Before we go any further with this relationship, there’s something you should know about me. I’m a coffee freak. A snob, a bore, an obsessive, all of those. I’m one of those people who turns her nose up at coffee chains, follows the results of the annual barista competition and reaches for the Aeropress (what? Were you not paying attention? I did tell you I was a coffee freak) within the first five minutes of waking in the morning. I’m not proud, but then I’m not apologetic about it either. It could be crack.
If the amoeba-like proliferation of coffee chains and hot beverage opportunities with which we, as citizens on the twenty-first century, are all familiar is anything to go by, I’m far from being alone in this. Indeed, from my own totally non-scientific observations, it seems like the only recession-proof industry in London (apart, ironically, for banking) is cafés, and in particular those coffee-driven artisanal cafés that are designed to appeal to those of us who know the difference between a flat white and a cortado, and which put up invisible barriers to anyone who thinks Nescafé does the job.
I recently, finally, watched Twin Peaks all the way through, thus reigniting my mega-crush on Agent Dale Cooper. Ah, what a dreamboat… Anyway, as well as his bare fitness (as I believe da kidz are saying these days), the dishy brainsicle with a heart of gold and a soul of purest Tibetan jade shares my obsession with a good cup of Joe. As well as nicely sending up the police stakeout cliché, the running motif of ridiculously bountiful displays of coffee and doughnuts at every police meeting in the programme is a real comfort to viewers and characters alike while the action gets weirder and creepier.
The programme first aired in 1990, but is set in a fictional time period in which the present is hybridised with the ‘50s. This on the one hand reflects the non-fictional aesthetic borrowings from the ‘50s of the late ‘80s, but also fits with the major theme of the double lives, secrets and lies that stalk the seemingly idyllic cherry pie-fuelled and pine-scented Twin Peaks. As a result, most of the coffee consumed by Coop and his colleagues and acquaintances is made in that American diner stalwart, the drip coffee machine. Dale takes his black: ‘as black as midnight on a moonless night’, to be specific. No frothy coffee here – you can leave that to the Europeans. Dale is nonetheless a connoisseur of coffee, as we find out when he tastes his first coffees in the RR diner and the Great Northern Hotel as if checking whether they are corked, before pronouncing them ‘damn fine’ and smiling like nothing, not even the murder of small-town teenage girls, could ruin his good mood. Yet, he is not a connoisseur by today’s standards, because the early ‘90s was of course also a time BS (before Starbucks).
Perhaps I should declare my own prejudices here – in my, not inconsiderable, experience, American coffee is weak. I am much more at the Italian end of the spectrum when it comes to coffee appreciation, by which I mean that I like my coffee to taste of, y’know, coffee. Not water, not milk, coffee. And, as Italians understand, just because you’ve added milk (hot or cold) to your coffee doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the taste of coffee. You can in fact achieve a drink that tastes of both coffee and milk. People do it every day on the vias of Rome and that’s with a crumbling politico-economic system in full swing.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that this coffee snobbery thing can disappear up its own arse quicker than you can say Jack Robinson, but mostly, I think it’s harmless, ever-so-slightly pretentious fun. The comparison of coffee with wine, or perhaps to be more precise, whisky, is apt. Just like booze appreciation, coffee artisanry can end up being a) a cover for high-functioning stimulant addicts and b) conspicuous consumption-valorising pain-in-the-arsery of the highest order. But, different blends and roasts do taste different. If you need this to be explained and demonstrated to you, I could think of a lot worse places to visit than the lovely Artisan Roast, in whose Edinburgh branch I once tasted a coffee that tasted of lemons. Yes, lemons. (And, no, before you ask, it wasn’t a mistake, like when dear Pete Martell accidentally served Dale and Harry fish-infused coffee.)
