Monthly Archives: June 2008

Not progressing in a logical fashion.

First of all, I found this:

This is pure genius, especially from the point of view of studying coffee waste. I am not concentrating specifically on packaging, but even so, the idea of this fits in so nicely. Not only is it ‘green’ in that it’s infinitely reusable, you don’t look too odd carrying it about town (as I would if, for instance, I wandered round carrying my huge purple “I love Shoes” ceramic mug.) It is also very tempting to wander into Starbucks/Nero/Costa with that, casually ordering the baristas to ‘just fill it up’ and enjoying your coffee brand-free; you wouldn’t provide them the service of free advertising. Even better!

Another nice thing which deserves a mention on here: yesterday morning a small box was delivered to my door through the post, all the way from Texas. This turned out to be 1lb of hand-roasted Rwandan coffee beans, from Vincent at Addison Coffee Roasters. I ‘met ‘ him online on Barista Exchange, talked a lot about the merits of African coffee vs Latino (I’m a latino fan, should you not have guessed) and he jokingly, I assumed, offered to send me some he’d roasted himself, to try and convert me. He was not joking, and a posh looking bag of beans and very friendly note addressed to “Lady Townsend” appeared exactly as he said. The coffee is exceptionally good, quite ‘earthy’, fragrant and light-bodied. I think the coffee-term for that is ‘clean’. Grinding it up this morning filled my kitchen with heavenly scents of fresh coffee, and this cheered me up no end.

And I am in need of cheering up…

University is suddenly feeling like Hard Work, or rather, like actual work rather than my pet obsession. Last week I had the dreaded interview for my upgrade, like a mini viva. My upgrade document is basically a research proposal:exactly what I intend to do, why I want to do it, how I’m going to get the information I need, what I am going to do with that information, and then the even more irritatingly bureaucratic bits like timescale, costings, and even risk assessment forms. This took me a frustratingly long time to write and by the time I handed it in, I never wanted to see the bloody thing again. However, this was not the end of it. My upgrade panel then had a week to read it, and then ‘interview’ me about it, getting me to defend what I’d written. I can appreciate that given the time/money/resources at stake at university, they need to be sure that not only can the project be done, but also that it is worth doing. As it is, I now have to do corrections and resubmit the damn thing.

The interview was extremely intimidating; not because the three panel members were particularly scary, but because there was very little I could do to prepare for this, not knowing what I was going to be asked. They asked me a great deal about my methodology, which was fair enough. In hindsight, even I can see that my methodology was just not good enough, and far too vague. They wanted to know exactly how many interviews I intend to do, and who with etc. I had avoided being this specific simply because I don’t know who is going to be available to interview, and won’t do until I actually get to my field work sites and see who is there…. but that overly pragmatic point aside, this ‘correction’ is not unmanageable.

The other big issue was far more ego bruising, and right now, seems impossible to ‘correct’. They want me to spell out the ‘original academic contribution’ of this project, what does it add to knowledge about coffee/waste/quality, in other words, what is the point of studying this?

Good question.

I actually don’t know. I was completely unable to answer that in the interview. I waffled a little about wastage being a topical issue especially at the moment with so many environmental concerns and rising global food prices and speciality coffee being an industry which didn’t exist twenty years ago… but even at the time, I knew what I was saying was utter rubbish (if you’ll excuse the pun).

In truth, I don’t think this project actually has much in the way of practical applications. Even my mother complains about not being able to explain what her darling daughter actually does at uni, and her telling me that feels so supportive, ahem. Sure, it would be wonderful to discover a way of eradicating waste in the coffee industry entirely, sharing this new-found knowledge throughout the industry and making the whole global coffee trade more efficient as well as entirely ethical. But that is not going to happen as a result of my one little project. As for academic contributions, the only real ‘contribution’ is just that it adds to the already existing body of knowledge about waste and quality; and for that matter, about commodity chains and globalisation, and agro-food businesses or networks, and about coffee itself. This project has not been done before; there are academic works about all the different areas I’ve just mentioned, but to my knowledge, nothing has yet brought them all together.
So far, so convincing, perhaps, but that doesn’t actually answer the question of why that knowledge needs to be contributed in the first place. My only real justification is just that I personally find it extremely interesting. I would love that to be enough.

