The eternal search – for the perfect coffee


I lost my wallet the other day. Going to pay for the dry cleaning, I found my big red Guy Laroche wallet given to me by my generous daughter had disappeared. Panic. The last place I’d had it was at the garden centre a mile away. And since I’d paid for the plants, the wallet must still be sitting in the trolley. More panic.

I ran through the things that mattered in my mind… credit cards … but ‘they’ wouldn’t know my pin number. Pain to have to cancel… forget them for now. Money? Who cared. But oh, my photographs of the grandchildren and moments caught in time that I wanted to remember… they were irreplaceable… and the two little love letters with terrible spelling and seven year old scrawls from them … one which I had found written in the diary they always used to keep when they came to stay with me… on this occasion they had decided that they would stay permanently and be home-schooled by me:

‘Five time a week I have fun. It can be so wonderful. I will like to say that I am writing this because it came from my hart and I kodn’t get it out of my hed….I hope that we can stay heer for homeschool it will be so fun and it will asol be fun because I love my granny so much it can be fun every day but I love staying heer and I like feeding the eels’… how could I replace a letter like that? My heart curled over at the thought of such a loss…

What else?  Oh … my collection of coffee cards. Each one stamped for every coffee I’d had, and nearly ready for a free coffee. The restaurant down by the river, the cafe in the garden where they make pottery, the lovely place where they also make hand-made chocolates, my stopping off place in town…

Zipping up my stiff upper lip I hurried back to the garden centre, and there was the red wallet, waiting for me at the office. (gardeners are good  people!) “It was my coffee cards I was worried about,” I explained when I picked it up, and everyone laughed because they knew how I felt.

I have travelled the length and breadth of one country, which shall remain nameless for fear of hurting millions of people’s feelings, looking for a decent cup of coffee. I finally found one in a far-flung cathedral crypt cafe.  I will drive for miles for the sake of that elusive perfect cup.

I know as soon as it’s put in front of me if it’s going to be a good one. The cream will be thick and won’t just dwindle into a thin froth when stirred. It will be smooth and not too creamy and not too strong. The most memorable coffee I’ve ever had was in an Italian restaurant in Melbourne.

Creating this ambrosia obviously came naturally to the maker… and in that search for the perfect cup, I’ve discovered that the maker actually matters. Yes, I know the machine has to be properly cleaned so the coffee doesn’t taste bitter, and the milk the right temperature, but there’s more to it than that. And the deciding factor in the quality of a cup of coffee for me, seems to be the person.

Everyone makes the coffee the same way on the same sort of machines I’m assured, but it doesn’t work out like that. Every barista is different and so is their coffee. A grumpy barista does not produce a good cup of coffee. A good cup of coffee is hand-crafted and a work of love, so I know if it’s going to be delicious by the quality of the barista’s smile. A nice person makes great coffee! They even do lovely patterns in the froth, like a Christmas tree at Christmas time, or a flower or smiley face at other times!

And what despair and thwarted desire when I arrive at a favourite coffee place to find a new member of staff, or the nice coffee person has taken off overseas, and we have to start all over again, with a learner driver as it were!  Or the tantalising times when the best coffee maker is busy cutting cake or sorting spoons, and not at her post, and I have to make do with a cup which I know won’t be as good as hers.  C’est la vie, but coffee is so much more than beans, milk and water!

And when the perfect coffee arrives, what sybaritic pleasure – the delicate sinking of the spoon into the froth, and a gentle stirring. Sometimes a fragrant teaspoon of coffee crystals for the sheer pleasure of stirring and dissolving them in the glorious liquid. And then a sip, and a contented settling into satisfaction as I slowly savour one of civilisation’s minor works of art.

Sadly the second cup never reaches the same level of pleasure as the first. And I’ve even read that scientific research has proved this to be true. No wonder it matters that that first cup is as good as it can get!


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

One of my favourite coffee places serves gingerbread with their coffee. I love it. To make it myself, I use two eggs, a cup of sugar, a cup of milk and a cup of golden syrup (the cup rinsed out with oil before measuring the syrup). Beat them together. Melt 225g butter. Mix two cups SR flour, two teasp or more of ground ginger, a teasp each of mixed spice and of cinnamon, and a teasp of baking soda into the egg mixture and then stir in the melted butter.

Pour into a loaf tin with the base lined with baking paper. Bake at 180 degrees for an hour. If you’re using a fan-bake oven test after 45 minutes. Let it cool in the tin for 30 minutes before turning out. You can ice it, but I like it cut into slices and spread with a little butter.

Food for Thought

“The artist’s task is to save the soul of mankind; and anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. If artists cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found.”
Terence McKenna  (1946 –  2000) was an American philosopher, ethnobotanist, lecturer, writer and author of several books.. He was also the creator of a mathematical theory of time based on patterns found in the I Ching which he termed novelty theory.[1]





Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, great days, happiness, humour, life/style, love, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life

65 responses to “The eternal search – for the perfect coffee

  1. I would have taken you for a tea person! Yes, there is nothing like that first cup. I think that is true of most liquids. The first drink is always the best!


