Coffee, the essence of life
9th June 2013 by
Friend of the festival Allie Johns regales us with tales of her love for coffee and how it all started…
My very earliest memory of coffee was camp. No, not the Liberace kind of camp but my mum making me an ice-cream coffee drink in the summer made from Camp coffee essence.
Those lazy, hazy days of summer as a child growing up in Devon were all the better for ice-cold coffee (well ice-cold Camp). Running around from breakfast to teatime it, I couldn’t wait to get the shout from the back door ‘Ready Aye Ready!’ – which translated as ‘iced coffee’s up!’ and also happens to be the slogan on the label. Knowing that bottle with the Scottish man and the Sikh man on it was on the shelf in the larder was the most delicious and comforting thought to me back then.
Camp makes extremely good iced-coffee and is readily available even now. It was created by The Paterson Company of Glasgow, who in 1876 became famous for the world’s first instant coffee. It’s a blend of coffee beans, chicory and sugar and is believed to have come from a request from the Gordon Highlanders to Campbell Paterson. They wanted a coffee drink that could be easily used by the army on field campaigns in India, as the usual process of grinding and brewing coffee beans was too complicated and time consuming for a military field kitchen*.
Now that’s a coffee brand with history. And there’s no getting away from the fact it’s Camp that introduced me to the taste of coffee. And I’ve my mum to thank for creating a loving ritual around it.
As I grew up, ‘Elevenses’ was always a mug of instant coffee and a couple of McVitie’s Rich Teas – the sweetness of those biscuits blending mouth-wateringly with that familiar smooth, nutty edge of the coffee. We weren’t ‘real coffee’ drinkers in our house though. It was Maxwell House all the way. My mum had a foray in the early 70s with a percolator, the height of sophistication (well that and a soda syphon!) but she wasn’t enamoured. Most likely because the ‘thing’ as it was called, kept fusing the electrics.
When I was old enough, I was allowed to make the coffee, always careful to put in the obligatory ‘five grains of sugar just to take the edge off’, and I’d be careful to put the milk in first if I was making it with cold milk. My mum was very particular that way. She said that I’d burn the grains and spoil the taste otherwise. Those ‘elevenses’ hours over a cup of steaming hot, instant coffee were sophisticated to me. I felt so grown up sitting there chatting about nothing in particular, my mum in a half pinny, immaculately painted nails, forever smiling, always there for us, ready with a jar of instant, soothing, precious time-giving Maxwell House.
It wasn’t until I moved away from home to university in London that I had my first taste of the coffee shop and a stovetop pot. Not a morning passed without the pot being filled and the flat filling with that delicious smell of brewing coffee. London was obviously a tad more ‘coffee forward’ than my home town of Cullompton, and from there on in I never looked back. My 20s were awash with every kind of stovetop pot or cafitière blend. Not a day went by without a first of the day; pick me up, followed by two or three ‘booster sessions’ over the course of the morning. Not a book was read or an essay written without a trusty coffee beside me.
So now that I’m all ‘grown up’, how do I like my coffee? Easy one that, freshly ground, with a preference for a smooth, chocolately, vanilla, velvety finish (never bitter and burnt!), filtered with hot milk (flat or frothed), of course with five grains of sugar.
Allie Johns is now all grown up and when she’s not drinking or writing the odd blog about coffee, she makes a living as a planning and marketing director, advising businesses on their branding and digital communications. You’ll find her on twitter @AllieJohns