Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Magic of The Cuppa.

It’s a stupid British stereotype that all of our problems can be solved by just one cup of tea; I’m guessing it must have come about some time around the war era, when women wore the cutest little picnic party dresses and would use tea dates to socialise and appease in equal measure. For years, relatives and old friends would meet up and converse, catch up and mediate over cups and mugs; my family all do our best to arrange a tea-date every other weekend, usually in the grandparents’ conservatory, with leftover Christmas napkins on our laps and a steaming cafetière on the fold-out coffee table, ready to do our bidding and give us a buzz. 

Social media gets clogged up more and more nowadays with images of pretty-patterned teacups and plates of cupcakes, endless posts celebrating the miracle properties of a bag of leaves soaked in boiling water with a teaspoon of sugar and a little sloshing of milk.
Over the past few years, we’ve been putting an American phrase into play when we ask someone out casually: “Fancy a coffee sometime?” – this wouldn’t have worked for me as such – the guy I fancied was a barista at my coffee joint of choice – but it’s generally a foolproof flirty suggestion.
Why, though? I’ll tell you why I think it is…a coffee date can be anything you want it to be.
I recently advised a friend of mine, let’s call him Chad, on the best way to ask a girl out without endangering a burgeoning friendship – invite her out for a cuppa. Meet up in town, have a wander about, browse some shops if you must, then set up camp on a comfy leather sofa in your favourite cafe, get double-shot lattes (to ensure there’s enough energy between you, no awkward yawning during conversations – hot chocolates with extra cream and chocolate stirring sticks also work for this, sugar highs are not to be underestimated), and have a nice natter. See if the conversation gets going, takes flight; see if the first casual cup becomes a second round, or a boozy beverage later on in the day, or even a table for two in the local eatery. You never know…
I love coffee dates. There’s something about steamed milk and perfected espresso; something about holding a cup in your hands and looking over at someone as you bring it to your lips…it gives me peace. The sceptics in this world will claim it’s simply the comfort of having your hands occupied with something as you talk, and that the same could be said for rolling and smoking, completing a puzzle or juggling flaming batons…maybe.
I personally believe it’s the powers of the bevvies.
This is partly why I love my current occupation so much – I get to serve the miracle brews and see them work their magic. Later on, when I’m washing up cups and saucers, I often wonder if my humble creations have assisted the paying public masses in talking through issues they’re having with one another, getting to grips with a new job, seeing if a spark will ignite, or just waking up in the morning.
Now, while we’re talking (or rather, I’m preaching) about the wonders of the cuppa, I feel it’s necessary to set some firm ground rules and gentle guidelines for any hot drink date:
If they buy the first round, you buy the second. Same rule applies in the pub. If you’ve been sitting awhile with empty mugs before you, conversation still flowing and no sign of leaving the cafe within the next half hour, take the initiative and offer a refresher. Okay, fair enough if it’s five of you crushed around a tiny table and wedged awkwardly in place on chairs stolen from other tables – then you’re off the hook. But if it’s just the two, or maybe three, of you…at least offer. And maybe if they decline, or it looks like there’s no time, just say ‘okay, I’ll owe you one’ (then try and remember you said that the next time you meet up and grab a cuppa to go, right?).
Don’t make a massive point of ordering a ‘skinny one’. Fair enough if you prefer skimmed milk and order it every time without fail, but don’t add on a panicked ‘SKINNY PLEASE, SKINNY!’ as your barista turns to pour out some milk for your order. People in the queue (and often behind the bar) will quietly roll their eyes at you. Just slip it into the initial order – “small skinny latte, please”. Simple as.
If you take a photo of your cups, for Instagram purposes, maybe let your date/colleague/mother know. Not only is it super annoying if they don’t realise you’re trying to get a perfect pic of untouched cuppas and immediately snatch up their beverage just as your camera clicks, but sometimes logging into Facey B/Insta/Twits later on and seeing your drink (and knees, usually) were papped without your consent can be a little unnerving. Now I won’t lie, as a barista, I personally aspire to be so good at making cappuccinos that someday someone will take a photo of, attacking it with filters and soft focus and uploading it for all to see. So by all means do it...just be upfront about it. Acknowledge your shameless hipster tendencies.
Know your limits. Again, same as in the pub; know how many cups you can have before you either shoot through the ceiling, shake so violently you cause an earthquake, or soak through your trousers with steaming caffeinated pee.
At some point in your life, try and date a barista. You won’t regret it. They know when something’s just hot enough, they have the best idiot-customer stories, they always smell delicious and they’ll clean until it sparkles. They can also hook you up with the good stuff and they know the way you like it…I think that Lorelai Gilmore made a noble and ingenious decision when she kick-started a real relationship with Luke Danes. Not only is he hunky as can be, beautifully sensible and astoundingly generous – he also makes the best coffee in town. She had the right idea.
Follow these rules and you’re golden. For those of you at home reading along and still not convinced, still not enamoured with espresso or yearning for that one perfect shade of Earl Grey, stop lying to yourself.
The sooner we accept this fact, the better: countless life problems can be solved simply by boiling the kettle. 

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