Marcel Currin: Not just any old serving of coffee

By Marcel Currin


Here we go again with the coffee thing. Journalists, surveying the city's coffee houses. The results were published in last Saturday's Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

This time the survey was not about quality, it was best value for money they were looking for. Best value as defined by the size of a takeaway flat white - the price per 100ml of the golden oil.

Why do people assume that a bigger cup of coffee is better value?

The only thing a bigger cup delivers is more milk. Personally, I drink coffee for the coffee, not the milk. Give me a small double shot flat white any day. It's a beautiful little thing called flavour.

I knew a woman who would always order an extra large half-strength trim latte. That's offensive on so many levels. Why even bother with the coffee at all? Just take your giant jug of hot milk and be done with it.

And trim? It's not even proper milk, it's the weeping sorrow of a skinny cow.

Yes, I am a coffee snob and particular about my taste. I don't want to overstate the case but coffee may well be the most important substance on the planet.

It fills a deep, emotional and spiritual need. Or perhaps it's just an addiction. Either way I love it.

I tried giving it up once. I lasted six months, filling the void with ridiculous amounts of tea. I tried decaf a few times too, but decaf is just coffee with no soul, an unfun hot drink that makes me sleepy.

It's fair to say that I felt a lot better when I stopped drinking coffee. I was clear headed and not as tired in the evenings.

But after a while, all that tea began to taste like dishwater. I craved the muddy richness of coffee. When I returned to the dark side, it was wonderful.

I have found a workable equilibrium in which I live on two cups a day. I build my own brew with a plunger and I save takeaways for treats. Coffee is expensive, after all, which is why the price of it keeps popping up as news.

We should note that there are plenty more coffee options in Tauranga beyond seven rock star cafes surveyed. If I'm having a coffee crisis at the Mount, where should I go? Can I trust anyone in Greerton to pour me a winning flat white? Quick, someone do a wider survey to canvas the city's hidden treasures.

As well as serving great coffee, the best cafes are genuinely friendly. Customer service, now there's another good survey topic.

In my opinion cafes rise and fall on the strength of the person driving the coffee machine and on the quality of the staff. The hospitality industry is pretty fickle and cafes really can't afford bad service. I've avoided one cafe for years because of a single surly waitress who begrudged us just for turning up.

Let's also remember that not everyone likes coffee. Tea drinkers and juice slurpers probably have quite different standards for judging a good cafe. They should get a survey too. After all, non coffee drinkers are legitimate members of society, aren't they? Let's treat them as equals, at least for a little while, and assess the city on tea drinking terms for once.

See, I may be a coffee snob but I am not without tolerance. (Unless someone is drinking instant coffee. Tolerance has limits.)

It would be interesting to learn how well cafes rated if coffee weren't a factor. What would the criteria be for a non coffee survey? The food. The atmosphere.

Such important stuff. But I would still visit a hole in the road if it served great coffee with a warm smile.

Marcel Currin is a Tauranga writer and poet.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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