By Tony Deyal
My friend Sose was angry and came into the bar ready for war. “I will coffee down. True. I will coffee down and jump on his face. Let me catch him and when I finish coffee down he dead!” Believing that a little sweetening and the milk of human kindness would be best for all of us, I called out to Seeba, the proprietor who was behind the bar, “Seeba, bring a coffee for Sose.”
Then I added, “Sose, what you want in your coffee? Milk and sugar? Or just milk alone? And if it is milk, you prefer condense or Carnation?” Sose, who had been to prison and was never afraid of anyone, turned his anger on me, “Tony, we are friends but don’t mess with me you know. I blue vex and all you doing is getting me ready to beat the hell out of you instead.”
The problem of course is that many Trinis drink coffee but when it comes to a fistfight with someone they will “coff-ee” (or “cuff-he”) down and put him out for the count. I was lucky that Sose had warned me before dropping “two coff” or more in my face. One would have been enough to leave me “catspraddled” (fall and land sprawled) on my behind and that, for Sose, would not have been an affront or even an aside. I see it as “Neuroscience” or the study of how the nervous system develops. Despite his anger, Sose was a neuroscientist focusing on the brain of the other guy and hoping to destroy his positive and cognitive functions with one “coff”. What got me thinking about Sose, “coff”, coffee and Neuroscience is that “Trigonelline” (TG), a compound in coffee, improves cognitive decline by preventing and improving age-related learning memory impairment. In other words, old people like me who drink and love their coffee are way ahead of the scientists.
I started drinking coffee when I was around four years old. My grandmother loved having her married daughters in her home so she could play with the children for a while. She always had three kinds of “tea” for the morning breakfast- green tea, cocoa tea, coffee tea and sometimes, right after payday, the children’s favourite “Milo” tea. Now, 74 years have passed since, at the age of four, I started drinking “Maxwell House” in my Grandma’s kitchen. Then when the war made it unavailable, I gulped down what she called “Nescaffee”.
There was a British brand called “Costa” but my grandmother said the name meant she couldn’t afford it. When I saw “Robusta” in the shop and asked her to buy one for me, my Grandma said: “The way you always running and playing, more Robusta and we wouldn’t know where to find you.”
I must confess that until I was about six years old I never knew the real colour of any coffee because they were always “nestled” in a cocoon of condensed milk. I used to see my Grandma pour stuff from a brown paper bag into the battered, old aluminium pot from which the handle had broken off, and add water. Then, about an hour after the heavenly smell would start to flood the senses, my grandmother or my mother would take a pot cloth, risk third-degree burns, and pour the liquid into a large cup on which sat a rusted metal strainer that might have been made of BRC (British Reinforcement Concrete). Like economics examinations at University over the years the questions remain the same but the answers change, in the case of my grandma and her coffee she could have got a job with World Cup cricket as a groundskeeper.
For us, it was most times the same old grind for an entire week or more. When we went to the village “wakes” where coffee and biskets were always available, we were sure that my Grandma had lent them her pot with its contents and whoever was in the coffin would have been glad he had avoided the coffee. I look back at that time philosophically. It sent a message to me that if I survived the wake and the funeral, I would eventually have grounds for divorce.
That is why when I was playing cricket with my son and a Doctor friend of his yesterday, they realised that I don’t sweat- I percolate. Instead of a hill of beans, the way I was bowling and getting them out made me a hell to face instead. If any of them dares to call me an “old drip” behind my back, I tell them to their faces, “Thanks for the compliment.”
I was in my favourite coffee haunt with my colleagues and my third cup of black coffee for the morning when one of them told the others, “Poor Tony. You know how he likes to read. He finds in a book about sex that coffee is an aphrodisiac for middle-aged men and despite being older than Methuselah he thinks it will help him. He already drunk three cups and when he finds out the truth he will know he got four.” What my friends were unaware of is that four cups or more, I like the taste and smell even though by the fifth or six cups, I hardly notice. Now with Trigonelline, I can use “health reasons” for having ten cups at a time. Some studies show that caffeine, the stimulant found in coffee, is addictive.
After my tenth cup, that is water behind the bridge outside the bar. What matters is the headache that comes from not having my morning coffee, or from my infrequent efforts to stop drinking the stuff. Tea, which is also heavily loaded with caffeine, is not my cup of anything. Coffee is. My wife, who has tried every stratagem in and out of the books to get me to stop, once tried a mug of my coffee and said it tasted like mud. I explained to her that it was ground only ten minutes before.
Worse, coffee does not keep me awake at nights but has my wife twisting, turning and worried because of what she believes coffee will do to my health. She is convinced that it is bad for me and that my arteries are as hard as rock stone and are getting as rigid as my determination to continue drinking fresh percolated coffee. When I say it “perks” me up she cites evidence from every health magazine and research study to show that coffee is bad for me. I tell her that I am so healthy that I can tackle any Blue Mountain, and not just the coffee that grows on it. In fact, for people with Type 2 diabetes, something I don’t have, coffee increases insulin production and function, especially if it is unsweetened. So, given my great health, when anyone asks me, “How are you?” I reply with the fullest confidence, “Sweet for days and still good to the last drop.”
*Tony Deyal learnt one thing from his doctor. If you take his command to replace your morning coffee with green tea you will lose about 90 percent of whatever joy you have left in life.