Cleaning out the tea cupboard. It sounds so domestic. So tidy. So British, even. What the process actually resembled was an archeological dig. The only difference was that the layers by which I could date my discoveries went from front to back rather than top to bottom. I didn’t really find anything that could be considered treasure, but there were definitely some significant artifacts.
Like several lumps of stuff formerly known as cocoa mix that had hardened into free-form sculptures. These relics indicated that the inhabitants of this site liked chocolate and had access to it, but tended to forget about it once it was shoved toward the back of the cupboard. This theory was further supported by the discovery of two faded boxes containing a few desiccated blocks of Mexican chocolate.
Then there was the ancient container made from plastic tentatively dated to the mid-1980’s. Its label was long gone, but its size and shape indicated that it may once have held citrus-based powdered drink mix. This hypothesis was supported by the fact that the concrete-textured residue in the bottom of the container, when flooded with hot water, still smelled slightly of lemon.
Scattered throughout the cupboard were little plastic bags containing unknown herbaceous substances. Assuming these were tea, I had no qualms about considering them fully legal. Beyond legal, in fact. Most of them were clearly old enough to vote.
One of the most significant artifacts in this cache was an intact, unopened can of coffee. The Turkish lettering on the can was a strong indication that the inhabitants of this site had either traveled to Turkey or at least traded for Turkish goods. While the precise age of the container couldn’t be determined, it was clearly one of the oldest artifacts at the site. Not only was it made of metal rather than plastic, but it was designed to be opened with a T-shaped metal key. This was used to pull off a narrow strip of metal that circled the can just below the top.
The key was still attached to the top of the can. I couldn’t resist. In violation of all the accepted protocols for archeological sites, I decided to open the can. The little metal tab on the side didn’t come loose until I pried it up with the tip of a butter knife. Then I slid the tab through the slot in the key and started turning it.
I remember opening cans this way when I was a kid—not just coffee, but also ham. It came in flat cans, oval with one end wider than the other, that were vaguely ham-shaped. Opening the cans, which in today’s world would no doubt be considered child endangerment, was then a privilege and a challenge.
The biggest risk with this system was cutting your fingers. As the metal strip pulled loose and wound around the key, it ended up as a circle more than half an inch in diameter with lethally sharp edges.
The other difficulty was making sure to wind the metal strip around the key tightly and precisely enough. Otherwise, you would end up with a wobbly spiral rather than a tight circle. This not only increased the likelihood of getting blood in the coffee, but it sometimes meant needing to abandon the key and finish pulling the strip loose with a pair of pliers.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to that with the Turkish coffee. The key worked just the way it was designed to, and I pulled the lid off without any risk to my fingers. The inside of the can was mottled in a way suggestive of way too much time in the cupboard. The contents had settled into unappetizing clods and clumps.
It still smelled like coffee, though, even when I dumped it onto the compost pile. Combined with the lumps of old cocoa mix, it provided a sort of backyard mocha latte experience for the browsing deer. I hope they enjoyed it; there was enough old sugar and caffeine to keep all of them awake for a week.