Sunday, August 13, 2006

Self confessed instant drinker …………

As I stood in my kitchen after a rather lazy Saturday morning’s sleep in I looked at a jar of instant coffee, the contents of which I had begun to shovel into my cup, and thought back to a time when I never would have admitted to drinking instant coffee. Indeed there was a time when I would not have even had a jar of the offensive stuff in my house.

Yes – I was a coffee snob.

In my early 20s I began working for the Australian Public Service in Canberra (Australia’s Capital city) and it was the 'APS' that introduced me to coffee - and indeed sparked what would become a life-long partnership. It was a simple time, a time of innocence. A time I like to refer to as ‘BS’ – Before Starbucks. Cafes were a dime a dozen in Canberra – but coffee houses such as Starbucks had not yet crept onto the scene. In those days a coffee break represented an escape from a life that you were not yet ready for – a life of being a subordinate to team leader and a section manager. A life of flexi time and 4 weeks holiday a year. A life that wasn’t supposed to happen until you were in your 30s and ready for kids and benefits.

I distinctly remember the joy of walking across the road from my office into one of the cafes that did take away and thinking ‘for the next 15 minutes I’m not a public servant…. I am a coffee drinker indulging in the thing I most like to do – drink coffee’. It sounds a bit extreme but let’s face it – it was Canberra in the late 90s – There was no beach to escape to and drinking coffee was about all there was to do at 10 am on a work day!!

And that’s how it started – as my years in the public service progressed and my need for more grandiose moments of escapism grew my coffee expectations scaled out of control until one non-descript day I decided that I could no longer tolerate instant coffee. The words ‘sorry, but I don’t drink Instant coffee’ were soon to become a song I sang regularly.

But that all changed one fateful trip back to New Zealand.

My sister and I had gone back to New Zealand in July 2002. Justin and I were due to move to the UK on September 2002 and this trip was going to be the last trip back to NZ for the foreseeable future. My maternal grandparents offered their place as our base and for the 2 weeks we were there we whizzed around the north island always to return home to Nana and Koro.

One of the first nights in NZ we had been out with some cousins and returned home at about 10pm. Nana and Koro were in the lounge room – Koro reading the paper and nana watching TV. As soon as we walked in the front door, nana leapt off her chair and excitedly asked about our day. As I began to recount the day’s events she put the kettle on and pulled a tray of freshly baked shortbread from the oven (one of her specialties responsible for many of my fondest childhood memories).

As she reached for a cup she asked

‘Tea or coffee dear’

‘Coffee thanks nana’

‘How do you have it?’

‘Just black, no sugar’

‘Oh, Just like me dear’ …… she seemed to like the fact that we had our coffee the same way. So did I.

And then it happened, it could have even taken place in slow motion – all pivotal moments in life take place in slow motions – don’t they?

She reached up and grabbed a jar of ‘International Roast’ from the shelf cupboard and began scoping it into our cups.

‘But that’s instant coffee ……. I don’t drink instant coffee……… especially international roast…..IM A COFFEE SNOB….’ I thought in a panic and almost out loud.

But I couldn’t get out of it – I wasn’t about to tell my Grandmother that her coffee wasn’t good enough for me to drink – so I sat down on the sofa and finished telling her all about our day.

And so the pattern was established and whenever we returned home late in the evening – this was our routine. Nana would make the coffees (sometimes followed by a duty free baileys chaser!!) and get out a plate of homemade shortbreads and we would sit and talk about the day and all our adventures.

In my memory that coffee was the best I had ever had – and maybe that’s because it was accompanied by memories in the making. It wasn’t about escapism or even status, but rather about enjoying the moment with people you love.

When we got back to Australia I bought a tin of International Roast and every morning before work I would make myself a cup and think of how Nana’s face lit up as we talked and laughed.

So as I sit in my front room on what is now Saturday afternoon I enjoy my cup of instant coffee.

My name is Tracey McGarvey-Gilbard
And I drink Instant Coffee


  1. Being a coffee hater I hate to change the 'C' word to the 'T' word to feel the love... and I felt it girlfriend, looking forward to more news and reviews. EMx

  2. Hi Trace,

    Great work - good read - keep it up. and No, theres nothing wrong with the old instant grind!! It helps one keep in touch at ground level - you know, never forget your roots and where it all started! A really good cappo or flat white (or in my case a long black)is appreciated much more after a cup of the old instant. Nana and koro haven't read your article yet tho I have told them about it. Tried to get on their computer tonight but something was amiss. I think they were quite tickled that you chose them to help launch your writing career and nana's comment was that she remembered your visit well AND yourlate night cups of coffee!! So keep up the good work girl - you have a talent for it - words that is, not instant coffee!!

    Take care and love to you all.
    Your loving aunt!!