Aqua Vitae

You have been drinking coffee the wrong way your whole life

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world (tea is still king), and yet the majority of what you get in North America is essentially what I imagine Rockstar Games’ Pißwasser to taste like if it were real. Yet every (working) day, people guzzle litres of this stuff as though it’s some elixir. In fact the coffee is so bad people become obsessive compulsive over how they craft their own version of the decoction to cover up its horrid taste.

If you’re a tl/dr type of person, skip to the next post on how to make the best cup of coffee you’ll every drink.

Imagine this daily routine: Wake up, buy your coffee, get your name spelled wrong by some university student who can’t manage their student loans but is an expert on military spending and procurement, scald your mouth so you can’t taste the vile swill you’re about to drink, think it smells great but it actually smells like dank sewage, get breath so bad your colleagues want to vomit, your heart rate is accelerating, have to run to the bathroom because your bladder is desperately trying to evacuate this poison from your body, all while your stomach is rumbling and in knots.

And people pay for this.

That’s pretty much Coffee Drinking 101 in North America (I qualify this by having consumed lots of coffee in Canada, USA, India, the UK, Turkey, and Sri Lanka). My favourite part is the de facto hierarchy of which corporation can sell the best version of this bog water, and people swear allegiances to brands. People proudly announce their brand loyalty and then get into arguments over it with other people. Hmm… Humans swearing allegiances, drawing lines in the sand, and then fighting over it.

In Canada the average Steve (did you just assume Steve’s gender?) drank Tim Horton’s and there was no way to shake that unwavering faith in the Canadian founded company. Starbucks was for snooty educated hipsters who are too broke and it’s all the government’s fault, so they buy overpriced coffee and sit with their Apple laptops and blog about how they need more money (Disclaimer: I just drank coffee and this is being written on a 2009 Macbook Pro). Then comes the moral coffee, “I avoid Starbucks because #shoplocal”, in reality it’s all the same. Enter McDonalds, who decided they are going to steamroll the market and dethrone the emperor of Canadian coffee. I don’t know the numbers, but let’s just say Tim Horton’s had to increase their quantities without a price increase, something a monopoly doesn’t do unless they’re threatened. There is however a new low in the coffee industry, and that’s these new coffee machines with little plastic cups filled with some sort of dust. I actually only discovered this when I was working as a programmer at a market research firm in 2007. My manager kept a regimented routine involving coffee and smoke breaks. I remember just starting the job, and this acrid odour would waft over at the same time every day. His breath was so bad it was truly mind blowing. Then I realized, every coffee drinker in the office had the same foul breath, and it was the coffee they were drinking from this new Keurig machine. As if coffee wasn’t disgusting enough, someone decided forcing scalding hot water through plastic would make it taste even better. It was so popular it literally changed the landscape of coffee drinking in North America. Talk about reinventing the wheel.

But it’s all just “Pisswasser”. To top that, people will spend hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands in the form of bespoke espresso machines to make this black bile. Absurd! Ludicrous!

More honest disclaimer: I have consumed countless litres of said pisswasser in my life, both happily and begrudgingly. In my 12 years of trying to drink coffee, probably 90 per cent of the time it puts me to sleep. I drink it in a variety of ways that can be enjoyable, but most are not.

I always wondered why on earth do people pay so much to drink this stuff? What kind of a drink is: Venti half non-fat, half soy, 25 pounds squeezed, 120°C, double shot vanilla, two inches of foam, dash of kale, avacado, uggs, hot yoga, and a bottle of your organic fair-trade shop local kombucha to chase that down.

I know I make fun of hipsters millenials and SJWs a lot but I do need to give credit to the guy at Cosy Club in Bournemouth, England. Coffee culture in the UK is slightly different, but for the most part they drink it well. The British do love their latte’s and cappuccinos and that’s often the standard when you want a coffee. I was distracted by the waiter’s man-bun and the fact that he was wearing suspenders AND a belt, so when he ran down the list of coffees, I had a rather blank stare and just said “normal coffee please, black.” I don’t know what he brought me, it looked watery, but it was one of the best “normal” coffees I have ever had! Kudos to you, waiter at Cosy Club. I must also give my honourable mentions to other forms of coffee that are delicious: You’re not doing it wrong if you own a french press, a percolator, or you make it Vietnamese or south Indian style (provided the coffee itself is good). There are a few other ways to prepare coffee, and french press and percolator methods can get expensive.

There is only one true way to drink coffee, and it’s not a secret at all. In fact probably millions of people around the world drink it this way… Including James Bond. That’s Turkish coffee. Plain or medium sweet.

I traveled to Istanbul on December 30, 2014, and my life changed after that trip. Coffee is a gift from nature, and the Turkish learned how to decoct this ambrosia into the non-alcoholic aqua vitae.

It’s literally the diametric opposite of how North Americans drink coffee.

One morning I went for a walk from my hostel in Sultanahmet to Galata Tower to have a look. It was breakfast time so I went to Greatness Cafe right beside the tower and decided to try Turkish Coffee. The waiter said “Medium sweet?” and I just nodded not knowing what he meant really.

I was given a tiny cup of coffee with iridescent bubbles, a shot of water, and a tiny Turkish delight.

Coffee, bread, cream and honey, at Greatness Cafe in Istanbul.

I downed the coffee, got a mouthful of coffee powder, rinsed my mouth with the shot of water and ate the turkish delight. I sat around and people watched for a while, and realized: No coffee breath, no nausea, my bladder wasn’t trying to jettison half-a-litre of fluid, my gut wasn’t in knots, and I wasn’t drowsy. In fact, I felt just fine. I ended up returning almost every morning for this elixir. It was safe to say I was hooked.

I’ll teach you how to make Turkish coffee in another post.

The best part is the simplicity. No machines required, no pretentiousness, and no need to buy your daily dose of morality.

There are only two ingredients: Coffee, water (sugar if you want).

There are only three steps: mix, heat, serve.

The result, is one perfect cup of coffee.

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