Story for the Day: Decaf

Marridon is known for its many inventions and technological innovations, and while strike matches, baking soda, and the printing press have all been accepted on the southern continent, decaffeinated Lucentian coffee will probably never find its audience in Frewyn.

He was gone in a moment, and in another moment, he returned with a small coffee pot, a glass, and a paper filter. He went to the tea trey and set work, putting the paper filter atop the glass, and pouring freshly ground coffee and hot water from the pot. His hand swiveled slightly, consciously pouring the coffee through the paper and keeping the steaming grains from sliding into the glass.
                “There,” said he, peeling the paper aside. “If you will be so kind as to try that, Commander, and tell me how you feel about it.”
                Boudicca gave the glass a chary look. “It is coffee of some vintage, I suspect.”
                “It is. A roast that is increasingly popular in the north.” The proprietor took up the glass and admired it. “Invented in Lucentia.”
                “Invented? Is it some chocolate-infused concoction?”
                Rautu began to listen here, and though his eyes were on the cards putting down on the table, his attention was called to the glass in the proprietor’s hand.
                “No, there is no chocolate in this one,” the proprietor simpered. “We have that already. This is what we call decaffeinated coffee.”
                Boudicca was instantly suspicious. “Isn’t that impossible? I thought caffeine was in all coffees, as in inside the bean. How can it be extracted? And besides, I thought the whole point of coffee was the caffeine. Why would it be taken out?”
                “There are many who enjoy having coffee for the taste and don’t like the effect that caffeine has on heart rate, especially in the evenings. This coffee was engineered using a Marridonian process. The beans are soaked in hot water and a solvent is used to extract the caffeine. It’s a very time-consuming process.”
                “And it doesn’t hurt the coffee beans? It doesn’t alter the flavour of the coffee in anyway?”
                “Lucentians believe it tastes nearly the same, but Frewyns are much more critical when it comes to their warm drinks.” The proprietor held the glass out to her. “Would you try it, Commander?”
                “I think we should let Alasdair try it first,” said Boudicca, spying Alasdair from the corner of her eye. “He has just lost his game.”
                They glanced over at the king’s table. The last of the cards were thrown down, Rautu was folding his arms, and Alasdair was staring at the table in confusion.
                “I don’t understand—what just happened?” said Alasdair, grimacing and looking over the cards. “You played your brigadier, I killed it, but how did you bring it back?”
                “I had a cleric,” was all Rautu’s answer.
                “Yes, but you used it to bring back your wizard—or mage—or whatever that magical class is.”
                “And I used that to revive a spy. I put the spy among your ranks, invalidating your swordsmen and receiving another card, and I used the cleric I drew to revive the brigadier, giving me one more point than you.”
                Alasdair opened his mouth to repudiate, but looking over his cards and taking in the whole of the giant’s strategy, he realized that the turn had happened so quickly he had no time to react, though there was little he could have done to save his ranks. He could not rid of the spy card; he had nothing left to exchange it with, rendering an entire row of his forces useless. He looked again at the cards in his hand, trying to work out a solution, but there was nothing beyond a few reaction cards, none of which did anything against spies, and Alasdair owned himself defeated. He sighed, and turning to Boudicca, he said, “I believe I will take that drink.”
                The glass was put in his hand, and after the preparatory inspection and a gentle sniff, he raised the glass to his lips and took a small sip. A pause followed. Any other drink might have warranted the commendation of its being pleasant or even very good, but confusion clouded Alasdair’s features, and he held the glass away from his lips, inspecting its contents with a canted head.
                “Is this meant to be coffee?” Alasdair asked.
                “Yes, Your Majesty,” said the proprietor, stifling a laugh.
                Alasdair looked into the glass, inhaled, and his brow furrowed. “I really don’t mean to be rude,” said he, with a bemused aspect, “but is it supposed to taste this way?”
                “What way, Your Majesty?”
                “Well—“ To avoid giving an uncivil answer, Alasdair stared into the glass, observed the barm floating on the drink’s surface, and rather than drink again, he thrust the glass toward Boudicca. “Here. You try it and tell me what you think.”
                “The king giving the peasantry his leftovers,” Boudicca laughed. “How magnanimous of him.” The drink must be borne with, however, and Boudicca, despite Alasdair’s regal flouts, drank the better part of the glass and immediately regretted it. “It tastes like scullery water.”
