I drink an average amount of coffee. Recently, my 1-2 a day has gone though the roof. Granted, I’ve been in, at, close-to, or anticipating an airport and the people-stuffed cavities of all things air-travel for 20 odd days. For it, I’ve slept in fits and prolonged coma’s and covered (or at least the alien ships I’m travelling on) 44,000km’s.
Mostly, I’m flying standby. I have to reinvent my route each sector, looking for spare seats, low listings and bulky planes with a higher incidence of no-show. No real down-time with caffeine needed to keep the itinerary ticking. I’m an outdoor contractor of sorts and it’s ‘hay time’, being the northern hemisphere summer (coincidently, in Iceland this expression would be used when things are bad- the summer grass’s having not sprung during the short season, meaning no hay for the winter and stockpiles then have to be used in the very months where grass is cut for bailing). It’s a time consuming/committing and shuffling affair that makes transit a tactical dance between service desks and ticket counters.
I’ve cleared customs in 7 countries over 4 continents- a ridiculous schedule to attend a brief work commitment in the U.S, a bi-annual international conference in Europe and a guiding obligation to a group of walkers across a section of the Australian outback. More of a tea man, I’ve gone against my nativity, opting for the louder, visceral pumping effect of coffee to get me through. My bulging wallet of receipts tell me I’ve slid my thermal camping mug (440ml) over grubby, ubber, reclaimed, bespeckled, advertised, drip-trayed, wipable, (nearly always about 400mm wide), counter-tops no less than 32 times. Varying between flat-white (preferred) short-black, macchiato, latte, and in Pontefract (West Yorkshire), an absurdly strong ‘Irish’.
All the usual suspects, even a few soy combos just for the novelty of tasting two beans go at it. Relatively new to the black stuff, I figure its giving me more of a kick in the pants than tea-totalling. I’ve swashed down a further 15 cups of ‘soup of the day’ and filled it with a medley of juice, water, cask wine, arching water-fountain splash, toothpaste spit and old apple cores. I’m not fussy. Bad, boutique, burnt, warm, dish-waterish, tide-out, skinned, plain bad, even American (just). I’m no connoisseur, just tight. When not used on the trail, in a kayak, canoe or up-righting a few pencils, the clunky blue mug is as important in my carry-on as my computer, toothbrush and spare undies. After 7 weeks abroad, the slick landing of a Qantas flight into Brisbane has me back on home soil, one leg away from being home. One more transfer lounge; one more haggle with the service desk for a boarding pass; one more transit coffee before I can flick the kettle at home. Drinking instead from a thin lipped porcelain job I gifted from my 15-a-day, tea drinking mother. Of coarse, once home, I’ll revert back this birthright fetish of tea. After such a heavy dose of distance, a tour de force of jet-fuel, a pocket full of worldly change, and so close to home I can almost smell the lawn, I find myself deeply pissed at the world. I know fully well that it’s because the coffee vendor- during my first attempt at a hot drink on home soil, wouldn’t use my camp mug. My patriotism for my landscape, our relaxed and genuine people, diversity, beauty, all down the drain with a categorical, albeit friendly, refusal to use my cup. What have I come home too? More-to-the point, do I deserve to be pissed off? After almost two laps of the world, my middle seats (standby), on a variety of aircraft, are responsible for an approximate 5.5 metric tones of CO2. I can’t help but compare this ‘barista experience’ to my previous 31 purchases. Europeans, who literally bath in coffee (one particular coffee festival in Italy has people sitting, bathing, face-masking in coffee products for a weekend of caffeine induced revelry) are served their particular brand of coffee experience, by university graduates. Engineers, nurses, actors, accountants- not baristas aka, wanker’s pretending to be anything but great coffee makers. I compare my terminal experience to the coffee stands, street vendors, uber bistros, train-stations, vending machines (where in Denmark beer is as prevalent in a vending machine as Coke- and it asks if you have your own cup!) café’s across dozens of cities, towns, ports, stations and streets. Not once, not even in the U.S, did I have my mug refused- not even close. A country so strangled with uncommon laws that I have to further screw the world with a take-away. Ahh, I sense you ask; do I have a righteous leg in the world to scream bloody murder after contributing half a dozen tones of CO2 into our earths lungs? Australia is the 14th largest, per person consumer of coffee. The Norges, Danes and Swedes are the top seed, drinking on average 10kg a year. According to the Australian coffee federation we average 2kg per person (adult) per annum. In cup terms, this is 2-3 cups a day- which if you do the math, means the beautiful people of northern Europe drink upto 15 cups of coffee a day (and still look like that!).
I said to a good friend of mine once that I/we/you could do all the little things in the world- in terms of living an ethically abiding, swidden existence, only to book an 87 dollar flight to NZ to go bushwalking…blowing away the righteousness (and impact) of the whole thing. Maybe, to maintain my ethical status quo, hiking the hills that overlook my town is the only feasible, ethically moral piece of trail I should wander? Maybe, after saying this, I should stop writing? But this is not really my gripe, as I fear it reeks of being overzealous. No, it’s about the simple fact that here in Australia, so clinically and unabashed, something so beautifully reusable was refusable. It’s beginning- I think we fear, to shape our nation. I had to return to the coffee lady, who, as I mention was a very nice about her refusal. It turns out she is under explicit, direct orders from management. Overseeing this are several cameras and according to her “there are consequences if I made a coffee in your cup”. I needed further clarification. Was my mug dirty? No. Was it presentable? Yes. Would it fit under the beautifully spouted coffee beaks of the 4 bayed coffee machine? Yes. Did I expect to get all 440mm of capacity? No. And, the most litigious question of all; would I, having 70 degree c coffee and 80 degree c milk served into my alien vessel, get ill? Maybe, but most probably not. I’m willing to take that chance and wish the business’s would also, especially as the price of a typical take-away cup is around 12 cents and a sleeve of 100 is the paper equivalent of a 500 sheet ream. I’m finding this out as I bang away at my laptop in the airport terminal, ranting away, Google searching statistics, rates and organisations- continually shocked at the sheer amount of accessible information is available at my fingertips. My name doest get called. I don’t get a seat on the early flight. No longer in a rush, I opt for a thick mug of ‘drink-in’ and sit back down. Rant mode seems to ebb as the warm brown liquid slides down and melts in to my blood.
What’s my gripe I ask myself? What’s the source all this ethical angst? Our shortcomings- it seems, our hypocrisy at the little things (reusable refusable coffee mug??!!) is an understandable but lop-sided anxiety. Our undoing is really the muddy footprints of unconscious undertakings; cars, air travel, urbanisation. More than the tip-toeing, frontline and overly peevish small things that- case in point, tend to makes us see red. As the musing continued, what started out as a rant against Australia, our uncommon litigiousness and the company-line coffee lady, has turned into a self sobering, critique of our worldly, large habits. My attention turned to my own actions, on a home front, grassroots scale, is fairly wholesome. But is it really? Am I making a difference with small, conscious fuelled actions such as lumping around a banged-up camping mug? Is it rational to ask that corporations, business’s, societies and individuals conform to greener, better, common sense laws and ethics? What is the equation- the actual outcomes, of our small, ethically sound motives in terms of the big picture?
‘Paging passaner Miles. Mr. Miles to gate 23’. I slide my coffee mug over the counter, rushing toward the gate. The aerobridge cuts me off from the ground world and stops my train of thought. I’m non the wiser after all the musing. Food, or coffee, for thought.