Good start to the day with the first truly dry and sunny cycle commute. It’s still freezing cold but it makes such a difference having the sun shining through the trees. The icy temperatures mean I am rosy-cheeked and wide awake when I get into the office. The first thing I do is turn on the coffee machine and look forward to that first cup – really feeling as if I’ve earned it.
I clearly remember the first time I tasted coffee. It was during a day sledging at Gott’s Park near Leeds. I was soaking wet, tired out and probably freezing cold but having too much fun to stop for long. Mum got out a hot flask of coffee – probably milky and with sugar – and I was so relieved to taste something warm that I enjoyed it. I was probably about 10. Back then in Yorkshire, all coffee was instant. Nescafe usually, or Nescafe Gold if you were posh.
At the age of 18 I decided to drink coffee black with no sugar. In my French A-Level exam we had to translate a passage describing a man enjoying a strong black coffee and a fresh orange sitting on his doorstep in the early morning sun. It may have been something by Camus. It sounded cool and exotic to me so I decided there and then to do the same. Teenagers, eh? Later that year I spent the summer working on a kid’s camp in California – and there I became addicted to black filter coffee. I was always tired but a shower and a coffee kick-started my day.
When I first arrived in Germany, I worked for a small company in Bavaria. I was amazed and delighted to see that they had a Saeco fully automatic coffee machine. Nowadays these are commonplace – even in England – but this was 1991 and I’d never seen one before. Typical Germany, I thought. When they do something it has to be really good, not just OK. Probably slightly over-engineered, more than you’d like to pay but you’re glad you did afterwards.
Germans like coffee. Instant coffee doesn’t really exist, at the very least you’ll get filter coffee. On Sundays, families will traditionally get together at about 4pm to have “Kaffee und Kuchen” – coffee and cake. The shops are still closed here on Sundays, with the exception of some bakers in the morning and the cake shops in the afternoon (Konditerei). Often the cake shops are cafes at the same time. If you go to the cafes on a Sunday you will see a steady stream of people buying slices of sticky cake (the Black Forest is on our doorstep) which are placed on a paper try and then carefully wrapped in branded paper. They then head off back home to enjoy their Sunday afternoon with friends or relatives. It’s the sort of minor event where new boyfriends get introduced to the parents. Not too long and if everyone hates each other you can still talk about how lovely the cake is.
The influx of American pseudo-coffee chains has not been as strong as back in England. There are still plenty of real cafes here. Probably the best cup of coffee in Böblingen is to be found at the “Cafe Frechdax”. Unfortunately the name translates as Cheeky Badger Cafe – and British readers will know that Badgers are being culled at the moment. It’s probably only a matter of time before Starbucks take over. I hope not.
Things have come a long way since I saw my first coffee machine in 1991. Now nearly everyone we know (mostly families) seem to have a “Kaffeeautomat” at home. Some have now switched to Nespresso so we can get loads of different flavours (mostl of which taste exactly the same). Filter coffee is the preserve of older folks or students who can’t be bothered with the extravagance. I don’t really mind as long as I can call it Kaffee and not an Americano.