Wed | Dec 2, 2020

Tony Deyal | Coffee as my cup of tea

Published:Thursday | August 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM

If anybody believes my jokes are too coarse for comfort, I want to remind you that on August 10, just over three weeks ago, I was 72, and that's only half a gross. It is also a useful number, even more useful than 69, when your interest is compounded by other variables.

If you wanted to know how many years it would take for your interest to double, you divide 72 by the percentage, say, six per cent, and you learn that your money will double in 12 years. If, like me, you're 72, you should not even buy green bananas far less wait for another 12 years that in these recessionary times you will have twice the money you have now. Maybe it is better to be like the old man who spent most of his money on wine, women and song and then spent the rest foolishly.

Wine, women and song are okay if you're Frank Sinatra and you're crooning the song my wife, Indranie, selected as one of my birthday gifts because she knows that while I like getting my way, I prefer to hear it was a very good year. Sinatra sang, "But now the days are short,/ I'm in the autumn of the years/ And now I think of my life as vintage wine/ From fine old kegs/ From the brim to the dregs/ It poured sweet and clear/ It was a very good year."

When I woke up early in the morning of August 10, wine of any sort was far from my thoughts. What was on my mind when I hobbled down the stairs was not Georgia. I leave that for Ray Charles. It was coffee. As we pray, "Lord, give me coffee to change the things I can change, and wine to accept the things that I can't." Coffee, like wine, has brims and dregs, but at its vintage best pours slightly bitter and dark.

My cousin, Mulchan, has a cocoa and coffee estate in Cedros, the south-western peninsula of Trinidad, and gave me some robusta coffee beans that Indranie dried, roasted and ground. To twist a quote from Josephine Baker, the activist, entertainer and resistance fighter, "She is my cream and I am her coffee, and when you pour us together, it is something." The coffee, though, is something else.

While some coffee tastes like mud, especially if it was ground the day before you added water to it, this one was like heaven in a cup. Anyone who steals it from me will be charged with 'mugging', especially since the coffee cup is a gift from my children and says, 'Best Dad Ever.'

Nobel Prize winner Vidia Naipaul reputedly said that coffee only tastes good to the Trinidadian when it has crossed the Atlantic twice - to and from England and Europe. Mine travelled in the back of a pickup, and I could not hope for a better pick-me-up. The famous American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, showed great judgement when he said, "The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce."


Times have changed


It is interesting to think that petroleum and coffee had no value a few centuries ago. Wikipedia states that the origin and history of coffee dates back to the 10th Century and possibly earlier. The native or undomesticated origin of coffee is Ethiopia. The earliest substantiated evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree is from the 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen.

By the 16th Century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, South India (Coorg), Persia, Turkey, The Horn of Africa, and northern Africa. Coffee then spread to the Balkans, Italy and to the rest of Europe, to South East Asia and then to America. It proves the truth that Africa is indeed the cradle of civilisation and explains why Haile Selassie was given God-like status.

For many years, Indranie had problems with my coffee drinking. It hardened my arteries and perhaps even my ears, since I never listened to her warnings about the beverage. A doctor in Barbados found that I had a blocked artery and among his prescriptions was that I should stop drinking coffee. Instead, I drank vanilla-infused black tea, a taste I acquired in Mauritius, but not enough to make me permanently discard coffee.

In the early 1990s in Canada, where I wrote a column called 'Blackadaisical' in the Carleton University Charlatan newspaper (an adequate description one of my friends said), I was a black coffee drinker, since in below-zero temperature, adding milk was the equivalent of giving Samson a haircut, Delilah or no Delilah, Tom Jones or no Tom Jones.

My doctor also prescribed Lipitor, a statin for cholesterol, and the combination of the drug and lack of caffeine caused me to lose all my strength but left me with just enough to give up the statin and return to coffee. It probably saved my life since, earlier this year, when I had an electrocardiogram, all traces of the blockage had disappeared.

What makes this year even more special is that for the first time in my years with Indranie, she sent me an article that found something good to say about coffee. It was a standing joke in our house that whereas her favourite source of information, Science Digest, had many good things to say about coffee, she never sent me anything but the criticisms and bad news.

Then out of the blue, one August 28, just six days ago, I got an email from her which said, "Higher coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of early death, according to new research. The observational study in nearly 20,000 participants suggests that coffee can be part of a healthy diet in healthy people." That was the best birthday gift I ever had.

- Tony Deyal was last seen repeating the question, "How are men like coffee?" The best ones are rich, hot and can keep you up all night. That rules him out on all counts.