On the wagon – no longer!

IN THE CENTRE of Warwick, there is a building with superb examples of Victorian decorative terracotta work. High on its façade, in terracotta lettering are the words “coffee” and “tavern” because this edifice began its life as a coffee house back in 1880.

Designed by a Warwick architect Frederick Holyoake Moore (1848-1924), it was constructed for a local manufacturer and philanthropist Thomas Bellamy Dale (1808-1890). He was mayor of Warwick three times and:

“…was a philanthropist in every sense of the word, for his name was connected with the principal benevolent institutions of England, of which he was a generous supporter; as a public man he took a very active part in the sanitary improvements of the borough of Warwick, and in the adoption of the Free Library Act. He was a generous supporter of every useful institution in the town, and, though exceedingly charitable, was most unostentatious in all his benefactions.” (www.mirrormist.com/t_b_dale.htm)

In the 19th century, alcohol consumption was considered to be responsible for the ill-health of poor people and detrimental to their general well-being. Dale built his coffee tavern and hotel to offer an alternative to alcohol and pubs. His establishment had:

“…a bar and coffee room on the ground floor with service rooms at the rear; a bagatelle room, smoke room and committee and club room on the first floor, and rooms for hotel guests on the second floor.” (www.ourwarwickshire.org.uk/content/article/coffee-tavern-warwick).

The place was designed to keep people away from alcohol, “on the wagon”.

Now, all has changed. Today, the building still offers refreshments and hotel rooms, but does something that the late Mr Dale, who encouraged people to become teetotal, would not approve. Customers at what is now named “The Old Coffee Tavern” can now enjoy not only coffee but also a full range of alcoholic drinks. He might be pleased if he knew that when we visited its pleasant lounge decorated with colourful tiled panels, we chose to sip coffee rather than drinks containing an ingredient that did not meet with his approval.

Dry Martini

martini

 

The first alcoholic drink that I enjoyed in my early teens was Martini Vermouth. I liked it neat with a piece of ice.

One evening, a wealthy relative invited my parents and me to join them at London’s Savoy Hotel, where they were staying. Before dinner, we had drinks in their suite. I must have been about fourteen then. 

The room service waiter arrived, and we ordered drinks. I asked for my then usual Martini. Soon, the drinks arrived. I was handed a large glass tumbler with a thick base. It contained a clear liquid that did not look like Martini to me. Also, it did not smell like Martini, and its taste did not resemble anything I had drunk previously. Being a polite young fellow, I did not remark on it, but just sipped it slowly whilst the adults chatted.

When it was time to get up and descend to the dining room, I had an odd sensation. I stood up and looked at the floor which seemed to be undulating like the waves in the sea. Whatever I had drunk had gone straight to my head. What I had been served was not the dry Martini, which comes straight from the bottle, but the cocktail Dry Martini, which is mostly gin and only a dash of Martini. You live and learn.

 

picture source: http://www.diffordsguide.com

No contact

skying

 

In India, many people ‘sky’ their drinks. This means that they take a drink from a container without letting it contact their lips or mouth. To ‘sky’ a drink means literally pouring a drink into your mouth from a distance. This method of drinking allows many people to drink from the same container without risking contamination of the drinks by any of the drinkers’ germs. 

 

PORRON

Drinking wine from a porro (source: wikipedia)

Spain, which is many miles away from India, uses special vessels known as porron (porro, singular) to ‘sky’ wine. These traditional vessels, popular in Catalonia, allow many people to imbibe from the same vessel without making any contact between it and the mouth. The design of the porro is such that the drink container can be held at a much greater distance from the mouth than in the Indian mode of sky-ing a drink. 

George Orwell was not keen on using porron. He wrote in his Hommage to Catalonia (published 1938):

A porron is a sort of glass bottle with a pointed spout from which a thin jet of wine spurts out whenever you tip it up; you can thus drink from a distance, without touching it with your lips, and it can be passed from hand to hand. I went on strike and demanded a drinking-cup as soon as I saw a porron in use. To my eye the things were altogether too like bed-bottles, especially when they were filled with white wine.

I have no idea when or where the habit of drinking without contacting the vessel originated. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.

 

The top photo was taken in Mattancherry, Kerala, India

 

Tastes change

Once, long before ‘political correctness’ became fashionable, when my wife was an undergraduate student, she asked two Nigerian students whether they preferred their tea “black or white “. They looked at her indignantly before answering aggresively: “with milk“.

When I was a child, I drank tea without milk. That was the way my parents preferred it. That is what I became accustomed to. If I sipped even a little tea with milk, I felt nauseous. Tea with milk, as served in England, is made by adding brewed tea to milk or vice versa depending on your preference.

My prejudice against tea with milk persisted until I began visiting India in 1994. At first, I was suspicious of the “white” tea on offer, but soon began to enjoy it. I think that this is because it is made differently from that which is served in the UK.

In India, tea leaves are boiled vigorously with milk. Often additives such as sugar, crushed ginger, cardamom, mint, and lemon grass are added to the hot bubbling mixture. After a while, the boiled milky tea is passed through a strainer, often cloth, and served in cups. The resulting drink is a harmonious blend of the flavour of tea and the additives. In my opinion, it tastes quite different from, and much better than what is served in England.

I have visited India many, many times since 1994. Apart from developing a great fondness for the country and its people, my tastes in food have changed for the better as a result of my exposure to life in India.