John Walker's Electronic House

Decaffeinated Adventures

by on Aug.23, 2007, under The Rest

This post has been a long time coming. In many ways it’s part 2 of the Cotswolds story from November last year. It’s to do with my trip to Weston-“Super”-Mare a couple of months back, despite no specifics. And it’s to do with my trip to Lulworth Cove a couple of weekends ago. It’s about decaf coffee.

(If this seems familiar, a lot of this is repeated from this post. I just felt like telling the story again. All new material from, “But it does mean I’ve switched to decaf” onward).

Since last November, I’ve not drunk coffee*. To people who know me well enough, this isn’t a light-hearted statement. There are people I think who have never seen me without a mug of coffee in my hands. These people might be frightened by the news. Be strong. It used to be easy to buy me a present – buy something coffee related, be it coffee itself, or any of the wonderful paraphernalia that accompanies this noblest of drinks. And no one bought me better coffee-related gifts than me. Good old me. Most especially my beautiful £200 espresso machine (originally £300, but when you’re a Coffee Person, other Coffee People will give you special treatment. It’s a lot like the Freemasons, but with fewer exposed nipples). I didn’t drink insane amounts. Only three to five mugs a day. But it was strong coffee. Good, strong coffee.

Aside – I don’t know if I ever blogged the story of how I knew I was Harold Bishop. One evening, a few years back, I was watching Neighbours – something I hadn’t done for a long time then, and don’t think I have since. Harold (the coffee shop owner) and Lou (the pub owner) appeared to be involved in some sort of coffee war, where Lou had clearly copied Harold and bought the same shiny new espresso machine in order to compete. But Lou didn’t know how it worked, and was hanging around the coffee shop, trying to spy on Harold, in order to figure it out. As he did this, he struck up conversation with Harold, talking about how pleased he was with his “new expresso machine”. “It’s ESPresso machine!” I shouted at the television. Lou went on, saying how great it was to be able to sell “expresso” to his customers. “ESSSSPRESSO!” I bellowed at the unlistening glass divide. “I think expresso is the way forward…” “IT’S ESSSSSSSPRSSOO!” I near screamed in fury at the stupidity of the programme.

“IT’S ESSSSSSSSPRESSO!” boomed Harold.

I am Harold Bishop.

So I went to the doctor in November, as my anxiety disorder had reached a new peak. To describe this, you know that feeling you get when you’re really worried, and a shiver goes through you, and all the way to the ends of your fingertips? I was in that state, permanently, to the point where my fingers were constantly stinging. Not fun. The GP suggested that I might want to give up coffee, as this makes things worse, and certainly affects sleep. And it was my immediate reaction to his statement that raised the suggestion for me that I might have a problem. I honestly replied,

“But I can’t. I have an expensive espresso machine.”

Detoxing wasn’t much fun. Which only further underlined quite how surprisingly serious the matter was. I spent two weeks with non-stop headaches, bordering on migraines. And I felt just hideous. Worst of all, I knew just a single mug would make it all better. In the past when I’ve lacked coffee for a morning, just supping those first couple of mouthfuls would ease the pain. I felt angry and frustrated, and very sore. The following couple of weeks were less painful, but not much more fun. But after a month, I was beginning to stop desperately wanting a mug. After two months and I realised I wouldn’t even think about it for a couple of days at a time. And now, ten months on, I’m clean, man.

But it does mean I’ve switched to decaf. Because I really, really like coffee. Finding a decent decaf was a challenge, but eventually delicious D:CAF available in Waitrose did the trick. And they do a Fairtraide bean, as well as their excellent transitionary strength 4 Italian. But findind a decaf outside my house is a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be.

The first, and still most injurous time, was my second day in the Cotswolds. We went to an establishment looking just the right side of the cafe/coffee shop divide, to have a drink. I ordered a decaf coffee, which arrived in one of those ridiculous one-person cafetieres. Nick also had coffee, and impressively, his came in a black cafetiere, and mine in a red one – the usual coloured delineation for the two types. So I plunged my coffee (suspicions already arising), and poured it into the mug. I didn’t even need to taste it to know, but a sip of the vile, bitter piss confirmed it. It was instant coffee.

The idea that we still sell this Second World War rationing freeze-dried shit in this country – SELL – is hateful enough. But to have it served in a cafetiere is despicable. I called the waitress back over, and asked her if it was instant. “Yes,” she replied, as if this was quite reasonable. “Then why did you serve it to me in a cafetiere?!” “That’s just how it comes,” the fat-faced baboon replied. “I’m not paying money for instant coffee!” I cried, like a hero of the modern age. And handed it back to her.

While nowhere has matched the truly heinous shop (and while I recognise this isn’t big on the list of world problems, I do think it’s fairly horrific to not only charge money for instant coffee, but to disguise it as something else), the pattern has repeated. Bars with a barrista have regularly tried to quietly dump a spoon of granules into a mug, hiding their actions with their backs. “Excuse me, is that instant coffee?” I bark. They guiltily turn around and admit it is. “Uh, no thanks,” I reply, and if alone, leave.

In Lulworth, the expedition to find somewhere that sold any decaf at all, let alone espresso, was enormous. Which is impressive for a village with about five buildings. It was the very last coffee shop/cafe I tried, attached to the side of the most incredibly tacky gift shop, that finally offered not only a decaffeinated option, but a delicious, freshly made one. I thanked the man behind the counter with a gusto that frightened him.

Naturally, this is not the case in the US. When in some out-of-the-way mall on the outskirts of DC, I went to a coffee booth – not a store, just a counter sticking out of the wall – and when I asked for decaf they asked me which flavour of bean I would like. As I was deciding I realised I didn’t have any cash, and said I’d be back once I’d been to the ATM. “No, don’t worry,” replied the lovely girl behind the counter. “You can have it for free.” I said it was fine, and came back with cash, but still. Still.

*Not completely true. I’ve had two mugs of coffee, in May, which led to a horrible headache, and none since.

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