This Sort of Thing...


Scorn Not His Djezve



Welcome to my first ever written down rant.

Well, you know me and perhaps I exaggerate a bit, despite having been told a million times not to. Perhaps this isn’t exactly the first bluster of outrage that I have written but it’s quite possibly the first that anyone has ever read, as previous attempts using the medium of paper and quill to highlight my personal irritants were in the form of letters to my MP back in the days when I was a citizen of Britain and before I had lost that final shred of belief in authority. I’ve still not had replies but I expect the man in question has been very busy (gala lunches don’t eat themselves, you know) and it’s only been twelve or thirteen years and I forgot to tell him my new address in Bulgaria. By now I expect he sees me as an illegal emigrant not worthy of acknowledgement.

I wish there was a body that I could complain to when my complaints directed elsewhere are ignored. I wish there was a body that I could complain to about there being a lack of a body that I could complain to when my complaints directed elsewhere are ignored. Etcetera!

But never mind. Sometimes I find it’s best to just whinge away to myself in my head. At least that way I sometimes get a sympathetic response… but not always. Sometimes the devils at play in there can be a calming influence. But if you think it was foolish of me to make the assumption that someone might read this, then obviously you’re wrong and I made the correct assumption.

I’m in no way a hostile type of a fella so although I get disgruntled from time to time I have never thumped a table at a meeting in a room above a pub, or written unpleasant things about George W Bush and his type on the walls of public toilets, or burnt a bus or a bra. Burning toast is about my limit. So it concerns me now that anyone reading these words of dissatisfaction on a printed page or on a computer screen might not appreciate the true depth of my feelings. To eliminate any risk of the strength of my views being underestimated then perhaps I should make you aware of the fact that I wrote the first draft using a phial of my own blood, the sharpened rib bone of a rabid jackal and parchment made from recycled Daily Mail readers’ letters pages. Beat that for anger!

I can accept that we all have different tastes and opinions in respect of politics, religion, football, art, sexuality, Coronation Street storylines and things like that. Although no one will ever change my way of looking at the world I can understand that others may look at it in a different way and that it is highly unlikely that I will ever be able to change that. So there’s really no point in getting angry. It doesn’t matter what I say. More often than not no one’s listening anyway.

But when I taste coffee!!!

I simply cannot condone the existence of shit coffee or show any level of respect for those who make shit coffee and give it to me to drink. Pardon my Serbo-Croat (others might say pardon my French but this could cause confusion as my lovely partner is French) but shit is the only adjective that accurately describes poorly made coffee, and vice versa. If ever you hear me say that I’m just going for a poorly made coffee, you’ll know exactly what I mean. But I cannot stress enough that in this world there is coffee and there is shit coffee. There is nothing in between. It’s not alright to say alright.

There were a great number of factors that influenced my decision to emigrate and start a new life in Europe’s east end. These included the low cost of living, the predictability of a four-season climate, the beautiful scenery and nature, the big smile of Magdalena who works in the café by the bridge in Asenovets, the total absence of Coronation Street storylines and things like that. But also the coffee. Here I never have to tell anybody how I like it. It just automatically comes that way. It makes me feel so Balkan.

There’s an old Turkish proverb that goes, ‘Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love,’ and I totally agree.

‘What did the Ottomans ever do for us?’ you might hear a resident of Plovdiv or Stara Zagora or Belogradchik say, and the answer is that they brought coffee. They also brought five centuries of oppression, slavery and slaughter but over a nice brew and a diamond of baklava we can forgive them for all that. 

There’s nothing at all complicated in our method for making a drop of coffee. You don’t need filter machines, or those huge big steam powered things that resemble the apparatus from Dr Bunsen Honeydew’s laboratory in the Muppets or those little jugs with a poncey French name. What we use is a djezve (джезве); a small copper pot with a brass handle, usually hand-beaten in a cave by an old Gypsy with one nicotine-stained tooth, sometimes as many as ten fingers and a dog called Kalashnikov. This (the pot, not the Gypsy) we fill with cold water from the well, the amount varying with the size of the pot. I have around a dozen of these delightful old vessels but my favourite holds about a third of a litre, to which I add four heaped teaspoons of special djezve-style roast ground coffee (this is how it’s described on the packet) and a few words of Bulgarski magic and luck that I learned from an old woman in the mountain village of Koprivshtitsa who claimed her grandmother had made coffee for the nineteenth century revolutionary and national hero, Vasil Levski just before he was shot. On a stove (or sometimes in hot sand) the pan is heated slowly, allowing the coffee’s flavour to infuse the water until the surface of the contents begins to rise but removing it before it reaches boiling point. Thirty or forty seconds later it is returned to the heat and allowed to rise again before being finally removed and allowed to stand for a minute to allow the grounds to settle. It is then served in a small cup with a glass of sparkling cold water from a mountain stream or Lidl, and maybe a piece of Turkish delight, a fresh apricot or a doner kebab. My Croatian friend tells me that, to get the best coffee, the heating until it rises stage should be performed three times rather than two but this sort of pretentious nonsense is typical of people from the Western Balkans who feel they are a cut above the rest of us.

The crucial thing is to remember the saying ‘coffee boiled, coffee spoiled’ which Bulgarians and Turks will not be aware of unless they’ve been to my house. This is because it’s based on an idiom ‘soup boiled, soup spoiled’ that I stole when I was twelve from an Irish dinner lady wielding her life-threatening ladle over a cauldron in a school canteen and adapted to fit my current circumstances. Bulgarians and Turks love it when they hear me say this. It’s perfectly true, it gives me the air of a wise old Balkan and it’s a great way to get in with the ladies.


