Last night, over a feast of take-out Chinese, wine and gelato, four of us reminisced about our individual memories about food. S talked about walking to the corner grocery store with her friend at school lunch hours, pooling their money and buying a jar of dill pickles and eating them all on the way back to school. Dill pickles were not eaten in her family home, and so they were an unusual and desirable foodstuff. M discussed his love of things curry, particularly the way his mother made curried dishes, but then added that when he was in Delhi last he could not choke down the home cooking of the family with whom he stayed. They were strict vegans, but to please his North American love of animal protein they served him a curried dish of stringy and anorexic chicken in a livid green curry sauce which has completely put him off chicken to this day. A loves the smell and texture of freshly baked shortbread, so she was planning on baking up several batches in the next week. For me, the smell of Turkish coffee conjures up childhood memories of walking into grandmother’s apartment building foyer and smelling the coffee brewing at the Szabo apartment on the ground floor. Coffee was the magical elixir one lapped up carefully, sipping while holding a cube of sugar between the front teeth. Occasionally, my sister and I took turns at grinding the coffee beans at the Szabos, a necessary ritual we took very seriously, almost religiously. The scent of coffee and a particular ceramic tile design are inextricably tied together as an olfactory and visual pairing for me. So, on those rare occasions, when I cut through the local Starbucks to visit a store-owning friend in the Mall, the scent of coffee there doesn’t fit with the accompanying visuals of arborite, plastic and plasticized wood surfaces, and I scurry through as fast as possible. The coffee at Starbucks holds no attraction. I cannot be a participant in the rituals of preparation nor in the shared experience of sitting cosily at a scarred round table drinking out of mismatched porcelain cups with welcoming elders.
When coffee was a rare treat in post-war Eastern Europe, the drinking of it was a ceremonial sharing made more memorable by its scarcity. Here in the burbs, coffee flows like water, coffee shops are on every downtown corner. One drinks from paper cups with logos, coffee is quaffed down quickly or carted about until it is cooled too much and then discarded, cold and unsavoury, by the edge of roads or left abandoned, rancid, in the cupholders of cars.
What memories will the contemporary clients of Starbucks and the like shops associate with the scent of coffee? That life was in constant flux and rush?