This morning I was pondering coffee, as I sipped my cappuccino. As noted previously, I am not a big coffee drinker, and I am no connoisseur. But I do have it when I am occasionally out in the mornings, as my tea drinking is really too ritualistic for most cafes to handle.
I usually order a cappuccino; its ubiquitous nature seems to be uniquely Australian. And while I do enjoy the experience and opportunity, I’ve realised only today that it’s really a specific flavour that I am seeking when I have a coffee out; the flavour of the coffee that our mother used to have at John’s Milk Bar, in Hamilton in Newcastle, New South Wales (not to be confused with Jim’s Milk Bar which also had great milk shakes and ice creams).
John’s was on the corner of Beaumont and Tudor Streets and was a classic, Greek-run milk bar. My memory has it being a dark and cool space, with booths along the Beaumont Street side, and laminated tables with silver stripping around the edges of the table. The coffee machine was bright and silvery, and noisy.
Very occasionally – probably in the late 1960s and early 1970s – my siblings and I would find ourselves having a chocolate milk shake (two shared between three, with the usual arguments over who got the glass and who got the metal milk shake container) with paper straws, while mum enjoyed a cappuccino. We were sometimes allowed just a taste of her coffee to see what it was like, because tea ruled at home.
The flavour was mystical or other-worldly to me, rare in a way that is laughable today with our baby-cino coffee culture. The mixture of the creamy froth with its dusting of chocolate on the top and the milky, coffee flavour still seems unique to me today. I would roll “the taste” around on my tongue, savouring its softness, before it slid down my throat.
Memory engages all of our senses, sometimes together, sometimes alone. … It seems I have been searching for that texture and taste for forty years. Whether it’s the coffee experience, or the nostalgia for that time, I don’t know, but it’s unlikely I will get that specific flavour anytime soon.