So, I like these little places like (to select a handful of my northeast London favourites) Tina we Salute you, Look Mum no Hands, Prufrock Coffee and Taste of Bitter Love. I like that a certain amount of postmodern creativity has gone into their very names. I like that their aesthetic is usually of a pretty unelitist, bohemian sort. I like (and sorta hate) that many of my fellow drinkers will be MacBook Air-owning hipsters writing forgettable screenplays and uploading lomography onto Tumblr – it makes for great people-watching and quote-fishing, which in turn helps me in my fantasy about becoming the British Carrie Brownstein. Most of all, though, I like that you can get a non-alcoholic drink that brings to mind such things as chocolate, berries, citrus fruit and spices; like a little liquid meal.
Of course, it’s different latte art for different folks. So, if you’re just in it for the caffeine or you like drinking hot milk that tastes of beige, then be my guest, line up at your nearest Moby Dick-themed hot beverage outlet and fill your buckets with venti lattes, caffeine water and caramel ‘macchiatos’. I’ll see you there in the summer. Because, oh yes, I won’t deny that there is something truly great about the blessed frappuccino. Now that, dear Mr Schultz, is something to be proud of, even if their calorie content was at least as scary a revelation as Britney Spears’ slide into compromised mental health, at a time when she was rarely photographed without having one of those things grafted to her hand like she was using it to say Hail Marys.
A recent trend in coffee that does, however, stick in my craw is celebrity coffee. I have no problem with anyone changing career or adding another string to their bow (well, maybe I’d draw the line at Madonna being allowed to set foot inside a film studio again) – that’s fine as long as they’re good at it. What I don’t understand is why, just because, say, Ryan Gosling likes a cappuccino of a morning and is totally trendilicious, I should trust his ability to select the coffee I – after brewing, obviously – put in my mouth every day? (OMG, I just totally wrote a sentence with the words ‘Ryan Gosling’ and ‘put in my mouth’ in it, LOL!!) If you’re going down that route, why not have Beyoncé muesli, Shaggy orange juice or Beth Ditto toothpaste, for heaven’s sake?
Of course, this is not new marketing ground being broken here – witness: the various jarred consumables of Paul Newman, Levi Roots and Loyd Grossman. But I am a little disappointed to see not only David Lynch getting in on the action (though apparently this doesn’t seem to be a commercially-driven project, as it’s rather difficult to get your hands on his signature brew), but also previously untouchable outré musicians like Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and James Murphy.
I know, I know, this blind-spot about celebrity endorsement is just another facet of my snobbery. David Lynch’s self-reported daily intake of coffee exceeds my own by about threefold, but then, he is American, so presumably it’s not at strong as I would drink it. (Yeah, that’s right, Lynch, you just got owned!!) I am just about willing to admit that it is not inconceivable that someone who has drunk as much coffee as he has in his lifetime might actually have some valid opinions on the stuff. I’m also willing to accept that this might all just be hilarious postmodern high jinks. But there is a non sequitur at the heart of most celebrity endorsements – just because someone has been successful in one field, doesn’t mean they are automatically a paragon of good taste or that that success should transfer from one field to a completely different one. I also find the marketing idea behind celebrity endorsement confusing. Am I supposed to want to buy Rihanna’s perfume in order to smell like something she (or more likely, a team of assistants) has blended, or do I buy it because it will make me smell like her (and thereby bring fame, success, poor choice of life partner, etc)? Equally, should I be buying David Lynch’s coffee because I think that he could bring the same level of offbeat mastery to selecting coffee beans that he does to cinematic takes? Because really, it might just as well be because I can fantasise about sending it to Dale Cooper for Valentine’s Day or because I like David Lynch’s Grand Elder of the Bobos haircut.
But then, who am I to talk? I recently bought a Starbucks Via instant coffee out of desperation on a shorthaul flight (yes, I hate myself, please don’t tell my right-on anti-capitalist, environmentalist friends about any of this) and it was the best instant coffee I’ve ever tasted. I would even go so far as to say that it tasted like ‘real’ coffee. Real Starbucks coffee, but still. I wouldn’t even admit to knowing what instant coffee was to the high priests of Arabica in my local artisan joints. I suppose that sometimes, it’s good to remember that (forgive me, Naomi) the individual branches of Starbucks et al and some of their products aren’t totally evil, it’s just that some evil things drive them… Kind of like the difference between Leland Palmer and Bob, when you think about it.