The grandmother’s sherry, the mulled wine at the carol service, mince pies, brandy butter, chocolate wrapped in foil hanging from a tinsel be-decked tree… Last time I tried festive blogging I attempted to shoe-horn coffee into British Christmas tradition.
Perhaps coffee just doesn't have the luxury status necessary to make it a christmas indulgence. Maybe it’s too quotidian.
But then, A bag of nuts and raisins is a fairly ordinary snack the rest of the year. If your dipping into it in front of the television however, with a repeat of last year’s countdown of the 100 best Morecambe & Wise moments & claws of frost creeping across the garden and all the promise of a white Christmas- then suddenly, they are no longer mixed fruit and nuts. They are festive mixed fruit and nuts. That bag is lit with gold. Scented with frankincense and myrrh.
Coffee came to us along the same trade routes as those spices we associate with the festive season; nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves. So why did it not pass into christmas tradition with it’s fragrant cabin mates?
Well, maybe because it's recent history in the UK is one of commodity. During Queen Victoria’s reign coffee houses were still in vogue, coffee was an everyday occurrence, and one inextricably tied with all that the coffee houses stood for culturally and politically.
Nuts, dried fruits, spices & oranges however were still redolent of their exotic past, heavy with the expense of colonial wars and rarefied by great distances travelled and probably reserved for the pharmacy or the most adventurous diners. (Large amounts of Star Anise are still reserved by pharmaceutical companies to produce Tamiflu.) Perhaps those items were still treats, and so slipped comfortably into the gift-giving, hall-decking, indulgent Christmas pulled from Prince Albert’s German childhood. An idea of Christmas borrowed from European neighbours and popularised by Dickens then spread through the nation, which previously didnt recognise the holiday. And with it all those rare indulgences were swept.
I suppose those habits endured, as habits will. Eventually maturing into traditions, with new ones added along the way. Coffee though still hasn't really been given it’s chance- it’s still an everyday occurrence - some would even deem a necessary occurrence …
It might have it’s time in the christmas lights though - Coffea Arabica has a remarkably shallow gene pool, which is dangerous for it’s survival.
This Inherited vulnerability means any disease that occurs in one plant could have a fair whack at decimating an entire country’s supply. And, if the changing climate continues to reduce viable growing regions, if agronomic or economic or political situations continue to shift at the source, then maybe coffee will become a rare treat only enjoyed at certain points of the year. Like smoked salmon used to be.
Coffee does share one aspect with the wintry holiday season, beneath the ever thickening commercial veneer, the most rewarding aspect of the season is human connection, connections which happen regardless of your religion or belief system. Time out from working life for family, and old friends and neighbours.
It would probably be exhausting to try and make a friend of everyone that visits Hot Numbers, but the most enjoyable part of the job, (asides from tinkering with brewing apparatus) is the surrogate family that comes with it. Regular customers become friends, & if you spend most of your waking day with your work colleagues they soon become the siblings. (Whether you like it or not.)
If it’s not too sentimental, those small human connections thaw the chills of winter and thats something we should probably try to remember though the summer. Sitting down with a drink in your hand, or participating in the very earliest form of coffee rituals is a way of pausing the day, to make way for conversation. Or debate.
A whole year has passed already since the second shop opened & The Hot Numbers crew has doubled in size since 2014 as the shops continue to evolve. 2016 is set to be another exciting year.
So cheers to all our hardworking local suppliers. Cheers to the farmers who grow the beans. Cheers to you, those who enjoy what we do and keep the coffee industry ticking over!
In the new year we’ll be putting together profiles for some of the origins we source the green beans from, some background info on the countries and what role coffee has played in its history. Especially for those that get interested in the provenance of their morning cup. And mid-morning cup.
And the new year is mere hours away, I’ve been thinking about alcohol. (Which is actually no different most days of the year,) but in particular their is one coffee and booze marriage that has stood the test of time- Irish Coffee.
So naturally I’ve been exploring ways to ruin it. My new years gift to you, is a ‘variation’ on the drink:
* 100ml FRESH BREWED COFFEE. (Brew it stronger to balance out the booze and sugar. Kenya Kiamabara is full of punchy blackcurrant notes that hold their own.)
* 50ml WHISKY (if you’re staying Irish, try and get a bottle Paddy’s for extra esoteric points. Personally I prefer the bold sweetness of a high corn bourbon, in this case Benchmark.)
* 15ml GINGER SYRUP. As seasonal nod to Lebkuchen.
* DOUBLE CREAM. (lightly whipped to help it float.)
* CHRISTMASSY TINCTURE (An optional extra for seasonal points. See below)
For the Ginger Syrup: chop up 100g of fresh ginger, stick it in a blender with 100ml hot water and 100g brown sugar. (1 : 1 : 1) Blend and strain through a fine mesh. (cheese cloth works best.) Its a bit of extra effort but it really brings a nice fragrant heat to the drink.
For the Christmas tincture you’ll need about a weeks worth of patience, coupled with any wintry spices and a jar of over-proof vodka. (Blue Stolichnaya worked for me.) Grind up the spices and let them sit in the dark for a week, shake it up once a day, then strain it through a paper coffee filter. The high alcohol content means you can get the aromas of the spices into your drink with just a few drops.
Build your drink, making sure to heat the glass beforehand, keeping the coffee hot will create that satisfying contrast as the hot liquid breaks through the cool cream floating on top. Now, everyone knows, for it to be truly an Irish Coffee it needs to be served in a Libbey6 oz. Georgian Irish Coffee Glass (Model 8054.) If you cant find yours, just pick a glass that your nan would approve of. Rinse out her sherry first though. First person that actually has a go at this and tags Hot Numbers and myself (@sjlillustration) in a photo (Twitter or Instagram) will get a bag of the Kenya Kiamabara on me.