In a week full of drama, my family’s main concern has been the death of my 92 year old mother’s coffee machine. It is perhaps no surprise that it has given up producing copious Americanos, Expressos and Lattes for her many visiting friends – afterall, she has worked it into an early grave through industrious use and sociability – but we are concerned that my older sister has just diligently ordered a crate full of Nespresso capsules which will be rejected in any of the ‘upgraded’ replacement coffee machines now on sale. Mum is hitting speed dial on her phone, begging one of us to try and repair the altar at which she worships; we are all left raging against the machine.
Mum has always had a coffee habit and her longevity shows that it is a vice she should be proud of. Her only form of liquid comes via her caffeine fix and her party trick has always been to drink the rest of us under the table caffeine-wise and still sleep like a baby at night. It’s exhausting visiting her, even with the coffee machine working, for her expectation of a regularly replenished coffee cup is ambitiously high and she doesn’t like to drink alone.
Even on shopping trips (which have become less regular since mum’s summer stay in hospital) each excursion has to be punctuated by a visit to Costa, Starbucks or Nero at the start, middle and end of the outing for a ‘cheeky coffee’. She insists on the largest Americano – looking in disdain at her daughters’ choice of Expresso or – God forbid, herbal tea – and it goes without saying that once we do hit a stride of retail therapy, it will be interrupted by a detour to the ‘Lav’. Recently I’ve noticed that mum is often happy to stay in the chosen coffee emporium and just give us her shopping list for her own version of supermarket sweep – the challenge is to complete the list before she is on to her second coffee – preferably using our own credit card; I don’t think she really needs anything on the list, she just likes a break from her Nespresso machine occasionally and likes an opportunity to keep tabs on the coffee market. Occasionally, to mix things up, she goes wild and insists on brandishing her recyclable cup in Waitrose.
Mum has always been a coffee snob and one of my earliest memories is waking up on Sunday mornings to the smell of the freshly ground coffee beans fuelling the family’s coffee percolator. If she hadn’t been so busy doing such a great job of rearing the four of us, and if baristas had been a ‘thing’ back then, I seriously think she would have left us as latchkey kids and stormed the market. To be fair, I am sure she would have paid her taxes diligently and honoured the small high street business over the beast of coffee franchise.
Even back in the the ’70’s you could see her lip curl if she was offered a cup of ‘Mellow Bird’s’ or a Camp Coffee at a church coffee morning (the vicar did have a certain serving manner, it has to be said). Polite as she is, she will show no qualm in volte-facing from an over-stewed coffee urn in public. Over the years she has taken an active interest in the changing trends of coffee consumption – caffietiere, thermos jug, filter and decaff – she has road-tested them all, literally. When dad was alive, he managed to find a portable coffee machine that could be plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter, ensuring that even in the days before Little Chef and drive thru’s, mum could be assured of scalding hot caffeine in transit (#beforehealthandsafety). Dad was a man-and-boy tea drinker but he saw this gadget as a shrewd investment in a healthy marriage;those Tetley Tea folk know a thing or two.
When we thought we were losing mum last summer, even when she looked like she had turned her face to the wall, she still perked up if we arrived by her bedside with a take-away cup of Marks & Spencer’s finest coffee beans. We would have purchased the coffee to keep ourselves alert during weeks of long commutes and bedside vigils, but the aroma of good coffee always drew her attention and opened sleeping eyes. Looking back, I believe the tepid, weak cup of coffee she was offered three times a day on a hospital ward round, was largely responsible for her lethargy and uncharacteristic sense of defeat. Staff were so busy getting mum’s body fluids up intravenously that it never occurred to us to mention that this patient’s body was probably refusing to cooperate due to a detox, decaff power failure. After weeks of thinking we were losing her, it was a relief to start receiving texts again from mum’s hospital bed – characteristically all her messages were a bit shouty because she insists on texting with the caps lock on – telling us to cancel the grapes and to double the M&S coffee order before gracing her bedside.
We knew mum was thinking of coming home again when she started commandeering wheel chairs on the ward to ensure anyone visiting her could take her down to the cafe on the ground floor – there she was duly honoured with a patient loyalty card and a personalised mug. Hospital staff called her the ‘Come Back Kid’ (CBK) and took her restored preference for coffee in a ‘proper’ cup as reason enough to sign her discharge papers and to start selling bags of CBK coffee beans in the Friends of John Radcliffe Hospital shop. (These ‘Friends’ tell us that it has been a grind – couldn’t help myself – but sales of these beans have now funded clip-on cup holders for wheelchairs and patient trollies in the JR. Waiting times have now been reduced – albeit because corridor queues have shortened while patients nip off their trollies to empty their bladders.)
Mum’s cup literally runneth over when my sister gifted her a Nespresso machine to celebrate her return to the fold. In honesty, we then installed the stair lift because of our fears that mum would insist on taking a pot of coffee to bed with her each night, and that she might scald herself on the ascent. Her stair lift now does the job of a dumb waiter, transporting mum’s flask and crossword to her bedside table and obligingly letting her cadge a ride in the process. When it’s working, you can hear the Nespresso machine sigh in relief that the day shift is finally over.
Today I’m hesitant to mention to mum that two high-end coffee shops have opened in London and are trending on social media. There’s talk of a cult-like following and lab-coated baristas, but we’re not sure that we can continue paying for mum’s care if she discovers that the cup of coffee that chefs are now drinking is retailing at £15 a shot. Instead, my nephew takes one for the team and selflessly donates to mum the Nespresso machine that he has been saving for the move into his first flat. It is the same model as mum’s broken one, and will thankfully accept the caffeine capsules my sister has ordered. Love that boy. It feels like we might have scraped through our Cafe Noir period.
Yes, the drama is offically over. Mum has stopped phoning each of us on redial since the arrival of the replacement coffee machine. The only issue seems to be that she’s found a leaflet that accompanied it revealing that her grandson has been drinking Ristretto, Livanto and Roma and she wants to know if she’s been missing out . She’s also found a colour chart showing the strengths from different capsules; she’s wondering if a stronger shot could give her pacemaker a helping hand. I’ve just received a text in block caps asking me if I’d recommend an expresso characterised by a roasted caramelised note or go for a woody and lasting taste. I feel a caffeine-induced headache coming on and slope off to find a peppermint tea before that machine starts enraging me again.