                “Should I ask why you would know what scullery water tastes like?” said Alasdair.
                “I could have said it tasted like sullied well water. That has nearly the same flavour, only here there is less soap involved.”
                “Well, I don’t think it is nearly as bad as that,” said Alasdair, in a more plaintive tone. “The first sip wasn’t terrible, but the aftertaste is—well—it isn’t pleasant, I’m sorry to say. Is that due to the process the beans undergo? I don’t mean to say the drink is bad by any means. I only mean to say it’s not what I would have.”
                “You’re allowed to not like something, Your Majesty,” said the proprietor, with a very good grace. “The decaffeination process does change the flavour of the coffee, but not by much.”
                “Perhaps I’m just accustomed to coffee tasting a certain way.” Alasdair hemmed and rolled his tongue around his mouth, trying to rid himself of the stale aftertaste. “And people in Lucentia actually enjoy drinking this?”
                “With milk and honey usually.”
                “Perhaps that does something to mask the flavour.”
                “Shall we ask Bryeison to try it?” said Boudicca, with an arch look.
                “By the Gods, no,” Alasdair exclaimed. “I think he would threaten to imprison the person who invented it. He is extremely particular about his coffee. That is my grandfather’s fault, however. He gave Bryeison Lucentian Black the first time he came to the keep and he has never liked any other roast since.”
                “It is the best one,” the proprietor happily admitted, “and my favourite as well.”
                “Do you enjoy this weak well water?” Boudicca asked, gesturing at him with her glass.
                The proprietor shrugged. “I consider most things an acquired taste. I would drink it, if there was no other coffee available.”
                “Most of us would melt yellow snow, should we ever be desperate enough,” said Boudicca, with half a smile. “This, however,” rising the coffee glass, “I would never have again. Shall we ask my mate to try it?”
                Alasdair grew apprehensive, but before he could recommend against letting Rautu drink it, the glass was in the giant’s hand, was being lifted to his lips, and all Alasdair could do was groan and hope no challenge would be issued, no threats of violence would be involved.
                One delibation later, and Rautu glared at the glass. “…No,” was his decided opinion, and he forced the glass back into his mate’s hand, directing her to walk away from him with it, pointing in the direction of the rest of the family.
                The glass was passed to Jaicobh, who was entreated to give his opinion of the drink. He reckoned it probably better than expected and offered the smiling assertion of, “However bad it is, sure can’t be half as bad as what came outta MacGinsheigh’s basin durin’ harder times.” A laugh echoed amongst the Tyfferim men. “The swill he made’d melt the spoon that stirred it. Yer uncle Shayne nearly blinded himself drinkin’ a dram. Disseminated his insides. Had to have the cleric take a look at him after he fainted from it.” Jaicobh simpered to himself and took a sip from the glass. He smacked his lips, gave the glass a curious look, and said, with a nod, “Well, now. That’s a flavour.”
                “Give it here, Jaicobh,” Adaoire laughed, holding out his hand for the glass. “Can’t be worse than the poitin in Baba Connridh’s cellar. That’ll strip the paint from a barn.” He drank from the glass, and after he swished the coffee around his mouth and let the flavour settled, he swallowed, looked severe, and said, “Oh, no—No--” and passed the glass to Beryn, who was eagerly  awaiting his turn.
                “Don’t know if you should do that, Beryn,” said Lochan cautiously. “’Member what happened last time you had coffee. You were drivin’ the jaunty to the nearest latrine.”
                “Don’t worry, Loch,” Beryn assured him. “That was only ‘cause o’ the caffeine. This here’s supposed to be decaffeinated.” The glass was given him, and Beryn took his first and only sip. “Hoo! Tastes like the run-off from the meadow. You weren’t far off, kin,” smiling at Boudicca. “That’s trough water, sure enough. Don’t think I’d drink that for all the beans in Westren.”
                The remainder of the coffee was passed around, and while no one submitted to liking Lucentia’s latest invention, it did act as a means of making Alasdair forget his recent loss. There were no more cards while the acrimonious folly of coffee done wrong prevailed, and it took all the milk on the tea trey to smooth over the stain of Lucentia’s latest calamity, one that no one sitting at the terrace ever thought Lucentia would commit.