ESPRESSO and the dancing goats!


Dancing goats, religion, culture clash, mass alcoholism…

Sudden clarity, the stock market, the modern social melting pot…

What are we talking about?

The history of one of our most enduringly popular drinks…


Let’s float back through the centuries…

Kaldi, the Ethiopian goatherd notices his goats behaving unusually – livelier and happier. The goats, he discovers, are feasting on a bush covered with reddish coloured beans. Kaldi tries a few of the beans and soon he too is dancing. He takes the mysterious beans up to the monastery. A wise man, one of the monks, makes a tea out of the beans. The “coffee tea” sustains the brethren, wakefully through the many and long hours of devotion and prayer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

European monks, by contrast, were drinking on average 12 pints of beer per day plus wine… and this was below the average of the population! Everyone in Europe, young, old, rich and poor quenched their thirst with beer and wine – drinking the water was potentially fatal.

Throughout the Orient, however, they purified their drinking water by boiling it and infusing it with various herbs. In the non-European world coffee production spreads and grows from strength to strength. In these rich coffee producing countries anyone caught smuggling fertile coffee beans or plants out of the country, especially to Europe, was risking swift decapitation.

Meanwhile in the City of London the clerks would return from their mid morning beer break, with their heads attached but spinning, and the quality of work and commerce would plummet rapidly. Coffee eventually arrives in London. The result of intervening wars, spying, sea journeys and general skulduggery. It was embraced with open arms, especially by the Puritans. Why? Coffee promoted clear memory, clarity of thought and stimulating conversation – quite a contrast to beer.

Coffee shops become social, creative and philosophical hubs. They became centres of commerce with many financial and mercantile companies having their offices in the booths of London coffee shops – Lloyds of London for example.

The coffee shops were the places where the prime movers of the age met to discuss the ideas which, for better or for worse, laid foundations for the philosophies which still inspire or repel us today.


Many people have heard of the Japanese tea ceremony and of the calming meditative effects association with the discipline. But how much consideration have we given to the great tradition of coffee culture?

The early coffee house culture was associated with comfortable surroundings and durable material like glass or china. Unfortunately much of today’s coffee culture is an “on the move” phenomenon associated with the ubiquitous paper cup. Fodder as distinct from food for thought. Without sufficient leisure and reflection there is no fresh thought or creativity. Fortunately a few coffee shops continue to cherish and nurture this socially interactive and mutually stimulating culture of leisure. Tinderbox – what a shining example! Blessed good fortune!

As you sip your favoured tipple from the simple, aesthetically pleasing, porcelain cup pause and take a look around this hallowed shrine to coffee. It is a perfect location for that most compelling of pass-times – people watching.

A complete mix socially and in age. An equally comfortable place for both women and men. Business meetings. Friends and lovers. Writers with their laptops. Film makers discussing story lines and scripts. Cross planetary emails fly from Ipads. And of course people, just like you, engaged in solitary reflection.

How much wealth – financially, emotionally and spiritually – is being generated around you right now?


Coffee preparation has gone through many incarnations from a tea infusion, to pot boiling, to percolating, to filtering and finally to what many would consider the pinnacle of the art- the espresso machine. Many people think espresso means fast as in express. Espresso, however translates as es-presso literally – pressed out. A relatively slow process to be done with great love and care.

Let us hear from a Master of Coffee, Phillip McClemments manager of the Islington Tinderbox, on the art of making the perfect espresso.

“Espresso is the basis of all the coffee drinks that we know and love – from your breakfast lattes to your special sweet treat Mocha’s. The preparation of the espresso machine is of almost equal importance to the quality of the coffee itself. For example – the water must be able to flow freely through clean tubing, a good barista will clean the espresso machines tubing three times a day.

Timing the water flow through the coffee is incredibly important. About twenty five seconds for the perfect espresso – regardless of whether it is a single, double or triple espresso. It’s a question of getting the “crema” right – the bubbles that form on the surface of the espresso. Less than twenty-five seconds and the crema, is fragmented and the bubbles are too large. What you have is basically dirty water – it has the right colour but your coffee has no flavour. More than twenty-five seconds and the crema becomes muddy, overly dense and your coffee is bitter.

Once you’ve got that right you have the foundation for everything – lattes, cappucinos, Americanos, Mocha’s you name it. Each and every cup of coffee is important. Each one needs the same amount of care.”

And that is just about it apart from one final thought. Some thought for your food and some food for thought:

“If I wear Armani underwear it does not become part of me. If I drink coffee it does become part of me. Coffee is more important”

Italian food writer

Alan Mars is the author of “Presenter – Being Your Best and Beyond” (Hodder) which he wrote in the Tinderbox!

In addition to being a writer he is also a Presentation Skills coach and a teacher of the Alexander Technique. 

07930 323 057


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