How I learned to stop worrying and love the bean

Like a chimp presented with a Rubik's Cube...
I have no idea what I’m doing. Like a chimp presented with a Rubik’s Cube.

Tea is unquestionably A Good Thing. Empires have been built on it. Crises have been averted, lives saved and biscuits dunked to perfection, all thanks to a good old-fashioned cuppa.

But if tea is the Beatles, coffee is the Rolling Stones; edgier, meaner, sexier.

No-one ever pulled an all-nighter fuelled by PG Tips, you don’t get excited for the smell when you open a new box of tea bags, and ‘fancy a cuppa’ is never going to replace ‘want to come in for coffee’ as polite code for ‘sex me till my legs go numb’ after a hot date.

But I’ve been hiding a dark, shameful secret from the world.

I don’t actually like coffee. Or at least that was the case until a few weeks ago.

Coffee is kind of like alcohol – it’s got a learning curve. Until you get used to it, it tastes unequivocally nasty. Everyone remembers the first time a tipsy parent/negligent uncle gave them their first sip of beer or wine; it was bloody horrible, and you went “Urrrgh! I’m never drinking that again” before embarking on a lifetime of weekend binge drinking.

In much the same way, not too long ago, accidentally eating a coffee Revel would lead me to have a paroxysm of over-dramatic coughing and spluttering on a par with a doomed extra from Titanic.

But the thing is, I’m the kind of person who hates missing out on things, especially when it comes to food and drink. Nothing winds me up more than seeing other people enjoying things without me. The bastards.

The same logic eventually got me past the rotten sock funk of blue cheese, and the gone-off Ribena mixed with fag ash overtones of red wine – two things I’ve since learned to appreciate to a life shortening degree.

So, in my early 30s, I’ve made it my duty to hold my nose, push through the pain barrier and learn to love coffee.

The journey of a thousand miles began with a donut.

Donut look back in anger

Gaze upon the finest donut ever created and weep, ye mortals...
Look upon my donut ye mighty, and despair. Cos it’s mine, not yours.

It wasn’t just any old donut though. It was from Blue Star Donuts in Portland, Oregon and it was nothing short of a salty-sweet, deep fried religious experience.

Their Maple Bacon donut is unquestionably the finest example of the species that I have ever tasted, and possibly one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth (stop sniggering at the back).

We are talking absolute peak donut. Light and fluffy in the centre, with a thick fudgy layer of maple frosting on top, sweetness balanced perfectly with a crown of crispy, smoky bacon bits.

It was just too good to not have coffee with.

See, aside from what I’ll charitably describe as ‘a few social and foreign policy issues’, I love the States. I’ve only been a couple of times, but it just agrees with me on a cellular level – the weather, the people (contrary to popular belief most of them are lovely), the scenery, the food. Sometimes, probably due to a childhood wasted binge watching American TV shows from Airwolf to Dukes of Hazzard to Knight Rider, I almost feel like I belong there.

But Jesus H W Christ, that acrid, tooth enamel dissolving demon bile that they serve as tea – how could I possibly wash down a piece of master craftsmanship 18 hours in the making with something that could conceivably be classified as a crime against humanity in a court of law?

It was time to dive into a brave and terrifying new world. I was going to have to pop my coffee cherry.

Like a virgin

As is often the case in these situations, my first time was not a dignified affair.

In my defence, it was early in the holiday, at that point where you’re horribly aware of being in an alien environment – you have to order everything twice because no-one quite understands your accent first time round, and you’re not quite sure who to tip and when.

Here’s a rough transcript of those first awkward steps:

Me: “I think I’ll try a coffee. Can you order it for me though? I talked to the donut man.”

@ScruffyDuke: “But you don’t like coffee. Are you sure?”

Me: “Yes. No. I don’t know. Fuck it, yes. Why not, we’re on holiday.”

@ScruffyDuke: “What kind? Do you want a latte, a mocha, cappuccino?”

Me: “um… brown?”

@ScruffyDuke: “You might need to be a bit more specific than that.”

Me: “…light brown?”

Despite my idiocy/cowardice, I soon had in my hand a regular latte, which being an American regular latte, was roughly the size of a space shuttle’s main fuel tank. After an exploratory sip (*cue aforementioned dramatic spluttering*), I immediately added 23 sugars to temper the bitterness and had my first proper coffee.

And it was… ok I guess.

Then I took a bite of donut, and another sip, and the universe exploded into a million delicious, glittering, melty pieces, before reforming like a T-1000 dipped in caramel. And suddenly, I just got it.

Better latte than never

"I don't know much about art, but I know what I like"
“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like…”

So, at the ripe old age of 32, I’m finally aboard the coffee train.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a rookie. I barely know the difference between a latte and a cappuccino, and I have no fucking idea what a macchiato is. I haven’t even psyched myself up enough to go full espresso yet.

I’ve mostly gotten used to riding out the caffeine high though, and I’m no longer convinced I can see dark matter after drinking two cappuccinos in a row.

As the old saying goes, there’s nothing worse than a reformed anything, so I have no doubt I’ll become a massive coffee wanker within a matter of months, debating esoteric brewing methods like Aeropress and cold brew with the passion of Comic Book Guy discussing whether Han or Greedo shot first (Han obvs.).

I guess the moral of the story is to be careful if you try something new, because you might really, really like it.

The likes of Coffee Barker and Hoffi Coffi have been feeding the new monkey on my back admirably, and The Plug’s flat white blew my socks off at their recent weekend brunch pop-up in Brewdog. But I’m still far too much of a noob to judge who makes this town’s best cup of joe, so it’s over to you – who are the kings and queens of Cardiff coffee?

Let me know in the comments below or at @fuudblog on Twitter…


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