The conoisseurial error

What is the point of being a writer? To unearth some unspoken truths? I can’t see any truth in anything, only unfathomable chains intertwining. Perhaps that’s why I can write things like the following with such ease and conviction – or rather, I need no conviction to write it. No certainty required. But as soon as one becomes better at something one is immediately alerted to how terrible everything was preceding it.

I can’t help but gravitate towards work that allows my natural laziness to spread like sour butter, left on the counter too long. Nevertheless, I enjoy labouring under the delusion that I am an upstanding member of society, that I have increasingly become so as the unwanted years scour their rings into my face. As a scientist, I enjoyed the comparison to my former administrative self, whose days were endless wet open yawns drinking cup after cup of tea and, oftentimes, was known to pass leisurely from one end of the office to the other in order to enquire as to whether anyone else would like a cup too.

I forgot about everything I wanted as a child; it plain did not enter my mind. I forgot that I believed in celestial beings and alternate realities and snails that turn into fairies in the full moon, all because someone told me they were real.

Now that I do whatever it is I do now, I take great joy in recalling the slovenliness of my former colleagues, and my former self, sitting in the common room drinking endless cups of – the graduate’s amulet – coffee, perhaps talking about work, perhaps not, but certainly going about it too vivaciously, threatening stale air. I owe a great debt to academia, because there, after a sweaty, angsty, 45 minute cycle ride from Camberwell, within the lofty heights of level 8 of the Charing Cross Campus, I became indoctrinated in the use of a percolator coffee machine, a mysterious art that I thought was reserved for dinner parties. A dinner party – a place for adult smells and pink vodka mousse – the first time I passed out, aged eight.

My knowledge of coffee has expanded according to each career move I have fallen upon. As a lowly student, I drank from a stovetop moka pot. I donated my percolator to an office I was working at. I drank coffee when I woke, when I felt the 10.30am brain-sag, perhaps after lunch, always before I went for a run, if I was going to party… why am I making this list, it’s absurd.

The percolator at my place of work was permanently on full steam, ploughing out coffee to furrow the brows of bright young things that had not yet become cognisant of the red teeth of academia.

It is neither a food, nor a drink, but an elixir, a contradiction that at once ravages and fuels. It is not a liquid, but a fluid, reluctantly foaming from the bottom of the espresso basket like a mad dog ready to savage your tongue and jump at your throat. A black dog. The coffee drinker can rest assured that their productivity has increased by 50 percent, and hence by this sharpest of observations may kick back until after lunch.

I am now in possession of an espresso machine that takes up a considerable proportion of my tiny kitchen counter. But I will not stop here, and I am tormented by substandard elements of my coffeemaking that mean I can not possibly make a consistently good cup unless I employed some form of magic.

Parallel to my wallet being sucked dry by the well of my increasingly serious coffee habit, I realise that my fervour, so innocently middle class, are really a symptom of something greater, more terrible. I love to make coffee. In much the same way as I dry wretch upon reading a cliched turn of phrase or, quite frankly, anything in the Daily Mail, I can no longer just enjoy coffee, unless I’m totally drunk – incidentally, the only means by which I can explain the readership of the Daily Mail. Once you reach these dizzying hypertensive altitudes of knowledge, you cannot help but spit out any espresso served to you in a coffee shop. You cannot help but shiver with rage when a friend throws cafetiere grounds into the machine. It is no longer simply about caffeine. You are deconstructing a substance that was born from your hand with every sip. Moreover, you are deconstructing a trifle: a beverage, albeit one that makes your blood pump a little faster and makes you feel warm inside. But it’s still a beverage. That is it.

It is a tortuous existence when you know a thing you loved too well, it is transfigured into a thing that only expert eyes can do it justice, tortuous not least because it turns you into a snob and you know it, nose upturned and snorting at the rest of the world like a pig, and rest assured I feel very silly for admitting it.


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