I don’t drink coffee.  Never have.  I just haven’t developed a taste for it, nor do I appreciate the stimulating qualities others claim to reap from it.  To me, coffee is one of the last great mysteries of humankind.

The last time I tried some was in 1992 when I was waiting tables at a hip urban bistro, still young enough to think I might grow into being a coffee fan.  As my colleagues and I arrived for the breakfast shift, they all loaded up on the stuff in order to bolster themselves against the impending throngs.  Peer pressure compelled me to join in with a cup, only to find, twenty minutes later, my trembling hands had impeded my ability to balance a tray full of glasses.  The three nice people sitting at table 21 didn’t appreciate it either as they mopped up the freshly-spilled orange juice from their laps.

Anyway, years later and I’m still working at a local café only this time in my role as Voyeur-of-all-Trades.  I’m their first call whenever the owners need a repair, repaint or renovation.  They sell a lot of coffee while I work.  I can always hear, out of the corner of my ear, order after order of latte, espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, affogato or Americano (isn’t that just regular coffee?).

As people drink their cups of black stuff I notice their transformation.  A look comes over their faces of pure satisfaction, which bewilders me especially after reflecting on the Great Orange Juice Mishap of ’92.  A small surreptitious smile emerges that suggests the coffee has just told them the most astonishing secret.  Their posture is at once relaxed and vigilant as if at any time they might jump up to reveal a red ‘S’ on their chest and fly off to save the world.  And there’s an overall coolness to their manner; an enviable buoyancy.  They may have entered the café trepidaciously, indeed timidly, the thought of ordering their coffee akin to approaching a drug dealer.  But it has summarily disappeared by the time they sit and sip.  If they’d been walking around there would certainly be a swagger.  Suddenly they are all George Clooney.

More than anything I notice what appears to be a sense of entitlement.  They belong and they know it.  They carry an aura of Superman-impersonating, all-grinning, all-swaggering Danny Oceans who’d never drop a tray of drinks let alone even carry one.

As a non-partaker – and not entirely by choice – I often wish I could own that prerogative of the coffee drinker.  I’d like to know what it feels like to walk past a Starbucks and not think to myself, ‘Meh.’  I’d like to have a legitimate reason for taking a coffee break.  I’d like to swagger.

I do believe the beverage can provide genuine pleasure, whether chemically furnished or otherwise.  But I can also recognise a social trend when I see one.  A hundred years ago the effects of absinthe were greatly exaggerated, mainly by the bohemian artisans who wanted to be seen with a glass of the green liquid in front of them. Perhaps black is the new green.

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