In the 9th century, when Kaldi noticed his goats munching on leaves that made them far more energetic than usual, he decided to munch on the leaves himself. Thus, coffee was invented. That is, at least, one of the stories told of its origin. 12 centuries later, and coffee is a commodity bought and sold in libraries, supermarkets, and, naturally, petrol stations. Where dreamers (or drivers) go to fill up on fuel for the road and questionable quality baked goods for their journey to or from home. It’s what Kaldi would have wanted. At least one of these places will serve a delightful coffee. The rest are surely trying, but they dare not touch the quality beans and ambient nature necessary to truly enjoy a coffee. That much cannot be expected for Smokin’ Bean’s machine at the SPAR service station.
Because of estate-plan living, getting to and from anywhere of interest is an ache. A bus and a train to the nearest habitable city, but the town is without facilities to make such a journey even the least bit bearable. The best coffee near to this abode lies a half-hour away, and to get there, a bus that occasionally arrives on time must be used. Durham is the home of great coffee, and while walking there is a possibility, I am not Bill Bryson. He could walk and write; I may only do the latter. I am not a multitasker. Even the local Greggs is a fair walk away. An unsuitable twenty minutes of exercise there, and a dangerous balancing act back home with a coffee in one hand and a bag of books in the other. The risk does not outweigh the reward.
Stumbling into a petrol station at any hour of the day is odd, especially when you do not possess a car. Ordering coffee from this particular establishment was quite the accident. I had arrived in search of a small bottle of Coca Cola. Perhaps a can also, should I wish to treat my future self. It did not take long to figure out this would not be possible, as the refrigerator unit was absent. Instead, a grey, unpainted wall could be seen, and the sudden renovation of a petrol station I had entered only once before, had thrown me almost entirely off-balance. But coffee is healthier than Coke, and surely a regular-sized Mocha from the Smokin’ Bean machine would serve just as well.
It would have, had the machine been in amicable order. Even considering a coffee had the machine sputtering. Enquiring about the working order of the big beast led to confirmation from the cashier, but a howl from the machine. It did not fill me with much confidence. At least the interface screen was responsive. Selecting the coffee was simple, and not feeling bold enough for a large coffee, a simple, regular Mocha was selected. Doing so without preparing for the onslaught of coffee is a dire mistake. Within nanoseconds of pressing the button, the machine whirs into action and pours coffee all over the place. Having the cup in the correct place is a must, although, once the machine had finished vomiting up its liquid waste, the cup was perfectly full. A surprise indeed, considering most of it was leaking down the side of the cup and onto the floor.
But the real surprise comes from the coffee itself. Surprisingly smooth, even by that final, inevitably sugar-clogged sip. There was no punishment for draining that last gasp of sweet, caffeinated beverage. It seemed the machine, whilst at odds with its user, had also been at odds with the coffee, cup, holder and sugar, and had burnt them all to a fine, liquid delight. A chocolate taste that came as quick as it went, overpowered somewhat by the taste of the coffee itself, which was a tad overpowering for a Mocha, which is just a jumped-up hot chocolate. Still, it was nice enough. A good companion for the walk back from the petrol station, and the cardboard holder provided was more than capable of holding back the heat of the cup.
I have no doubts about my return to SPAR and Smokin’ Bean, not just because its coffee is satisfactory, but because it is geographically the closest cup of coffee money can buy. To me, at least. Others may be closer to you. Smokin’ Bean has a taste that lingers, a smell too. It is that warm aroma we seek out in coffee, not usually from petrol stations in the evening, but even then, coffee is coffee. If you serve it, they will come. There are better places to get a coffee than a petrol station with no refrigerator and a machine that actively despises those that use it, but there are worse places also.