  2. Gingerbread and coffee is a wonderful pairing. Think it might be time for a cup and a slice right now. Great post! Glad the wallet was found and the coffee cards are safe!


  3. This stirred some thoughts but since I’m on my phone, they’ll have to wait. 🙂



  4. Ah, Valerie, finding your post at the top of my reader was just like having that lovely cup of coffee. Thank you! xoxoM


  5. MisBehaved Woman

    Glad the wallet and treasured photos are safe and sound! I’m afraid my idea of a perfect cup of coffee would curl your toes and send you running away. I use a camp stove coffee pot, brew it for hours and always have a mess of grinds in the bottom of the cup…certainly not for everyone but it sure does start the morning off with a proper kick! 😉


    • Ah I know what you mean, but we’re comparing apples and pears here! My homemade coffee is quite different too, and I’m just about to make a pot of it !!!


      • MisBehaved Woman

        Coffee shops are still a rarity here, unfortunately. I can choose from Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts or one local shop that smells funky and is over-priced. Needless to say, I only drink homemade… I can’t imagine how far I’d have to drive from my little patch of desert to find the kind of coffee you’re talking about!


  6. I have every sympathy. I’m so glad you found the purse with coffee cards intact.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx


  7. Yes, glad the wallet and coffee cards are safe as well as the precious letter.Although I drink my coffee black and don’t experience the spoon swirling effect with the cream, I too would drive to the next county for a perfect cup of coffee. Perhaps the barista not only loves what he/she is doing but knowingly is saving the souls of coffee lovers. 🙂


  8. What an interesting thought Lynne…I think you may have hit on an eternal truth !!!


  9. I enjoy a really good cup of coffee, but it is not a daily ritual nor has it given rise to any religious fervour. Maybe I have yet to come across the true ambrosia.


  10. Ugh! One of the worst feelings in the world, and I’m glad the panic only lasted until you found the wallet waiting for you. I like happy endings. I keep believing that I’ll never be a grown up because I don’t care for the taste of coffee. I just assumed I would drink it, but I guess a nice cup of tea makes for close second!


  11. Dearest Valerie,

    I read until you found your wallet and then I stopped, wanting to save the rest for reading and re-reading during my long night on the summit. I am smiling with glee because I know a certain coffee aficionado five thousand miles east and a little north of here who will be commenting on your post. Will wait with anticipation to read that, too.

    More soon.

    Kia Ora,



  12. Amy

    So glad you got your wallet back! Now I can see why you worry about the coffee card more than your credit cards and money 🙂


  13. I was so engrossed in your story of ambrosial coffee that I scorched some of the plums on my plum coffee cake. Never mind. It will still be delicious. Valerie, I think, at one time in another life, your heart resided in Ethiopia where coffee drinking is a treasured ritual.


  14. You give that perfect cup of coffee a human face–the barista who serves love with his coffee. So lovely! I remember visiting my daughter in Virginia several years ago. She didn’t have a coffee maker, so each afternoon while she was at work, I would walk on the trail through the woods that ended at a mini-mall with a Starbucks. About a 30-minute walk. The coffee there always tasted particularly good.


  15. I could smell the coffee you described. Great read.


  16. Margot Wilsonu

    It’s 6.30 am and I am in bed reading your blog. Although the first thing I want in the morning is a cup of tea I now have a longing for a cup of coffee. I would get up and make myself one but somehow I don’t think a cup of instant coffee will suffice !!!!


    • Dear Margot, please don’t let me put you off your cup of tea! The first thing I do in the morning too, is to make myself a tray of tea, and go back to bed with the teapot, the hot water, the milk and my prettiest cup and saucer! But I think you have a point about instant coffee!!!


  17. In a crypt? What had gone into it?

    I’d be a bit more interested in that stylish silver-plated coffee pot.


  18. Dear Valerie,

    As I write it’s 3:30 a.m. in Belton, Missouri. Arctic winds are whipping around our house and rattling my windows. I almost expect to be writing in the land of Oz soon.
    Most of my friends and family think I’m insane to get up so early. But this is my time to write and reflect before having to go into work.
    I relate well to that first cup of coffee. My coffee maker is programmed to have my brew waiting for me before my eyes are open. Because of allergies, cream is no longer an option and I drink it strong and black.
    My cup is made sweeter by the company on my computer screen via Skype. For over a year I’ve “shared” my coffee and writing time with my close friend 5,000 miles away. Had it not been for my strange circadian rhythm, I’d never have met this delightful gentleman/author/treasured friend or his friend in New Zealand.
    Delightful post, Valerie. And I’m so happy you were able to recover your wallet.

