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Bonzer Words!: The Smell Of Coffee

...most delicious smell of coffee I have ever experienced, before or since, permeated the cabin...

John Merchant tells of a fraught snow-filled day enhanced by the aroma of coffee.

There was a period in my working life when I traveled frequently to other countries. I made it a point to vary the airline carrier when possible, because, despite the standardization of air travel, elements of the culture of the countries where the airlines were based filtered through, and made the flights more interesting.

On a mid-February trip to Gandhinagar in northern India, my itinerary was Kennedy, New York, to Frankfurt, Germany; and Frankfurt to Bombay, with a commuter flight from there to my destination. I had chosen Lufthansa for the first leg, with a scheduled takeoff at 6.30pm.

At mid-morning on the day of my departure, large flakes of heavy, wet snow were falling. By 2.00pm there was six inches of snow on the ground and a forecast of more to come. My local airport called to tell me that my commuter flight from there to Kennedy had been canceled. While I hurriedly finished my packing, my wife phoned all the limo companies in the phone book, and only one would agree to drive me.

The ninety miles from my home to the airport was a nightmare ride, and only the skill of my driver got us there in one piece and just in time to board. Knowing Lufthansa’s reputation for punctuality, there was a chance that the flight would depart on time, despite the weather, but no such luck. This was before the days of de-icing.

I settled in my seat and struck up a conversation with my neighbor, discovering that he was Colombian of German parentage. I desperately wanted to ask him for more information as to how that came about, but decided it was too sensitive a topic and left it alone. While we were talking, the most delicious smell of coffee I have ever experienced, before or since, permeated the cabin.

Being unaware of the German love of good coffee, I commented on the aroma to my companion. “Ah! You know, the combination of Colombian coffee and a German coffee machine is unbeatable,” he responded with obvious pride, and for the first time I detected a slight German intonation. There was no denying the truth of what he said.

My flight took off three hours late and I missed my connection to Bombay, eventually arriving a day late and just a bit frazzled. Despite the aggravation, the memory of that aroma and of my curiosity about my fellow passenger, have stayed with me.


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