There’s a little Starbucks that’s opened across from Flinders Station, a tiny kiosk of a shop, and while I have, in the past, sworn off such establishments, I have found myself ordered my morning coffee there most mornings before work since it opened a few weeks ago.
Why go to Starbucks?
After all Australia is a country that takes its coffee-making extremely seriously, and some over here might even suggest – oh the blasphemy! – that Australian’s could teach Italians a thing or two about a good coffee, that’s after Italian immigrants taught us how to make it in the first place.
But since visiting New York last year and drinking a lot of cheap “drip” coffee , I am drawn to the brewed coffee they sell at Starbucks.
It’s cheap too – $2.90 for a “grande”, as opposed to the $5 I paid when I made the mistake of ordering a “large” cappucino in the little art deco kiosk in the underground arcade under Flinders Street. The barista behind the counter (tattoos, laid-back, shuffling along like he’s doing the moon walk, makes coffee like he was born in front of an espresso machine) did point out the large cup as if to make sure I really wanted it before nonchalantly asking that I hand over five bucks.
(It’s the kind of place, where people sort out their own change. While I was waiting for my drink, a guy stuck a $20 buck note under an empty coffee cup that serves as the till and helped himself to a $10 and $5 note – a little too la de da for me!)
But back to New York and drip coffee.
It’s a one dimensional drink, it has none of the richness and flavour of a proper Australian coffee (I am always amazed at the consistently good standard of coffee in even the most ordinary, dreary café in Melbourne).
Drip coffee is bland, boring, quite watery and invariably served so hot you peel off a layer of skin from the inside of your mouth when you drink it.
But drink it do – and as if I am Proust dipping Madeleine cake into tea – it all comes back to me.
I am sitting in a working class café, on a stool at a bench by the window looking out onto a grubby street in Brooklyn, eating the purplest blueberry bagel you could imagine, wrapped in wax paper.
The bread is chewy and warm and almost violet in colour, flowing with rivers of dark blueberry and topped with about a whole philadelphia-tub’s worth of cream cheese.
It was a sweet moment – the uncool, coolness of Brooklyn (liquor stores with the neon signs in the window, old ladies in scarves pulling their groceries in wire trolleys, old-fashioned bookshops, terrace housing, an air of decrepitude, but distinctly New Yorkan, with Manhattan off somewhere in the distance).
I savoured that bagel. Man did I savour it. Like I was De Niro in a Scorcese flick. Or maybe a character in a Woody Allen film, the neurotic jew about to see his analyst.
Sipping my coffee, biting chunks out of the bagel. browsing a pile of magazines at the window, looking out at Brooklynites passing by…
And so I find myself queuing outside Starbucks on the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth in downtown Melbourne.
There’s a little bit (a tiny, tiny bit) of New York in Melbourne. The yellow taxi cabs for one rushing by and occassionally hooting. People huddled against the cold. The underground subway behind me leading into the train station. The high-rise towers down Elizabeth Street and up towards the Paris end of Collins Street.
Three times they have got my order wrong at Starbucks. Twice they’ve told me they have run out of brewed coffee and yet I come back.
Carry my steaming mug of blandness across the street, remembering Brooklyn, the bagel and the coffee and how I felt.
Now if only I could find a decent bagel store.