    Shalom and Kia Ora,



    • Hello Rochelle,
      Your winter winds sound fierce-some.. hope your coffee is keeping the cold out…
      You sound like a hard-core coffee addict, while I am only a decadent dilettante who wants a flat white made by someone else!.
      Tea is what would keep me going when I needed ‘ a little help from my friends” to quote the Beatles !
      Your committment to writing instead of sleeping awes me, but it must help to share some of the time with himself !
      Thank you for your lovely comments, and I’m glad you enjoyed my waffling about coffee!
      love Valerie


  19. Oh, I know that sinking feeling – and both my coffee cards and my bookshop cards would be much missed. I love the sound of your gingerbread and that tip about syrup and oil? Brilliant! Thank you 🙂


    • Hello Sally, lovely to hear from you..another enjoyer of coffee! It’s hard to imagine what we did before coffee, isn’t it…. hot chocolate? Tea… not quite the same when sitting in a cafe ! Hope you enjoy the gingerbread …


  20. So glad your wallet was safe! I sometimes think the very first sip of coffee is even better than the rest. I, too, am always searching for the perfect cup of coffee. I found one in New Orleans several years ago but have not been able to duplicate it since.


  21. I don’t drink coffee but I am thrilled you got your letters back. I used to keep little memorabilia in my wallet. I don’t any longer because one of my sisters pointed out that replacing credit cards is much easier than losing pieces of my heart. xox


  22. Wow !! You are such an amazing storyteller, dear Valerie…leading us ever so deftly from one topic to another 🙂 Going to try the gingerbread over the weekend. Lotsa of love and a big hug to you 🙂


  23. I am SO thankful you got your wallet back…losing something like that is always HEART stopping!! Karma is good, because you give so much, you received your wallet back in perfect shape and just as full as when you lost it!




  24. More than once I have had wonderful coffee in a restaurant and asked whether I could buy a pound to make at home. Why do you suppose it is never as good when I make it…


  25. Who can be happier than a person who’s been reunited with the lost pocket book? Maybe Valerie with her perfect cup of coffee. Thank goodness for honest people – and fortunately I run into many of them in my surroundings, too. Today, I realized I’d left my bank card in the cash machine. I phoned the bank and learned the machine kindly ate it to prevent someone from grabbing it. I learned it even takes back the cash I forget to take it after it’s spit out its questions and receipts when I was dealing with no glasses and a dropped purse. ( I sound so like my mother!)


  26. Valerie, you really know how to make the simplest of things (if I can now say that coffee is the simplest of things after reading that post!) come to life. I love coffee, but have never considered all of the elements that go into making a good cup. I think I’ll appreciate it a little more now!


  27. This is my second time for reading this post. I must confess, that as I read the first paragraphs, I felt a rising angst thinking of those photographs and letters. it reminded me of one of my favourite Carl Jung quotes: “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.:”

    The other day, my husband and I met a neighbour in the lobby of our condo drinking coffee from a colourful mug. I couldn’t help but being drawn to her, just to breathe in the fresh, and oh so enticing, aroma. She understood completely, “You haven’t had your first cup of coffee yet, have you?”

    “And when the perfect coffee arrives, what sybaritic pleasure – the delicate sinking of the spoon into the froth, and a gentle stirring.” Oh, Valerie, that is the quintessential “ahhhhh”

    Thank you for making my day…


  28. My heart rate went up at the thought of a lost wallet, I feared for your lost treasures. So happy they were found and returned. How well I know the perfect cuppa syndrome, it is with faithfulness I return to the small cafes that offer up that perfect cup. My most perfect cup ever, shockingly was in a small restaurant in Ireland, they of course also had the most perfect chocolate cake I have ever tasted; both sublime.


  29. I’m so glad you got your wallet back, Valerie!

    Your writings about the perfect coffee and enjoying the first cup of it reminded me of a scene from Ally McBeal (first season). Do you know that show? – It seems, that Ally also knows about the special pleasure that lies in the first cup. 🙂

    Sending much love to you,


  30. My favourite coffee place immediately came to mind and its a ritual I look forward to. Up here in Northern NSW are numerous good places to get coffee but my favourite is at a local small seaside town. We walk the goldens first on the doggie beach nearby and then give them a wash under the hose, then heading down to the surf club where awaits my favourite coffee in a large china cup. Smashing. Being an avid gardener myself I concur that gardeners are honest people, even when walking along with secateurs at the ready to snip a piece of something 🙂 Joy


    • The whole outing sounds like heaven, the dogs, the beach, the china, the coffee!!! Yes, you can’t be mean when you’re a gardener, can you – is it something about being close to lovely mother earth !!!


  31. Juliet

    So glad you found your wallet. You describe the pleasure of that perfect cup of coffee so well. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I almost wish I was after reading this post.
    PS Am still behind with everything and till now have only been able to read short blog posts. Nice to visit your blog once more.


  32. Hehe, nothing like the perfect cup of coffee; glad it all worked out!


  33. Ah, a happy ending for a red wallet! Yes, gardeners are good people, and you must be one too!


  34. Thank you… are you a gardener too? there seem to be plenty of us around in our little blogging circle….


  35. I will like to say that I am writing this because it came from my hart and I kodn’t get it out of my hed. I love the little home that your blog makes in my heart.
    Hugs from Claire


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