Thursday, April 5, 2012

Real Coffee

I didn't really learn about drinking proper coffee until I moved to Sweden when I was 19. Before that, it had either been the white coffee with steamed milk in the small cafe in Bray we went to as teenagers with our boyfriends, pooling our pennies together to get it, or it was instant.

When I was a child, my mother and father went to Yugoslavia to spend some of my father's writing royalties. They weren't allowed to take the money out of the country so they shopped a lot while they were there. One of the things they brought back was a hand coffee grinder and some traditional Balkan coffee pots. The kind with the wooden handle, they were made of copper which we shone carefully to keep them looking new.

She would grind up the beans - god knows where she got them in Ireland in the 1960s! - turning the handle for a long time to get the coffee as finely ground as possible. Then she'd spoon the coffee into the waiting pot and fill it with cold water, place it on the stove and we'd wait. Once it started to heat up there were tense moments while I watched the coffee slowly rise to the top lip of the pot. One second too long and it would spill over.  I felt both anxious and excited waiting for the perfect moment when Mum would grab the wooden handle, lift it off, satisfied.  She stirred it till the grounds went down again and would start the process all over again.  Three times she did this and then would let the coffee settle to the bottom after the final stir leaving only the brown froth on the top.

She poured the coffee - fragrant and rich, a bit like chocolate - into the small cups and topped them with boiled milk.  There was a priest called Tom Stack who used to visit her just for the coffee.

I never tasted it. She left before I was old enough to drink coffee.

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