COFFEE was discovered in 11th century Ethiopia when, legend has it, a goatherd called Kaldi noticed that after eating the berries of a particular tree his animals became so energetic they couldn’t sleep at night.
Thus, in the same instant, were discovered both coffee and insomnia, providing the pleasure and the pain of modern life.
One thousand years later the goatherd’s direct descendant, pushing away the overactive goat, would have looked at the beans, scratched his head and concluded: “What I need to do is roast the beans, then grind them. After that, the ground beans should be placed in virtually indestructible aluminium and plastic capsules that fit inside expensive machines. Then I’ll find a famous person to advertise them.
“Hmmm… I wonder if that illustrious goatherd George Clooney is available?”
Like all legends, the one I just made up cannot be proved. What we do know is that when Clooney became the face of Nespresso coffee pods in 2006, it marked the beginning of a costly worldwide obsession with a product that allowed people to brew espresso at home at the touch of a button.
Now if you ask me, this is an unnecessary invention that litters the planet with used pods that are said to take between 150 and 500 years to break down in landfill sites (although how anyone can know that is a mystery).
Both of my brothers use these pods. We drank coffee made that way on holiday in France at the start of the month, although the host brother did relent and buy some ground coffee, too. Perhaps he picked up the vibe from his bad bean big brother.
As well as being rotten for the environment, these pods take away the pleasurable ritual of making a cup of coffee. I prefer to grind the beans, Taylor’s Italian for preference. The ground coffee goes into a cafetiere. This is filled with water gone just off the boil that is poured over the back of a tablespoon to take away direct heat. Mugs are warmed by half-filling with water from the kettle and the kitchen timer is set for four minutes. Works every time. The mug tip was picked up from a food magazine: it makes the coffee properly hot.
The global market for coffee pods is reported to have risen from $7 billion in 2010 to £17 billion in 2015. And that’s an unending stack of those sleek little capsules to put in the ground.
Even the man who used to run Nespresso, former chief executive Jean-Paul Gaillard, is reported to believe it is time for consumers to consider the price of convenience. It will be a disaster and it’s time to move on that. People shouldn’t sacrifice the environment for convenience,” Gaillard has said. He now produces biodegradable coffee pods.
Earlier this year, the German city of Hamburg banned coffee pods from government-run buildings, citing pollution and waste. A smart move, Hamburg.
I will stick to the method mentioned above, backed up by an ancient stove-top espresso machine and a new Aeropress device (a vacuum plunger that instantly produces one excellent mug of fresh coffee).
Two more thoughts on coffee. According to researchers at Edinburgh University, a gene appears to influence the amount of coffee people can drink. Those who carry the PDSS2 gene consume about one cup of coffee less per day compared with non-carriers, according to a story in the Guardian last week, which reported: “The gene variant appears to affect people’s coffee intake by slowing the metabolism of caffeine in the body.” So those with the gene have a longer ‘high’ and drink less coffee.
A final thought arises from my short break in France. We listened to Dylan in that cottage as the ‘French’ brother is a big fan. One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below) is surely one of the best coffee songs, with its bean-rattling refrain… “One more cup of coffee ’fore I go/To the valley below.”
A truly great coffee song. But so too is the Squeeze number, Black Coffee In Bed. And then there is that old blues song Half a Coffee Smile, as released by the supposedly environmentally-minded George Clooney:
“Woke up one morning and earned a fortune for flooding the world with indestructible little pods…”