I don’t think I am alone in finding this interesting, however. Unfortunately the people who share my passions do not tend to be academics. Last week, Stephen Morrisey from Ireland won the World Barista Championships in Copenhagen. When interviewed afterwards, he said he only had one message for the ‘coffee community’:

Let’s just keep staying in touch… let’s talk and keep the community going,…establishing the connections between the coffee farmers, roasters and baristas, and let’s keep making better coffee…

Obviously this bloke has read this blog minutes before competing… ahem. It is these connections that hold the industry together, and also that I find most interesting. I really really hope that this idea is enough to satisfy the panel that the project is worth doing!

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Posted by on June 29, 2008 in Uncategorized


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How to make whole afternoons just disappear…

“We are reading the paper. It is Sunday and we are curious about our world.”

This is the closing line of the preface to a wonderful book – ‘Glass, Paper, Beans’ by Leah Hager Cohen. She is describing a typical scene in her favourite café; almost dreamlike and nostalgic. Calm and very human somehow. I like the sound of the place after just three pages.

This book was lent to me by the lovely Nissa. Nissa is the sort of person others would describe as ‘bubbly’. I prefer to think of her as ‘sunny’, she is so cheerful and smiling that she lights up our office. I don’t know her that well yet, and as such I have eternally linked her to the author of this book. In my mind at least, she is the one sitting in that cafe, watching other people read the paper.

Idly, I wonder if anyone will ever describe an afternoon sitting in my cafe. I doubt mine will ever have such a calming atmosphere.

Instead, I am sitting in Gusto Italiano in Sheffield. I like this place a great deal. This is what will hopefully come to be my sixth ‘fieldwork’ site, and i quietly relish the fact that I am at liberty to wile away whole afternoons guzzling espresso in here all under the guise of research. Gusto Italiano is run by a slim, slightly harassed looking woman named Esterina. She runs the place with her partner, and between them they serve coffee, forcefully organise the other waitresses, manage all the unseen parts of cafe life, and do all the cooking, and all the while, maintain impeccably neat and impossibly stylish Italian attire and demeanor. As my cousin Ol points out frequently (and often quite loudly) “All the waitresses are so fit!” He is right, too. It seems good looks are a prerequisite to employment there.

It was Ol who first introduced me to the place. Initially he praised the coffee, before admitting he actually went to waitress-watch. I shall not judge him, the coffee is very good indeed. I am skeptical of places who advertise ‘genuine Italian coffee’ – possibly a result of too long spent at Caffe Nero, but this place converted me. The coffee is Mokarabia; roasted by Langdon’s of London who also, coincidently, roast the secret blend for Caffe Nero. Mokarabia is a beautiful blend, very sweet and rich, and surprisingly their espresso blend is 100% arabica. There is no Italian tradition of using baked robusta as filler for the espressos. That alone has me hooked. It’s a bit pricey in here, but you are paying for the ambiance, the Italianess and the people-watching as well as the coffee.

This morning I came in here with Anna and Ol. As per usual Anna and I were late meeting him, but it is the sort of place anyone can lounge around in for hours, starting at the very pretty lattes and trying not to draw attention to the fact that you’re not spending any money. I bought Ol an americano, just to be on the safe side. He looked appreciative.

Anna, being her typical, inimitable self, really likes the place. The first time I brought her in, she immediately adopted the manageress and yabbered away in fluent Italian about the merits of Italian wine. Although amusing to watch, this was not particularly useful to my own research, which was the reason I came in! Today though, given the company, she just poked us with her umbrella, giggled a lot and invited us to help devour a huge chunk of genuine Italian chocolate cake. The woman is a marvel.

Aside from our rather noisy party, the cafe was quiet today. I returned later in the day by myself, sipped my latte and read ‘Glass, Paper, Beans’ contently, and absent-mindedly watched my fellow coffee drinkers. Given none of the staff in Gusto Italiano can be much over 30, the place attracts an unnerving amount of old ladies. The site of traditional and highly uncontinental pots of tea being brought over ceremoniously by suave waiters in bow ties to eager pensioners just doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the cafe’s image. Apart from the old dears, there are a few balding and be-suited businessmen sprawled in the leather arm chairs, with pens in pockets, laptops and one even has a blackberry. I glare at them from my hard wooden seat at the back, there are only a few comfy sprawling seats, the rest of the place is filled with black wooden chairs and very neat tables.

