JANE: I had fun revealing the mysteries of the Good Humor Man to you, then you ended with a teaser.
You said that something has taken the place of the ice cream van in your landscape. So what is it?
ALAN: Mobile coffee vans. They don’t prowl the streets like the ice cream vans used to. But wherever groups of people gather together, sooner or later a van selling coffee will turn up. There’s one where I leave my car when I take Jake for a walk in the park, and when we had some free jazz concerts on the village green at the start of the year, there was one there as well.
JANE: I’ve seen some of these and, as a highly devoted coffee drinker, I approve.
And when I say “highly devoted,” I mean it. My first memories of drinking coffee are of sipping off the top of my parents’ mugs when I’d carry them their morning coffee. I was probably in single digits. My mom ground her own beans long before doing so was trendy, and I’d occasionally eat beans as well.
ALAN: I once knew a cat who liked to eat chocolate covered coffee beans. After two of them, you had to pull him down off the ceiling!
JANE: I’ve had chocolate-covered coffee beans. They don’t put me on the ceiling, though. And my dental hygienist highly disapproves of what they do to my molars.
When I was in high school, my best friend, Anna, went to Jamaica to visit her dad. She brought me back a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans. I kept them in my locker as a snack. Made the entire row smell wonderful.
How do you drink your coffee? As you may suspect, I drink mine black.
ALAN: I drink mine black as well, and so does Robin. (I knew we were going to get married the first time I saw her drinking coffee.)
JANE: Ah… A romantic thought. However, Jim (with whom I’ve shared space for twenty years now) pollutes his coffee with cream and sweetener. It doesn’t taste bad that way, more like a dessert, though, than coffee.
ALAN: There’s quite a coffee culture here in New Zealand. It ranges from high end, very snobbish cafes to the lowest common denominator of Starbucks. There’s a tendency to sneer at Starbucks, but I quite like it as long as I stick to just coffee. I’m a bit suspicious of the weirder things on their menu, but I think the straightforward coffee is rather good.
The vocabulary is remarkably odd though. Why do I have to ask for a Venti Americano when all I want is a black coffee in a big mug? If I ask for a black coffee in a big mug I just get blank looks…
JANE: Eh… I’ve got to disagree with you about Starbucks Coffee. Their default roast tastes burnt to me and I’ve heard that they deliberately over-roast the beans so that some coffee taste can permeate the elaborate “coffee drinks” that make them their money.
The only time I’ve put cream in my coffee was when I met Joan Saberhagen at a Starbucks because the location was convenient. I got a cuppa and found I couldn’t drink it without ameliorating it.
ALAN: Other people have also told me that they find Starbucks coffee to be a bit burnt, but I can’t taste whatever it that they are objecting to. Perhaps I have an unsophisticated palate.
JANE: Or maybe you just like the slightly burned flavor, the way some people like a “peaty” scotch rather than a smooth.
ALAN: Good point. I like “peaty” scotch as well. Perhaps the two tastes are related.
JANE: Now, I’ll admit, I prefer a medium/dark roast – a good Sumatran, for example – to the very dark roasts like Italian or French. However, I find the “Maxwell House” or “Folger” coffees, which are the standards of many American kitchens, weak and without proper “mouth feel.” A good coffee should have body, not just caffeine.
ALAN: Oh, definitely. I’m not familiar with “Folger”, but “Maxwell House” is available here (though only as freeze dried instant coffee) and I find it quite insipid. If their real coffee has a similar flavour, I doubt that I’d like it much.
JANE: Instant coffee! Oh… That’s a completely different topic. Remind me to bring it up later.
So, in addition to Starbucks, what sort of coffee do you like?
ALAN: At the moment we are drinking Hawthorne’s Coffee because the beans are grown locally in the Hawke’s Bay. But the best coffee I have ever drunk in my life was on the Pacific island of Vanuatu. The island is an ex-French colony and so bread and coffee are very important to the local culture and both are taken extremely seriously. They grow their own coffee beans on the island. The coffee they make is utterly wonderful – full bodied, smooth and full of flavour.
JANE: That sounds decadent… I bet they do good pastries, too. I’m swooning. Have you ever been to a coffee plantation? Do they have tastings like at wineries?
ALAN: No, I’ve never been to a coffee plantation, so I don’t know if they do tastings – but it sounds like a wonderful idea to attract the tourists. You could certainly put me down for it.
JANE: Or you me. Maybe if I ever come to New Zealand again, we can explore the option. That would be fun. Hobbiton and coffee plantations…
ALAN: That sounds like a plan! Meanwhile, I’ve just started a pot of coffee going, so we’ll have to continue this discussion next time.