One of the many things that I enjoy about living in the Canary Islands is a decent cup of coffee. Gone are the days when “a cup of instant” seemed to be the norm, and I still shudder when I return to the UK for a brief visit. A visit to one of the relatively new, and supposedly trendy, overpriced coffee shops is, for me, an ordeal best avoided. A quick visit out of sheer desperation during a frantic shopping expedition led me into one of the many branches of ‘Costa Lottee’ that are opening up in all of the UK’s High Streets - after all, it did offer “Free Wifi Internet Connection.” Once inside, however, I was told that the connection was not working and had not been for some time. Oh well, I could do with a sit down as I had forgotten quite how exhausting shopping in the UK can be.
My request for a simple cup of black coffee, no I don’t like mugs, was met with a disinterested look as the spotty youth pointed to a huge variety of coffees on the board above his sentry post.
“Take yer pick,” he slurped, as he continued chewing his gum and picking his fingernail. “That one will do,” I replied, "but I only want a small cup and not a mugful.”
“We only do them mugs,” he replied stabbing at the nearest soup bowl with a fingernail partly hanging from his index finger.
“But I only want a small cup...,” I protested.
“Yer can’t have one. We only do what’s on the list,” came the surly response. I was now getting very concerned about where the almost detached fingernail would land. Maybe it would finally descend into the plate of expensive-looking chocolate muffins perched temptingly at the side of the till?
Realising that discussion with the spotty youth was pointless, I handed over my ₤4.50 and perched myself on a most uncomfortable stool at the side of an equally unfortunate table with three legs - goodness, they still do Formica! Maybe I should count myself fortunate that the loose fingernail was not floating in my coffee... The coffee was one of the most revolting drinks that I have ever tasted. Two sips of the dark liquid and I was out of the door, vowing never to return to the soulless branches of Costa Lottee.
I contrast this with a cafe bar in my nearest town, Vecindario, on the island of Gran Canaria. It is a genuine town with real working people and well away from the tourist areas and expensive bars that are mostly owned by expats in the south of the island. Here I can get a cup of excellent coffee for 90 cents, sit in comfort and people-watch for as long as I wish. I watch Canarians, Spanish, Chinese, Argentineans, Russians, Cubans, Germans, Scandinavians, Africans and Indians pass by, together with a rich variety of skin colour, clothing and fascinating headgear. It makes me realise once again that I am living in a community where race, colour, faith and language rarely matter and that most people still live by the old adage of “Live and Let Live”. It is a community where most people just get on with each other and I know how fortunate I am.
Back to my cup of coffee. Did you know that coffee is grown in Gran Canaria, as it has been since 1788 when King Carlos III issued a decree ordering the introduction of the first coffee plants to the Island? Today, coffee is produced in very small amounts by local farmers who have kept the tradition of growing and consuming the coffee that they produce for many generations. The coffee is called Finca la Corcovada and is grown in the Valley of Agaete. This valley has a microclimate and a rich soil and is perfect for growing coffee. The coffee is grown and produced by Juan Godoy, the only coffee grower in Europe and who is now supplying the UK market. So next time you are buying coffee, how about asking for coffee from the Canary Islands from your specialist coffee supplier and bring a taste of Canarian sunshine to your cup of morning coffee?
My memory turns back to Costa Lottee in the UK, and I wonder if the spotty youth is still filling his soup-bowl mugs with foul-tasting overpriced coffee. Maybe, he is serving coffee from Gran Canaria?
© Barrie Mahoney
From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney
Living in Spain and the Canary Islands : ISBN 978-0995602724