Gusto Italiano is situated almost equidistant from both universities in Sheffield,and given the caffeine intake of the average student, you would expect the place to be crawling with them. But I’ve never seen more than a few studenty types in here at once. When they are, they tend to be solo and sit up at the stools near the window, gazing out at the real world.

This is perhaps why I like it here. Chain coffee shops invite a sort of fashion-conscious elite, be it students or yuppies (if I am still allowed to use that term), who go because they like the image of themselves clutching an oversized branded mug, and because it is the place to be, and the place to be seen. Gusto Italiano is far posher, more up market, and perhaps even more formal in terms of general atmosphere than Starbucks or Nero. The music is piped and nondescript, pleasant enough if you are listening, easily ignored if you’re not and it doesn’t try to be cool. The service is polite but not scripted, and never falsely friendly. To my mind, by being relatively formal, neat, polite and offering straightforward and excellent coffee, Gusto Italiano manages not only to be genuinely Italian but so much less pretentious than any other coffee shop I’ve been to in a while.

I may not be here on important business, I may not be surrounded by fellow students and I may drink americanos instead of fancy large cappuccinos, but in here I can still amuse myself for hours without feeling remotely out of place. For me, that’s all I really want at a cafe.


Posted by on June 18, 2008 in Uncategorized


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What’s a girl to do?

This is an odd sensation.
I have nothing to do.

(A voice in my head has just spouted: “Oh yes you do! You can vacuum or take the ferrets for a walk or start making dinner or clear up all the elegant ‘floor stacking’ of uni papers currently taking over the front room!”)
It is true, there are plenty of things I *could* do. I am not restrained in an empty room devoid of any stimulation. However, I don’t actually have any university work to do, and as such, nothing that I should feel guilty about not doing. Being a procrastinator is central to my identity, to my very Being almost – if I have nothing to put off doing, do I cease to exist?

Yesterday, after an inordinately long length of time spent preparing for this thing, I finally handed in my full upgrade proposal, complete with questions I received when doing my upgrade seminar a few weeks ago, and more eloquent, written responses to them, and full bibliography, and ethics sheet and risk assessment form. Gah.This then gets looked over by a Panel of The Powers That Be, and then at the end of the month, I get interviewed about it all, and asked to defend it. This is all based on my project proposal – exactly what I want to study, why I want to study it, how I am going to actually do the research, how it is relevant to the rest of the programme, and perhaps more importantly from the university’s point of view, how much is it all going to cost? Hopefully, assuming I haven’t done anything spectacularly stupid (Can I please have £3000 to go watch coffee grow in Nicaragua for four months? Pleeeease?) then they should ‘upgrade’ me from a lowly MPhil student to PhD.

However, until they have upgraded me officially, technically speaking I shouldn’t actually be doing any practical research. Reading things is fine, sorting out preliminary contacts and fieldwork locations is fine. Actually investigating anything specific is not. I went to the Caffe Culture exhibition hall at London’s Olympia last month. I had an excellent time, met a load of useful people, learned so much stuff (even how to roast coffee!) and managed to source a great deal of information which can all be relevant to my project. I wrote up a short report for my supervisors about it all, and they said: “That’s a great piece of not-research!”. Not-research seems to be what we are required to do whilst in this strange limbo situation awaiting our upgrades…. It is frustrating to say the least.

Still, I must make the most of this – I would say ‘this holiday’ but that is too much of an active word – this brief period of unproductivity. I am going to make curry and watch Neighbours.
Ye Gads. Help me.

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Posted by on June 13, 2008 in Uncategorized


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My Dark Love Affair

I have a headache. I moan to Carl about this, but he is not impressed.”I don’t believe such a thing exists.” he says. This is because I have a caffeine headache, or rather, a lack of caffeine headache. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night, and this morning I had to get up unhealthily early for me, rush round trying to pack everything up for the weekend, and then leg it to the station to catch a (late) train at 8.14. I did not get time to make coffee. Further more, as a conscientious, perma-broke student and ex-Nero employee, I flatly refuse to spend £2.25 for coffee from Costa at the station. My body cannot cope with this.

