My saviour – the humble cup of black liquid!

Where would we be without the black-coloured liquid gold that is coffee?

Dr Peter Sloane, GP and Director, ICGP Network of Establishing GPs, Dublin

July 1, 2014

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  • Anyone who has spent time with me knows that I’m a serious drinker of coffee, a genuine addict of black-coloured ‘liquid gold’. My passion is the unpretentious unassuming staple of Italian society, the simple yet stunningly perfect espresso. That tiny volume of near tarry liquid contains a magical mouth-watering experience of deep rich flavours.

    The wafting aroma of a fresh espresso permeates the senses like little else, and as the hot liquid caresses the back of the tongue, one prepares for the imminent caffeine hit, that awakening jolt that equates to being kicked by a mule. Quite simply, few other things in life are as pleasurable as a good espresso! 

    My favourite coffee and what I regard as the best coffee in the world is found in Italy. Not in any posh coffee shop, but instead, in railway station bars. The coffee machines in these bars are so busy that they operate with a consistently high pressure of steam which perfectly extracts the goodness from ground coffee beans. 

    Combine this continuous high pressure steam with skilled and efficient baristas who can churn out to-die-for espressos and cappuccinos in their sleep, and it is easy to understand why Italian railway station bars produce perfect coffee. 

    In contrast, I believe coffee machines in Ireland are calibrated to cater for the Irish palate. In 30 years of drinking coffee on this island, I have yet to find a decent espresso, cappuccino or latte, so I generally stick with a bog standard Americano. You might be forgiven for thinking this would guarantee a decent cup of coffee, but you’d be wrong. It never ceases to amaze me what passes for a cup of coffee in Ireland and I assume this relates to our tea-drinking heritage. 

    Whether it’s at home or work, I seem to carry around a mug of coffee as if it’s an extension of my arm. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, I am rarely found without a cup, and over the years have accrued a collection of various mugs with which to feed my habit. From the mandatory ‘Top Doctor’ mug, to the ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ mug, I have them all and they are in constant use. 

    My favourite work-related coffee story is from Crossmolina. On two afternoons each week a wonderful lady cleaned the practice. At precisely 4.15pm on these days I would get a knock on my door. The door would open ever so slightly, revealing a hand holding a beautiful freshly brewed mug of coffee reach through the gap. On taking the mug the hand would retreat and the door gently close. Never a word was said, but coming towards the end of a long day there was simply nothing better or more appreciated.  

    On the other hand, my top coffee story doesn’t relate to work. It recounts how coffee interfered in my daughter’s hospital care. Arriving home one Friday evening to find my precious elder offspring with appendicitis-like RIF pain, she was carted off to the local hospital to see the surgeon on call. Anxious doctor daddy at the ready, I hung on his every word about what would happen to her, trying to second-guess the good man. 

    A night of observation followed, and the next morning I sat anxiously by her bedside waiting for the surgeon. My poor daughter; I simply couldn’t help myself but examine her tummy, look at her vitals, lab results and notes. I was convinced she had appendicitis. So I waited for the surgeon. I simply had to be there when he came, to look over his shoulder, supervise him, and make sure he made the right decision! 

    After what seemed like hours of clock-watching, waiting for the ward-round, I simply couldn’t wait any longer for my morning fix. I made a quick dash to the hospital coffee shop to grab a cup of take away muck and when I returned to her bedside, the great man had been and gone! 

    Later that day, she went to theatre. Afterwards, when I found out she didn’t have appendicitis I couldn’t believe I’d been wrong. But I was eternally grateful that I’d not been stood watching over the surgeon’s shoulder when he made the decision that she was for theatre. 

    My being there would have made no difference to his decision, but the fact that I wasn’t there made me feel better. It made me feel like any other daddy, just worried about his daughter. 

    And that was all down to my cup of coffee, a humble coffee that allowed me to stop being a doctor and just be a daddy. And that is just one of the reasons I’ll never be without it! 

    © Medmedia Publications/Forum, Journal of the ICGP 2014