Tuesday, 6 December 2011

コーヒを下さい!

I have just sat down after setting the coffee pot to make my second gallon of coffee for the day. It is two o’clock here. I am a coffee nut (a bean, more aptly), I always have a flask full of the stuff to hand, I miss it when it’s not there and I have coffee-themed blogs in my internet browser’s favourites, just above the Economist’s linguistics blog, just below the Japan Rail timetable site.

Tea is more than just a drink in Japan; our library got a new batch of acquisitions yesterday and we went for a browse and found more than one several-thousand-page book on 茶道 (sadou), the tea ceremony or, literally, the way of tea. My knowledge of the art form is limited but it’s about so much more than tea and is an expression of the completeness of Japan’s cultural identity. I hope that, in the near future, I’ll be able to write more on it.

But coffee is not forgotten about.
I have been spoiled over the last two years of living in Paris where, as a student, one has many hours a day to kill, and espresso - fragrant, thick, luxuriant espresso – is the cheapest way to sentence them to death. Espresso became an obsession for me, perhaps not even stopping short of addiction. In my droit des sûretés exam, for example, I had an excruciating headache (the kind where the pain increases when you move your head around), was trembling and felt nauseous. Though I can’t say that my poor performance in that exam was entirely down to it, I felt infinitely better after I nipped out afterwards and shotted some of the black stuff.

Happily, before coming out East, I managed to wean myself off espresso. If I hadn’t I’d be dead, or selling my body for espresso money. The stuff, though reasonably easy to find, is very pricey. I remember being flabbergasted at once paying €2.60 for a petit noir on the place de Clichy. Here it’s at least a euro more.
But still the Japanese have the good grace to treat coffee as a luxury product: there are cafés everywhere and, though they usually only serve poor, greyish filter coffee at a mega-premium, the surroundings are pleasant and relaxing. Indeed, in the Japanese language, the word café has been metaphorically extended beyond its drink-related etymology, and can now simply refer to a cool place to be. Estate agents, in particular, like to deceive unsuspecting and thirsty gaijin with the promise of a “homes café” or something of the like. Read some Murakami, and they’re all drinking it too.

I miss my many coffee machines and I think they miss me too, gathering dust in my parents’ cupboards. But I shall keep the coffee cult alive, and when my pilgrimage is over, I’ll be more of a devotee than ever.  

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