My addiction may well be psychological, but the effects are very physical. My head hurts, there is some serious pressure on the top of my skull. I have little energy, I am pale (in fact, I am reliably informed that I look dead) and I am very irritable.
This never used to be the case. My parents drank tea by the bucketful and when I was a baby, they used to give me a luke warm bottle of milky tea every day. Possibly as a result of this, I have never touched the stuff since. But I never drank much coffee either. I spent most of my teenage years being healthy and guzzling herbal teas and water. I probably should have stuck to that! However, at age 17, I got the second most boring job in the universe -data entry. An entirely sedentary life style, parked in front of a black screen with green text, typing endless addresses in over and over again, eight hours a day. The most interesting thing to do all day was to get up and wander over to the monstrosity in he corner, press a series of buttons and receive a plastic cup full of brown powder with metallic tasting hot water poured on top.
Sometimes the powder still floated, or clumped at the bottom until poked by an enthusiastic plastic stick. And woe betide anyone who dared request ‘milk’ – more powder, onl sort of off-white in colour, and seemingly even less soluble than the brown stuff. This was, apparently, coffee. Nescafe instant vendor machine coffee to be precise. It was foul. But it was hot, it had caffeine in it, it required moving from my desk occasionally, and as such, it was the only thing that stopped me turning in to a brain dead corporate zombie, gradually losing form and melting into the chair, just becoming a giant pair of fingers welded to the keyboard….

I left that job after six months, having put on a lot of weight, got repetitive strain injury from the keyboard, and the beginnings of a caffeine addiction. However, I also had enough money to go to Peru for the rest of the year. Peru produces a small amount of truly excellent, high altitude arabica coffee, but such are the ironies of global capitalism, they export all of it, and getting hold of coffee in Peru is difficult and expensive. Nestle produce something called Ecco, which is ground, roasted wheat and chicory. When brewed, it is brown and looks like coffee. It has no actual coffee in it, no caffeine content, but if you ask for ‘cafe’ in Peru, this is generally what you get.In short, I went cold turkey.

On my return from Peru, I started university. I did a lot of different activities outside classes including various theatrical endeavours. ‘Show weeks’ were notoriously hectic and doing 16 hour days playing with lighting meant a lot of coffee was consumed. Meeting friends in coffee shops became almost ritualistic, and anyone who has ever endured lectures on cranio-facial morphology of early hominids and phylogeny of various primates, or even quantitative methods for social scientists will know that at some points, major caffeine boosts are a medical necessity.

After graduating with no other ideas about what to do with myself, I started working in cafes and coffee shops. It was from these that I started to really learn about coffee. I initially thought that working with the stuff, day in, day out would put me off, but this has never been the case! All the different strains and varieties, all the subtleties of flavour that can be produced, all the different methods of brewing, filtering or extracting, all is fascinating to me. I am by no means a world class barista, but I am at least relatively skilled in the art, and I intend to continue learning.

So I am now doing my Phd about coffee, about the links between quality and wastage about the political effects of such a globalised industry. I’ve learned so much about its ‘dark history’ that I am s self-confessed coffee geek.

Coffee increases blood pressure, can lead to hypertension and anxiety attacks, has been linked to colon cancer and now apparently doubles the chance of miscarriage. However, it also protects against cirrhosis and other liver diseases, is a good source of fibre,keeps you alert and stimulated and kick starts your metabolism. It is the second largest legally traded in the commodity in the world, and the industry as a whole, from farmers to baristas, employs a hundred million people all over the world. For me, its a welcome addiction, an obsession, a career and a wonderfully dark love affair.


Posted by on June 1, 2008 in Uncategorized


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Genuine Italian Quality?

(NB: This is a follow up for uni – I started a discussion on here a while ago asking why coffee is perceived to be Italian at least in the UK. These are just some thoughts and experiences on that topic)

