The mayhem all started with a simple flick of a switch, performed routinely, religiously, at the start of every day.
The turning on of the coffee machine.
But on Monday, instead of the normal gentle rumble, there was smoke, at first a thin plume, then it thickened. It billowed.
Without knowing a lot about the inner workings of an Italian espresso machine, I was guessing this was not a good sign.
Houston. We have a problem.
How was I going to break the news to the teenage children? Given the choice between losing a parent and losing their coffee machine, they’d be fighting over who had to make the funeral arrangements.
You probably think I’m joking, but in our kitchen every morning there’s a line, like there is outside popular cafes in the city, patrons fidgeting nervously, pacing back and forward, until their name is called.
The only difference is our “patrons” are still in their pyjamas.
Just as I was contemplating how I was going to break the news, the eldest appeared. But before I could say a word, she saw the hastily scribbled note stuck to the machine, warning of the dangers of activation.
Her piercing scream was so loud and drawn out, I feared one of the neighbours might call 000.
In response to the commotion, the rest of the household instantly appeared, and grasped the gravity of what was going on.
This was not going to be a good morning.
In my 20 years as a parent, I’d regularly found myself out of my depth, but not like this. I was drowning.
As a matter of national emergency, I called the coffee machine repair place. “Am I ok to drop the machine over? There’s smoke coming out of the thermostat,” I explained, reaffirming the seriousness of the situation.
“What? When? You’re joking… Six weeks? You won’t be able to look at the machine for six weeks?”
The eldest, hovering over my shoulder, listening nervously to the exchange, let out another one of those piercing screams.
The really bad morning had just become a really bad six weeks. Minimum.
As I tried clumsily, to comfort my offspring, I started thinking… exactly when was it that we became a nation, a world, that couldn’t function without coffee?
Initially, I’d been embarrassed, even appalled by the family’s hysterical response to in-situ cappuccino capitulation, until I relayed the story to a couple of mates..
“Gee – glad it’s you not me,” one known hard-head responded. “I’d prefer to a write off a car than lose my coffee machine for six weeks.”
Another family man, in a similar stage of life, was even more empathetic. “How are the kids coping?” he asked. “They OK? I reckon mine would move out of home.”
Yes, these days, we rely heavily on our morning, mid-morning, lunchtime, mid-afternoon coffee. The flat white has long replaced the 10oz pot of beer as our national drink.
To delve a little deeper into our bean obsession, I decided I’d pick the brain of Brisbane’s coffee king Dean Merlo – nothing to do with a free espresso, you’ll understand – I wanted to get his thoughts on the “why”.
Why has coffee become such a pivotal part of our day to day – a “need” instead of a “want”?
“I genuinely think it’s a feel-good experience,” he explained. “Even before the anticipation of that first sip, there’s the break from work that comes with ordering and lining up. Perhaps chatting with a colleague. It’s a temporary reprieve..
“Everybody’s working at such pace. It’s not OK to loaf around. Coffee is part of that stimulant – people feel like they can work at their best. I know a lot of people who will never start tackling a big problem, until they’ve got a coffee, sitting on their desk beside them.”
Another factor, Merlo says, that’s important to many – not necessarily all – is coffee’s natural properties.
“More and more, as a society, we’re keeping an eye on what we put into our bodies, and there’s plenty of medical research that suggests coffee, in moderation of course, is very good for you, physically and emotionally,” he says.
“Coffee is full of antioxidants and is totally organic, until of course somebody murders it with caramel syrup, or some other similar chemical sh*tstorm.
There’s no explaining that!”
And, asking for a friend – at what “coffee count” per day might you have “a problem”?
“Hard to say,” he says. “Three or four I think is fine. Mind you, I know people whose standard order is four shots with a double shot of syrup. There’s not much hope for them!”
There you have it folks, the run down on our national coffee addiction.
Comforting to know I’m not yet in the high risk zone, nor is at least one of our children. The other two.. not so sure. Surveillance is probably required.
We’ve got a calendar in the kitchen, counting down the days. Only 39 to go.
Not until somebody fixes the machine. Until somebody looks at it.
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