This ceramic coffee grinder used to hang on our kitchen wall at home; it now hangs on mine. It was originally (some time in the 1960s I think) a lovely shade of powder blue, but Dad painted it creamy yellow to go with the kitchen some time in the 1970s. We always had coffee made from home-ground beans, bought from a special shop next to Putney station which pumped out a gorgeous aroma of roasting coffee, a rare thing in those days. Despite this, however, we didn’t have fresh coffee every day.
Looking back, I think the coffee grinder was wasted on us then. Mum and Dad came from a generation who valued economy over luxuries like fresh coffee. In our house, the coffee would be made in a large jug, from beans ground in this grinder (a task I always used to enjoy), only every 2 or 3 days. Half of it would be drunk straight away, as you would expect, served with milk warmed in a pan. The rest would be left in the jug until the following day, when it would be strained through a tea strainer into a saucepan and re-heated on the stove. This seems completely bizarre to me now (I am a coffee fanatic), but was just one of the peculiar habits of our family. Perhaps this early experience of coffee made it easier for me to endure all that awful powdered Nicaraguan stuff back in the 1980s. Well one must suffer for one’s principles. I still have the mug from my student days:
Tea was taken in similarly idiosyncratic fashion in our home. Like most families, we had a tea-time ritual. On weekdays, Dad would be home from work and asleep in a chair by 5pm. Mum would get home about 5.45, equally tired after her stressful day, and it was my job (being the only girl) to make the tea and biscuits for everyone. I can see now that this was my Mum’s only break all day; after her cup of tea watching the early evening news, she would drag herself to the kitchen to begin cooking dinner for us all. And I thought I was being so helpful in just making the tea!
Well, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Like coffee, we made our tea the “proper” way: loose leaves from a tin caddy, no teabags. I had to make 2 pots, a big one for Mum, myself and my brothers, and a small one just for Dad. The big one was made the normal way: warm the pot, scoop in 1 caddy spoon’s worth of tea per person plus 1 for the pot, pour on freshly boiled water and leave to brew for 2 minutes before straining into mugs and adding milk. Dad’s pot was different. He liked his tea much weaker. So weak, in fact, it was just a pot of hot water with a pinch of tea leaves in it. He drank this black, and it had to be fresh and piping hot.
I used to wonder if he could really taste the tea in it, so on the 1st April one year when I was about 12, I decided to test him. When I made the daily tea, instead of adding tea leaves to Dad’s pot, I added a couple of drops of brown food colouring from Mum’s baking supplies. I watched him sip it and not react.
“How’s the tea, Dad?”
“It’s lovely dear, thank you.”
He hadn’t been able to tell the difference, but he remained adamant that the delicate flavour of tea made just the way he liked it was the best. And I haven’t drunk tea since I left home in 1980. It just never tasted the same.