Walking round Darlington town centre gives you a relatively large selection of places to get cups of coffee. There are numerous ‘traditional tea rooms’ where coffee is an afterthought, and greasy-spoon cafes who will do instant Nescafe in a polystyrene cup. And then there is two Costas, a Caffe Nero and the brand new Starbucks. So far, so uninteresting. Darlington does boast a few independent cafes, however: The Voodoo Cafe which I am still too biased to express an opinion about, Coffee Bamber – an expensive-looking place which, commendably, only sells FairTrade coffee, and “Coffee @ Elliotts.” This company actually has two branches now on either side of town, and I decided to try it out.
Coffee @ Elliotts is done out quite attractively, all art deco with huge chandeliers, ornate mirrors, heavy wooden furniture and the odd bust dotted around on shelves. There are also lots of sepia pictures of old style continental pavement cafes with titles in… French?
This is surprising. I had honestly expected the elusive Elliott to pretend to be Italian. Costa claims to serve Italian-style coffee, Caffe Nero are so Italian they’ve even added the extra ‘f’, Starbucks was apparently inspired by Italian espresso bars… Admittedly, I don’t know enough about Coffee Bamber to know if it claims Italianess or not, and I tried to make the Voodoo Cafe as Latino as possible, but otherwise it is a safe presumption that most coffee shops have some Italian connection. Elliotts does serve espresso, cappuccinos, lattes, and all the rest, but also apparently sell ‘coffee’ as well, without giving it an Italian identity. All drinks come in ‘regular’ or ‘large’ as opposed to ‘grande’ or even ‘venti’. Although the emphasis is on coffees, they also serve panninis and biscottis, but also plain sandwiches, cakes and jacket potatoes. None of which sound particularly continental.

The coffee at Elliott’s wasn’t bad at all, and was actually cheaper than the bigger chains. And then I found out why – they were using a Bean-to-Cup machine, which is about the same size as a Gaggia espresso maker and works on the same principle, but doesn’t require the same human input. This machine will make espresso-based coffee, but only requires that you fill it up with beans, water and fresh milk in different compartments, and press the right button depending on what you want. It presses the coffee and steams the milk all by itself, and the ‘barista’ just has to put a cup underneath.

This makes the coffee cheaper – not because it is cheaper to run, or cheaper on staff costs; the baristas are still there to bring your coffees to you and cash up etc. It is cheaper, I think, because it requires less skill to produce. And also, less showmanship. Making coffee like this, looks easier to anyone watching. Therefore, value cannot be added to it by making it look more skilled. The process does not look sufficiently complex to warrant charging more to compensate for the skilled labour involved. This sort of coffee is less of a luxury.

This does not mean, however, that anyone could do it. It is still highly unlikely for many people to have a bean-to-cup machine at home, and so the luxury of having someone make it for you is still there. Even with a machine like that, there still has to be some product knowledge involved. An example is that the coffee from Interval bar at Sheffield university also comes from a bean-to-cup machine, just like at Elliotts. Elliotts coffee is infinitely better tasting however. Baristas still need to know how to maintain the machine, set it to the right temperatures and pressure, and what coffee to put in it. Elliotts coffee tasted as good, if not better, than Caffe Nero’s equivalent, whereas the coffee at Interval is somewhere between burnt and stale and possibly flavoured with ground up car tyres. This, to me, implies that there is more to making coffee than just which machine you choose.

As shown by the Barista Championships, there is a lot of skill, art and showmanship that goes in to making espresso based coffees, and the fact that these competitions, and this style of coffee-making are still so popular implies that it is still what consumers want – there must be a specific selling point to make the coffee shops invest in Gaggia machines and in training their staff. If the bean-to-cup machines were as good – and they are quicker, more efficient and dare I say it, convenient, then Starbucks and Nero would use them and the art of the barista wouldn’t be so called for. Something has to make the ‘real’ espresso coffees of higher quality.

I would argue that it is the Italianess that is that selling point. Italianess is part of the ‘experience’ which the big brands are so keen to promote. Caffe Nero, for instance, want to offer the experience of a old fashioned Italian espresso bar and continental cafe. It gives the coffee, and this ‘experience’ an identity, which is very important to the brand, Being ‘Italian’ not only makes the place sound sophisticated and if not exotic, then certainly different to the quaint English tea rooms, it also adds an element of performance. Espresso was invented and perfected in Italy, the first espresso machines were designed and patented by Italians. This style also happens to require more skilled human input, more visual techniques and as such, more labour. Increasing the labour involved increases the value of the end-product, the customer perceives it to be of better quality entirely because of the added labour-value, and so espresso coffees become more expensive. This could be the main reason why coffee shops, like Coffee @ Elliotts become Italian, when they are on Darlington high street, run by Americans and get their coffee beans from Brazil.

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Posted by on June 1, 2008 in Uncategorized


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Suenos de Arroz y Frijoles

Mi vida esta confusanda.