Scorn Not His Djezve

Breakfast at Turlough's.


I can’t understand why people go to such lengths to make coffee making so complicated especially as, in my opinion, their end result is awful. When we see all this malarkey with the skimmed milk and oat milk and marshmallows on top and caramel shots and espresso martinis, the entire population of this peninsula and I shake our heads in disbelief.

I love coffee and I love Irish whiskey and I love cream but to combine any two of these ingredients makes the drink unbearable. So I say shame on my nation for condoning such a gastronomic atrocity. However, these same people are addicted to tea, so their mucking around with the coffee comes as no surprise

If someone’s gone to the trouble to manufacture a commodity that’s nice to drink, then it’s wrong to contaminate it with additives. It’s equally wrong to remove things from a drink. Whoever invented decaffeinated coffee should be punished by being made to drink decaffeinated coffee for the rest of their lives. With the caffeine gone it’s no longer coffee. Why bother to drink something that no longer tastes like the original beverage? It might look a bit like coffee but the taste is akin to something our fattest cat can be blamed for on the mat when it’s been eating stuff from the bins in the street. Why pretend? To avoid ingesting caffeine why not just drink something that naturally doesn’t have caffeine in it, such as water, or fruit juice or methylated spirits? I feel the same way about vegetarian mince. I don’t eat real mince for the sake of my health and the health of the animal that the mince might come from so I reckon that to eat pretend mince is to eat pretend animal cruelty and to pretend to be running up a high cholesterol count. So why bother?

I haven’t done any research into this because I don’t really care but apparently caffeine is bad for our health. I’d agree that it’s bad for the health of the people I know and love if I don’t get a good dose of it first thing in the morning. But to be honest, as my dear elderly friends would say when told they should give something up that’s bad for them, I’d rather live five years happy than ten years miserable. So I don’t go near the decaffeinated coffee or pretend that it’s the real stuff just for the sake of the healthiness that’s in it. People make or drink alcohol-free beer and wine for the same reason and the same health reasons and the same total waste of time because there are so many other naturally alcohol-free drinks that taste much nicer. Being a skydiver, in my opinion, is even more dangerous. But the people who give up being a skydiver because of the health risks don’t then continue to have the occasional jump with an imitation parachute.

Equally awful is instant coffee, particularly the stuff that’s dressed up to look like it’s real coffee but is nothing of the sort. Coffee from machines is never very nice, except in Bulgaria where there’s a vending machine on every street corner serving a reasonable beverage made from freshly ground coffee for half a lev (round about twenty-five euro cents, or twenty British pence). The only disappointment with this is the way that it’s served. A photograph on the front of the machine will always suggest a tantalising swirl of steam rising from a fine china cup and saucer in the company of a tantalising dusky maiden in a skimpy bikini sitting beneath a palm tree as the sun sets in the background when in actual fact you get a cardboard cup and, standing beside you, an old man wearing five layers of polyester sportswear and sporting a well matured and not at all tantalising smoker’s cough.

Many people don’t understand the way I feel about getting coffee just right. Baristas in Costa have asked me in the past ‘Do you want milk in the black coffee that you ordered?’ And the question ‘Do you want it in a mug?’ immediately suggests that it’s going to contain something where the coffee grains to fluid ratio is abysmally low.    

Whenever I’m over in England to visit my kids they express horror when I open my bag to reveal its contents. There’s not usually anything anywhere near as bad as the dirty underwear that they used to bring home from university many years ago for me to wash but what astounds them is my treasured djezve and the couple of packets of Bulgarian coffee that I never leave home without.

‘Why do you do that?’ they ask and, ‘Why must it be Bulgarian coffee? ‘Don’t you just find everything a person could ever possibly need here in Manchester?’ So I have to enlighten them about the difference in quality between Whalley Range coffee and Veliko Tarnovo coffee… oh and the sunshine, of course. The Bulgarian coffee, however, is a tricky one to explain as it’s originally from Brazil, but the bits of the process that need to be done in a factory happen to take place in a factory in Sofia. That’s probably where the tantalising dusky maiden in a skimpy bikini works. But I know the same sort of thing happens over there in Britain. I lived in Yorkshire for a huge part of my life but never once saw a Yorkshire tea plantation, not even on the fertile slopes of the Pennines around Halifax where many Asian people live.

Thankfully there are some in this crazy world who really do understand me. Once when I was going through the security procedure at Sofia airport before catching a flight to England, having already been stripped of my belt, money, jumper, shoes and the metal plate in my head, and having been asked to put all my fluids into a clear plastic bag (which, being a shy kind of lad, I found a bit embarrassing) they then decided to unzip my bag and have a root around among my private things. The Bulgarian security woman pointed at my djezve and said, ‘Aww, do you get a bit homesick while you’re away.’ The temptation to hug her was overwhelming.

So I’m sorry if you like shit coffee and you don’t like my words. I’ve nothing against you, just your coffee. I’m sure we can still be friends, as long as you don’t try giving any of it to me.

And finally, thank you for reading this to the very end. You’ve done significantly better than the Member of Parliament for North Wiltshire did in 2013.

Number of comments: 1

10/08/2023 00:43:57

If you've got any babies that need kissing, I'm your man. As long as you vote for me.

The Member of Parliament for North Wiltshire in 2013.
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