A Grain Of Truth

I suppose the most famous person to first get lost in a desert was JC some 2000 odd years before EPIRB. Somehow that 40 day walkabout got interpreted into Lent (as the days lengthen in the Northern Hemisphere) and traditionally people give up or go without something as a preparation to celebrate Easter. Naturally it’s easier to give up something you don’t like – or replace something you do with an alternative – which is how I went from drinking white tea with two sugars to strong black coffee after being influenced by how cool the blokes in the Gitanes cigarette adverts looked.

Interestingly coffee drinking was far more common than tea drinking in the UK until the 18th century.  The first London coffee stall was opened in 1652 by Pasqua Rosee, an Armenian. Prior to that coffee had been regarded as a medicine and despite being predominant in the Ottoman Empire hadn’t really made it to the UK.  The  Turkish style coffee proved a hit and by 1654  Rosee had  been successful enough to open a store.  Legend has it that the local tavern owners were  somewhat displeased as their erstwhile businessmen clients were now enervated, sober and absent. A decade later and there were over 80 coffee houses doing a thriving business as meeting places for the intelligentsia  and they helped usher in the Enlightenment  period. Sober thought was obviously a threat to the powers that be and King Charles 2nd’s ministers wanted to close them down on the grounds of there “evil and dangerous effects”. As coffee houses also encouraged polite conversation as opposed to the rough and tumble of taverns patrons were deemed to be ‘unmanly’.

Coffee drinking declined in Britain  after the Haitian independence revolution against the French in 1804. Up to that point the country was producing over 50% of the world’s coffee but over 1,000 plantations were destroyed and the industry collapsed.  Tea drinking became the new fad, coffee was passe in Britain apart from a few exclusive clubs. Meanwhile coffee consumption accelerated in N America with the rise of Brazil as a coffee producer.

See Sees Motorcycles Ural

The irony of the link between caffeine and motorcycling is that it has nothing to do with Cafe racers. The British transport cafes of the 50’s and 60’s were more greasy spoon establishments selling bacon and eggs and cups of tea rather than coffee. Tea was king, if coffee was on offer it would be powdered or instant and called Expresso and the word, “Barista,” or indeed Coffee-maker had yet to be common parlance or thought of as a profession.  British bikes of that time always had enough room behind the sidecovers for the  obligatory comprehensive tool roll – to ensure some hope of reaching your destination, and a space for a small thermos to fortify the rider and pillion in the event of disaster.

Whilst Australian CBDs are crammed with coffee shops of varying quality, cups of chino and the like are harder to come by in the open spaces of this wide brown land. A small gas burner, a Bialettti, bottle of water, mug and a bag of your favourite coffee grind can easily be carried to supply suitable invigoration at a point of your choosing. There have been many memorable coffee stops over the years, none more so than William Creek in July 1995. Six of us were on Postie bikes, riding from Sydney to Uluru via Broken Hill and The Flinders Ranges. It was early Winter’s morning and after a heavy night I was doing the tappets on my CT110 at the campground at the back of the pub when Guano asked to borrow my coffee making equipment. A few minutes later I glanced up at the Bialetti sitting on the table under the shade-cloth covering, 5cm of flame was spurting from the Moka relief valve. I knocked it off the burner and kicked sand over it – “What the hell are you doing? Stop pissing about and make the coffee!” I went back to the CT110 and the little shit and ex cook at Canberra Parliament House had another go. Some premonition made me look up again, this time the flames were much bigger, the handle was ablaze too and the shade-cloth over the table was starting to melt. The nearest fire-engine was 200km away down the Oodnadatta Track and we were about to burn the pub down. the Bialetti got clubbed to the ground again , more dirt was thrown over it, water was thrown on the shade-cloth. The coffee pot’s handle had melted to nothing.  Eventually we all calmed down, Guano  fashioned a new handle out of fencing wire and then reached for the coffee grains.  “Show me what you did” I demanded. He picked up a plastic bottle containing a clear liquid without registering the words “White Spirit” written on the side…. it was then we discovered he had no sense of smell, how he ever worked as a cook is beyond me.

My gas burner still gets used but nowadays I drink Vietnamese coffee via a Phin filter so the Bialetti is in honourable retirement. As fate would have it Guano’s house tragically gut burnt down in the Cobar bushfires, at least the William Creek pub still survives. I give Lent a miss these days having learnt that you can replace one addiction with another in only 40 days. Anyone want a coffee?


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.


You may also like

View all