Life is bloody complicated at the minute. I’ve been doing some real proper research in the real world, involving talking to real actual alive people, (as opposed to reading and regurgitating, or emailing). It’s HARD. And the more I learn, the more complicated it seems to get.
One real, actual alive person was helpful – Paul/Pablo from Caffe Nero head quarters. Unfortunately, what he told me has totally and utterly confused things even more. Maybe I was naiive to think it wasn’t that complicated. Tracing the origins of coffee is an immense task at the best of times, but when the only source of information I can get hold of at the moment is trying hard to protect the positive image adopted by their brand marketing, what I get is not exactly deep – or even that accurate.

It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Nero’s coffee does not come
rom the award winning co-operative in Brazil that they promoted on their website. Well, some of it does, but not the stuff they make into cappuccinos behind the bar every day. Instead, 600 tons of the stuff, comprised of seven different strains of coffee, is imported for Nero every year, coming from “Central and South America”. By the time it reaches Nero, it has been through the hands of the farmers, the co-operatives, the commercial exporters, the roasters and the distributors, not to mention all the regulatory bodies, and anyone in charge of overseas import tariffs and customs….. Far from buying “direct from the producers”, at least six different companies are involved in the industry from beans to mug.

And I’ve got to go through the whole bloody lot, looking for any opportunity in this vast network for coffee to be wasted. This may take a while. Not only is this a lot of work to get my head round, it also ladders my proverbial fishnets (instead of being a linear commodity chain, I’ve decided it’s now a complex mesh of a network – hence, commodity fishnets). There is a big hole in the proceedings now, and its quite embarrassing.

I had a plan… up until last week. That was, to go to Fazenda Cachoeira (Waterfall Farm) in Brazil, to find out the extent of wastage from a plantation that directly supplies Caffe Nero. This gave me something to concentrate on, prepare for; I would need to learn Portuguese for instance. It also gave me a time frame – I’d go in the harvest season, which is between March and September, 2009.

Now, it doesn’t matter if I go to Brazil, or any other coffee-producing country in Latin America. Going to a Spanish speaking country would be far more sensible… but then, when to go? And indeed, where? I need to find out the different harvest seasons…

For anyone who knows anything of my non-university plans at present, the timing of this is highly important. I don’t know which Plan should take priority, whether I should just let Que Sera, Sera, and rethink depending on what happens, or whether I should take assertive action, decide for definite that I am going to, say, Costa Rica in May 2009, and fit everything else around that. That might be the easy option.

Basically, I HATE planning when everything is a variable. I hate making important decisions that I might regret. I would far rather have life Just Happen to me, as it usually does. Or, I bury myself in trivialities, or wild fantasies which even I know are totally impractical – because even hampered with a short attention span and over-ambitious nature, those plans are always far more fun than the ones I actually need to focus on.

Jo is filling my fragile, wanton little mind with ideas of the RASC cafe – that is, my dream of my own coffee shop called Doctor Coffee’s, only promoted as an arts venture, so that we don’t have to worry about it actually making any money. It would be a social enterprise project, providing a space for the RASC writers to go create in. She was even on about hosting it in a caravan at one point so we don’t have to pay lease rates…. And all the while, I am sitting in Caffe Nero for days on end, studying coffee shops, when actually all I want to do is run one myself! This does not a productive Bel make.

fAnd then, there are other dreams… Latin America. Again. It is no longer really a case of wanting to go back there, it’s almost a sense of inevitability – I know I will someday, for whatever reason. I am sorely tempted to just say ‘screw Nero’, go visit Donna in Nicaragua or El Porvenir in El Salvador, and just pretend they supply a big chain… but that would not constitute good research practice, would it? I would love to catch up with Donna and Diego and all the chavalos and payasos again out there, I still feel like I have ‘unfinished business’ in Nicaragua somehow, I was rushed away all too quick last time. Or I could go next door to Costa Rica or Honduras and see bits I am less familiar with… For that matter, I would love to catch up with mi familia en Peru…

Siempre yo siento como estoy malgasto mi vida, mi tiempo en este paid, cuando yo podría alli viviendo la vida en vez de lo estudiando. Soy demasiado impaciente. Tengo suenos de arroz y frijoles, y de aventuritas en climas lejos, quiero mas, siempre mas que este. Quiero una cambia.Yo me confundo con relaciones diferentes, los amores diferentes y entonces yo siempre siento que la necesidad de escaparse cuando todo falla. Yo no puedo ver lo que tiene razón bajo la nariz, que lo que quiero es ya aquí. Mi marido, mi niño, y todo que yo ya he creado aquí.

