away. Often you might want a cup of why-is-my-brain-slower-than-everyone-else’s? My favourite would probably be to order a large cup of get-me-through-to-the-end-of-the-day.
That’s what we need from the titles of our coffee.
I don’t think Kopi got my memo on that. They don’t seem to need much in the way of advice from me; they’re onto a good thing already. For a monthly subscription, they will send you coffee. See? Already that seems genius. We don’t even need to leave the house now; some guy will bring caffeine to our door.
And this isn’t supermarket coffee we’re talking about. Each package turns up at your door with a suitcase and a story; it’s like going on a first date with a drink. October’s choice was Guatemala Finca Santa Clara Genuine Antigua. The booklet tells me that it’s sourced from Santa Clara farm, where the Zelaya family have spent four generations honing their skills.
Four generations. That’s a story right there. Tell me that your perception of a drink doesn’t change when you know it’s taken four generations to get to your lips. Coffee is a drink that relies as heavily on the narrative we bring to it as it does on the kick of caffeine. We like coffee shops, preferably with lots of brown wooden furniture, and we like the idea of sitting in that nice brown space with a book and a warm drink. Even more than that, we love the smell. We love the idea of the tropical locations, that sipping this black liquid on a rainy night in Glasgow connects you to a field somewhere, in the shade of a volcano, with the sea before you.
That’s something you just don’t get from a plastic cup, huddled around a vending machine, or even from most high street stores. We’re taking the fun out of drinking coffee, we’re losing the story.
And that’s where Kopi come in. They’re bringing the story back. They’re going to tell you where the coffee is from, what the location is like, and how to prepare it. Over at their website, they’ll also suggest music for you to listen to (though the less said of this months choice, the better) and pictures of the farm to help fill in the journey. All that’s left is to sit back and enjoy.
And what of the coffee itself?
The paperwork talked of the “strong smell”, and perhaps I didn’t prepare it the right way, but the aroma didn’t live up to its story. The taste, on the other hand, was where the coffee proved itself. It tasted like dark chocolate and felt like a warm treacle sponge.
To bring this all back to my coffee manifesto, this wasn’t a cup of please-let-me-wake-up-today, it was a dark and rich cup of I’m-going-to-sit-and-read-a-book-and-relax-by-the-window.
Jay is a High-Tech Low-Life. He’s an award nominated writer of novels, short fiction and film essays. Born and raised in the Black Country, he is currently on the lam in Glasgow but plotting a permanent move to New York. You can find Jay every Thursday at DoSomeDamage.com, every five minutes @JayStringer and very occasionally at Stringerville.com. He’s repped by Stacia Decker at DMLA.