Coffee has left behind its white, frothy image for good. with a new generation of coffee house quenching a thirst for the real thing. Hannah Robinson tastes the difference.
"l‘he itleal (up oft‘offz'e is black as the devil. hot as hell. pure as an angel. sweet as love. ' Turkish Proverb ‘C'offee. which makes the politician lt'fSt’. And see t/n‘o' all things with his Ital/shut eyes. ’ Alexander Pope. I712. The Rape of the Lock
The fashion for trendy joints specialising in one connoisseurial commodity »- funky vodka bars. noodle-slurping shacks. posh ice-cream parlours. smelly cheese shops -- has come to coffee. First on the scene is lain Fraser's The Elephant House. which opened recently on Edinburgh‘s George W Bridge.
II is the first of many ~- coffee bars are back. but this time the swinging ()()s atmosphere is not underpinned by insipid coffee-flavoured milk. the product of industrial coffee processing which giants like Nestle's Nescafe ﬂooded the market with cheap. cheerful and chemically suspicious. What exactly do they do to coffee beans to turn them into highly soluble crater dust'.’ That magical jingle of the Maxwell House hand isjust not convincing. Whatever they do to those poor little beans. they certainly bash out any flavour. texture or interest.
'When toffee is had it is the wit'ketlest thing in town: when good. the ntost glorious. ' J. E. McCann.
It's a far cry from the origins of coffee. Kaldi the goatherd was ottt one day on the mountains of Ethiopia. when he came upon his flock of goats all dancing away on their hind legs. Perplexed as to what had caused this impromptu rave up. Kaldi noticed the goats were eating these cherry—like berries from a nearby bush. which he began to nibble on himself. A little later a monk came by to witness the bizarre spectacle of a crazed goatherd dancing furiously away with his goats. After Kaldi‘s explanation. he took some of the beans back to his monastery. Through either experimentation or
vision. he leamed to infuse the beans in water. The drink became very popular with his fellow monks who found it stopped them nodding off during prayers. And thus qahveh. or stimulant. was discovered.
A completely different version of events appears in a 9th century Arabian manuscript by Abd-Al—Kadir. telling of how ()mar the Dervish who lived in the port of Mocha incurred the wrath of j those enemies jealous of his healing
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FOOD & DRINK
powers and was thrown into the ()usad desert to starve to death. His faith led him to a coffee bush. the berries of ; which he tried to eat. Not enjoying their bitter ﬂavour. he decided to cook them. Finding them too hard to roast. he attempted to boil them in water but still f they were unpalatable. Chucking away
1 Coffee bars are back, but this
3 time the swinging 60$
‘ atmosphere is not underpinned by insipid
t coffee-flavoured milk.
the beans. he began to drink the waste
I boiling water. and immediately found himself invigorated. It was on this
drink that he survived until he was
discovered days later. miraculously alive. He was declared a saint and
coffee became the national drink.
Whichever myth you prefer. coffee ; spread from Africa through trade routes
Wake up to the real thing
to Europe in 1570. and then Europeans g began cultivating it in their colonies - ‘ Java and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in l658. : Brazil in 1727. Hawaii in l825 and ' India in 1840. Sri Lankan attempts to cultivate the bean were thwarted by a coffee blight in 186‘). so Thomas Lipton began growing the famous Ceylon tea instead. Good coffee is difficult to grow. There ‘ are two main species of coffee beam. The superior Arabica is fussy and '; delicate. growing only at the very top of mountains. needing an entire bush to produce llb of coffee beans. The less refined Robusta is easier to grow at lower altitudes with a higher crop yield. It has nothing of the ﬂavour of the Arabica. but twice as much caffeine. Robusta is used to make instant coffee. which caused the real coffee slump in the 1960s and 70s. i In the late 80s. the port of Seattle became not just the capital of grunge. ' but also the centre of the coffee
connoisseur renaissance. The slacker generation liked to hang out doing nothing in particular. but doing it over a cup of good coffee. Companies like Starbucks opened hugely successful coffee house chains where the average existentialist could sit and check if they were mentioned in the local newspaper's I Saw U column. It was here lain Fraser found his inspiration. An Edinburgh University graduate. Fraser had gone into the shipping industry so he could travel. He ended up in the States training salesmen. ‘l've been in corporate America for twenty years: double breasted suits and button-down collars. the whole thing.’ he says. ‘I got fed up with the politics and working for other people and wanted to set up my own business.‘
In the late 80s, the port of Seattle became not just the capital of grunge, but also the centre of the coffee connoisseur renaissance. The slacker generation liked to hang out doing nothing in particular, but doing it over a cup of good coffee.
He returned to Edinburgh with the plan to open his own Seattle-style coffee and tea shop. The Elephant House was so named because of his obsessional collection of toy elephants — an incredible museum displayed in huge herds across his coffee parlour. The walls are littered with quotations about coffee and tea from various literary sources. including my favourite: ‘Teas and coffees are gatherings at which the crows tell the jackdaws how black the ravens are.‘ (Anon)
Perhaps to separate the jackdaws from the ravens. Fraser has designed his beverage house in two sections. At the front. a fast. funky. jazzy coffee bar for what he anticipates will be a young. studenty crowd; through the back a sedate. Georgian drawing room complete with view ofcastle and frilly table-cloths. especially for the legal profession and gentle Edinburgh ladies. There you can sit and listen to Bach's Coffee Cantata which tells the tale ofa father who. despairing at his daughter’s addiction to caffeine. offers to marry her to a rich and prestigious husband if she will give up her coffee habit. The wretched father should not have worried: caffeine is a far less harmful drug than most. remaining in the body for only halfan hour. It doesn’t slur your speech. dull your senses. stop you driving or give you a hang-over.
So whichever species of bird you are, you can hang out at Edinburgh's Elephant House late into the night and drink to your heart‘s content.
The Elephant House. 2/ George I V Bridge. Edinburgh. 0131 220 5355. Opening hours: M on—F ri 8am—10pm; Sat I Own—10pm. There are plans to open the coffee house on Sundays.
90 The List 70 Jun- l “4 lul l095