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Posted by on June 1, 2008 in Uncategorized


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Dreams and Distractions

So, it now looks like Costa Rica. And Nicaragua. Possibly sooner than I thought, as well. Christmas in the Carribean? I am supposed to be constructing Cunning Plans to make this a definite possibility (“A plan so cunning you could tie a tail on it and call it a weasel”) and I am…in a way. I would LOVE to go back to Nicaragua, but it doesn’t feel real yet. I don’t think I am the same person as I was the last time I disappeared to Latin America on a whim.

Instead I am dreaming and thinking and planning and fantasising about The Highly Improbably. I am collecting a diverse group of the Mentally Interesting it seems, and any idea reinterpreted through the minds of the Loons must, therefore, be borderline genius. The fine line has not so much been crossed as jumped on, scuffed, and bent to at least a 45 degree angle…One of the most Mentally Interesting is currently snoring upstairs. “Lets dance to Joy Division, celebrate the irony, everything is going wrong but we’re so happy!”

And what could be more sane, rational and sensible than planning my cafe? Sure, I have no money, no real capital, no time, no experience, no venue (this is NOT going to happen in Darlington. Ever. Understood?!) a crap credit rating, a doctorate to do, a mortgage to pay, plans to emigrate to the other side of the world in three years time, and family plans, but… hell, why not?

All I actually want to do with myself in the future is run my own cafe. I don’t actually need a PhD to do that, but I am at least learning far too much about coffee at the moment that I feel I’ve got to put this knowledge to use somehow! So, the cafe will be called Doctor Coffee’s. We will serve only the best, fair trade, highest quality (and probably Latin American) coffees made by skilled baristas. And it’s not going to be entirely espresso either! How revolutionary is that?

And I will cook. Lots. There is not going to be pannini in sight!! No fake Italianess, but Latino food, as authentic as I can make, and as designed by the experts at CafeChavalos in Nicaragua and Senora Julia in Peru, who’s recipes I am still using now! If amazing foods like quesedillas, tetelas, picarones and anticuchos can be made on the streets in Leon or Huancayo, I see no reason why I couldn’t make them in a cafe.

I was going to sell Cyberllama goods at the cafe too – Peruvian oddities for anyone interested. Carl and I started talking of this YEARS ago… he was going to get involved and turn it in to an internet cafe, and be responsible for the technical side of things. That was… 2002 I think. Nowadays, there wouldn’t be much call for internet cafes…the world changes too quickly. Now, he says he’ll support any mad scheme of mine, as long as he gets to keep a massive aquarium set into one wall – with piranhas in, of course, just to keep the Amazonian feel!

These plans have been delayed and postponed because we’ve never yet been in the position to even take ourselves seriously. We are full of intentions of moving to Vancouver post-PhD, and that would make a far better base for business than Darlington! But still… that is three years away. I am not a patient person, it seems….

And then the Mental Interesting contigent keep putting ideas in my head. A very dangerous activity. We have RASC – our writing group, full of the slightly eccentric creative types for whom even the most impractical ideas are a source of excitement. RASC currently meets in the overpriced and relatively atmosphere-deficient cafe at the Arts Centre. Wouldn’t it be so much more inspiring if we had our own venue? A writing cafe? That way, it wouldn’t be a business, it would be an arts venture. And we could get Arts grants, as opposed to business loans, and it would even be a community development and/or socially helpful project – it would provide gainful employment and a creative/productive outlet for the Mentally Interesting, teenage stench or otherwise unemployable members of our little town… With a little help from my friends, I could almost do it at the same time as my degree! And, the most bizarrely sensible suggestion yet: save on leases and business rates – set up my Gaggia machine in a caravan and have a travelling cafe! A Magic Cafe that pops up on request and is never in the same place twice! Yes yes yes!!!

(You can tell I’ve had my caffeine now, can’t you?)

Sigh. It would be so good.

And so to work….

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Posted by on June 1, 2008 in Uncategorized


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