So What is it about Coffee?

Thursday, 14 January, 2016
 So what is it about coffee?
By Adam Robinson of The Glenwood Bakery

There is undoubtedly a resurgent enthusiasm for coffee and coffee houses. Much media space and many dinner party conversations are filled with analysis of coffee and support for that roaster over this or that barista over this.

There have been and are other gustatory fads – cocktails (and the terrible flaring competitions), estate olive oils, single varietal chocolate, bread, smoking, ageing meat etc. They come and go ad nauseum, ad vomitarium and are always accompanied by the same pretension, ego filled attempts at connoisseur-ship and pseudo expertise. These crazes are not without worth or purpose, though. Hopefully, as they pass, they leave behind a greater awareness of the food we eat, an appreciation of the aesthetic and some knowledge

Coffee seems to be the craze that has taken hold in Durban. I don’t see many cocktail bars or wine bars and maybe a smattering of artisanal beer brewers. Few talk to me of the ageing of their steaks or the virtues of pig chitterlings in this meat crazed country. But every day I am congratulated, regaled, threatened, ‘educated’ and otherwise beset upon by coffee experts. But why coffee? There is the obvious religious influence of a large and vibrant Muslim community that foreswear the intoxication of alcohol but embrace the intoxication of caffeine. Nevertheless why coffee?

Coffee and the drinking thereof seems to have hailed from Ethiopia in about the 11th Century, spread to the Yemen and thence the rest of Gulf. As always the Europeans were late in the act, though again as always, it hasn’t stopped them claiming the drink as their own. It has been banned by both Islam and Christendom at various times - sometimes for health reason, sometimes for economic and often as a symbol of political agitation. Apparently coffee houses worldwide have been hot beds of revolution (this latter tradition we would like revive).

There are more than a few stimulants that we are all (or maybe not all) familiar with – sugar, amphetamine, MDMA, tobacco, cocaine, chocolate, ephedrine and caffeine. My personal favourite is definitely caffeine and has been for more than a few decades. Its current legality is most convenient.

It is without doubt physically and mentally addictive. My personal experience of rare mornings (or even whole days, heaven forfend) deprived of a cup of coffee are evidence enough without the voluminous writing on the subject. Why do I happily submit to this yoke of physical addiction – uniquely so in my life?

What does caffeine do to us? Apparently all it does is block something called adenosine (the thing that makes you sleepy) being absorbed (for a while only). And the side effects are increased dopamine and adrenaline production. So you get happy and stimulated (for a while only). So all this cafe talk of revolution, plotting and general conviviality seems to be a result of an excess of joy.

As the by-line in the Coffee Magazine has it, ‘coffee solves everything’.

Finally, I would like to relate a story of a controlled tasting that we held at The Bakery a couple of years ago. We invited three local roasters and a few of our cognoscenti customers to a blind tasting. The three roasters bought their chosen blend and we blind tasted and rated them in espresso, cappuccino and filter form. No one, not even the roasters could identify the different coffees accurately. The only taster who got close was our then manager and barista Toko Cele.

Despite all this, The Glenwood Bakery proudly takes part and encourages this craze. We are now offering cold brew coffee from a Colombo blend especially developed for cold brew. We have also bought a second grinder in preparation for a supply of premium beans from the new roaster on the block in Morrison St, Dan Erasmus of Firebird Roastery. So we look forward to all kinds of caffeine fueled conversations filled with pretension, ego, knowledge and at least some revolution.

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