Coffee is more than just a beverage and vehicle for caffeine, it’s a livelihood and an experience, it is a thread that links communities. Whilst many romanticised versions of its origins circulate, its first discovery was probably accidental and is most certainly lost to ancient history. Whatever its origins, its dominance as a beverage has grown to become the world’s most drunk beverage, second only to water.
As my final contract in Qatar drew to its conclusion, I spent moments in that last year abroad considering my future, and my plan to open my own coffee shop back in South Africa began to develop. It was still not a set goal but rather an appealing option. Working within the Asian Games gave me access to another kind of community, sporting. Whilst this is not one of my passions, it was again an experience that brought me into contact with people from very diverse backgrounds. The international games industry is incredibly huge, with countries spending enormous amounts of money to showcase themselves as Olympic worthy destinations. The Winter Games were to take place in Whistler, Canada, the Common Wealth Games already in the final stages of planning in Melbourne, Australia and high hopes were for London’s bid for the next Olympic Games, whilst the Beijing Olympics in China was well under way. All of these were interesting options for work abroad, as well as further travel.
Given my newly adopted industry, many of the potential game’s cities became possible workplaces for me, and it would be relatively easy to apply for new contracts in my field.
As the Opening Ceremony for the 15th Asian Games neared, our already busy work place became frenetic. A riot of coordinated activity meant long hours, almost no weekends and many on-site logistics to be resolved. Nerves frayed, tensions heightened and coffee frequently fueled the pace. I got into the habit of having a Mars bar with an accompanying Turkish coffee in the late afternoon. Whilst not made in the same manner of espresso, it is equally strong and the finely milled beans, (often mildly spiced with cardamom), are boiled with sugar in an ibrik for up to three times, making Turkish coffee a time consuming process. The resulting brew is a thin powdery slurry, which once poured into small demitasse cups, needs a few minutes to settle. Only the top two thirds of this rich, sweet beverage are gently sipped, and as one nears the bottom, care has to be taken to avoid too much of the coffee ‘sludge’ that settles in the cup.
An exciting moment at our offices was when Starbucks opened a small satellite kiosk at the Games headquarters in downtown Doha. Mostly going there was an excuse to get away from the desk for a short while, (it was certainly not the quality of the coffee, which in true franchise style, continues to be priced high for the mediocre). Like it or not, these big brands have made an incredible contribution to international coffee culture, not so much in terms of quality of the beverage, as much as the approach to location, contemporary styling and convenience, in essence, creating a modern day subculture. Showcasing many regional varieties, Starbucks, Costa’s and Republic, to name a few, have afforded millions of coffee drinkers a stylised window into coffees from exotic growing regions from around the world.
By the end of my contract with the Asian Games, in 2007, I had resolved to return to South Africa. I was tired of working a semi-nomadic lifestyle and needed to get home. I knew that I could no longer relate to a corporate lifestyle and had little intention of continuing my career as an engineer. This cemented the decision to open my own coffee shop. In a style true to the engineer in me, I had developed an overall concept, estimated the capital expenditure, and done my business plan, yet still had to be inspired by a name. In an industry fraught with hackneyed cliches, I wanted something that was both original, and gave homage to Italy’s significant contribution to coffee culture. Using Babel Fish, one of the early internet language sites, I started to translate a list of words I felt related to coffee shops.
Over the years, many folks have asked the meaning of caloroso, and I enjoy the memory of how it came about. Inspiration came sitting at Upstairs at Harry’s, having breakfast with my dad. After translating a few words, I came upon the Italian word for ‘hearty’. Literally meaning ‘hot’, caloroso can also be used as in English to mean warm or hearty, in a conversational context. It immediately resonated with me, and I knew that I had hit on a name that encompassed everything I enjoyed about a good coffee shop. The name Caloroso Coffee had a good ring to it, and it had the authenticity I had been looking for. I did an online search and could find no other reference to caloroso as a coffee shop anywhere else in the world. Not only would it be unique in South Africa, it was likely a first world wide! No domains had been registered online and in a glorious epiphany, I knew I had given my shop an identity.