I hardly ever drink it these days but tmo's recent posts about swapping to instant reminded me of when I used to, early on in my coffee journey. The peculiar pleasure of opening a new jar of instant. Twist the lid and beneath is a golden foil. Crack! A short, sharp blow pierces the foil and out wafts that heavenly smell. Breathe in, breathe deeply – don't let that first coffee scent escape unloved and unnoticed! The world pauses for a moment in silent appreciation. OK, that's enough – make the coffee now!
My hey-day of instant coffee drinking was in my teens before university. That's also when my black coffee habit started (with two sugars until last year), probably some combination of feeling too lazy to walk to the fridge and curiosity over the taste one day while revising for exams. I graduated quickly from the standard Nescafé Gold Blend and bonded with my Dad over discovering Nescafé Alta Rica in Sainsbury's, a bolder, richer expression.
For context, this was in the days before Starbucks hit the UK. Instant coffee was the standard in cafes and “greasy spoons” up and down the land. Throw in twice the granules and make it with hot milk instead for a “milky coffee” treat (simpler and somehow more comforting than a latte or even a modern “flat white”). Head to a restaurant and there you could sometimes find a land of “floater” coffees (whipped cream on top of black coffee, whisky etc. added when of legal age!), espressos and filter coffee.
When I left home and went to university my coffee world changed. For a number of years my personal jar of Instant played second fiddle to a rotating cast of alternatives. Filter coffee from the canteen or in large bowls in Costa Coffee. Cafetieres (French presses) plunging down and never completely capturing all the grounds, leaving the coffee a little bit murky. Those little metal stove-top espresso makers that everyone eventually melts the handles on. Baileys lattes in a Häagen-Dazs store. Machiattos in Caffè Nero with a small dab of frothy milk on top of an espresso. And finally, about 12 years ago I bought my first filter coffee machine with a timer to make those mornings easier.
At some point in all of that I left the humble jar of instant coffee behind. It became something to be walked past in the grocery store, an object of disdain to be sneered at and left to amateurs. However, that's not really fair. Coffee relationships all start somewhere – choosing to drink black instant coffee with two sugars over a cup of traditional British tea, and opting for a jar of Alta Rica rather than Gold Blend was the start of mine.
So thank you instant coffee! You were my gateway drug to the coffee world. You still bring me nostalgic joy when I have the odd milky coffee with my folks. I may now prefer the way filter coffee tastes to you but there will always be one criteria you will win on. That satisfying crack! and the smell released when breaking into a fresh jar.
Entry 17 of my participation in the “100 days to offload” challenge. Find out more and join in!