I DRANK coffee for decades, lots, big mugs of cafètière coffee, black. The I started having problems sleeping. “Drink less coffee” friends suggested. Huh, I knew better.

Then I abruptly gave up coffee, in a hotel in Kenya. Despite that country’s reputation for fine Arabicas, the coffee in our hotel was dreadful. I’d drink water instead. For three days I experienced strange aches in my lower back and legs. I put it down to the physical confinement on the plane, but in retrospect I think I was experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Home again, I was back on coffee, although not enjoying it. A few sips seemed to make my heart beat faster; it made me feel slightly nauseous.

So for around eight years, I stopped drinking coffee totally, and felt all the better for it. I became a tea enthusiast, and underwent a tea education. But only drinking tea was a pain really, because good black tea is hard to find. Despite Britain’s reputation as a nation of tea drinkers, most of the stuff we drink is rubbish.

And then I was in Rome, visiting the wondrous Pantheon, a stone’s throw away from Caffè Sant’Eustachio, renowned since 1938 for its espresso. Its aroma hangs in the air around this historic locale. To ask for a camomile tea here would be idiotic. I’d be served, politely, a tepid brew made from some fusty box of tea bags, but this is place where anyone cultivating ‘la bella figura’ knows not to ask for a latte, or any other wimpy tourist’s coffee, let alone tea. So I drank the potent espresso. Three sips, it was gone. My pulse didn’t race. I slept well that night on a hard hotel mattress. So, my coffee exclusion regime stopped there and then.

Reading up on my strange lack of adverse reaction I reviewed various theories as to why espresso, though stronger tasting than filter or cafètiere coffee, wasn’t having that ‘wired’ effect on me. One idea is that the steaming process removes more of the caffeine; another is that the steam is irrelevant, you just drink less caffeine overall with a small espresso. All I know is that a single shot of well-made espresso causes me no problems.

Stealthily, I resumed occasional espresso drinking, always in indie coffee shops, perhaps two or three times weekly. Here was another revelation. Many places in the UK make great espresso, which for me means unapologetically strong, smooth and nutty. In others, it’s unpleasant, usually thin and acidic. The worst espresso I’ve encountered was in a major coffee chain. There was a downpour, I dashed in to be dry. It was undrinkable. Never again. Pick your coffee shop carefully.

And then came lockdown. No coffee shops? My lingering taste for espresso, call it addiction if you like, kicked in big time. How would I manage? I have no interest in coffee pod machines. They take up too much of the limited space in my kitchen, the plastic detritus appals me, and many are branded with the N word, the initial for a company I boycott. So prior to house arrest, I dashed to a nearby ironmongers that stocks those stovetop espresso (moka) pots Italians use at home: one, three, six and nine cup-size, priced £6.50, £7.50, £9.50, £12.50 respectively.

An espresso in a cafe costs between £2 and £2.20 a shot. My small moka pot paid for itself in three days. It’s now part of a cherished after-lunch ritual, cradling a little cup, the kitchen filled with coffee aroma, the odd puff of steam, the occasional hiss upon the trivet. Italian engineer Alfonso Bialetti’s enduring 1933 design – the narrow waist, the eight, sometimes ten sleek facets, the black handle that’s so pleasing to hold – give me daily pleasure. The stovetop espresso pot is the ultimate in low-tech, all you need is coffee, and a flame. Each day I use it, I cherish it.

As soon as any decent coffee shop opens, I’ll be sitting in there, or outside, sipping my espresso. Coffee bars, a civilised, animated part of civic life, should be welcomed back with open arms. But my stovetop espresso has most definitely earned its place in my kitchen. It’s here to stay.

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