Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Saving the Amazon

When I was a few years old my parents set up the Amazon Aromas Bar and Café in our little town. My Dad took care of the food in the kitchen and run the bar during the evening, he was always better at cooking than Mum. Yet my Mum was the master of the coffee machines serving delightful hot and cold drinks; from hot Mexican chocolate with sprinkles and pearl white marshmallows to frothy, bubbly milkshakes with a big dollop of ice cream churned in.
The very first milkshake I had was a Raspberry Ripple, a spiral of red and white in a tall glass with a pink curly straw. No one else could ever do such a splendid and wondrous milkshake, it truly was a well worked craft that only she alone possessed. No other milkshake but hers would make your tongue lap the liquid more lavishly, your throat tingle with the chill of enjoyment or your stomach squirm with pleasure. If Willie Wonka was real then my Mum was his female counterpart but in the drinks buisness.
On my thirteenth birthday Mum brought me a new drink as a surprise instead of a birthday cake. It was a large sundae glass, complete with a large topping of ice-cream on the top with a sparkler stood in it but what truly fascinated me was the layer beneath the vanilla ice-cream. The colours. A rainbow of colours. She had captured the essence of a rainbow and put it in a glass just for me. I simply said ‘Wow!’ It was the Amazon’s, as we all called it, fifth year running my birthday was celebrated there as a private party will all my friends and staff members. I remember looking up at Mum with the biggest smile I could manage, she returned it equally. She set it before me on my plate along with a long spoon and stepped back to lean against my Dad who simply grinned.
“What’s in it Mum?” I asked cautious even in the midst of my growing excitement.
“Why don’t you tell me once you’ve tried it, Amy?” was her encouraging answer.
I looked around all the beaming faces as curious as I was, took a breath and then plunged the spoon in, past the ice-cream and into the drink beneath. I drew it out carefully, trying my best to keep as much of the liquid rainbow on it as possible. Taking another breath I put it in my mouth. To this day I can not truly describe the taste that slowly slid onto my tongue as I took the spoon out slowly. It was like my mouth had been crammed full of exotic fruits, yet amongst all this taste there was an entirely new sensation. A fizz of bubbles, much like drinking Cola but not as harsh on the mouth. It felt like each flavour was attached to a balloon and when it burst the flavour plummeted upon my tongue as an intense explosion across my taste buds. Dad always said that as soon as it was in my mouth my eyes were as wide as saucers. I’m not surprised. After swallowing with such reluctance from my tongue I looked up to her again.
“WOW! What’s it called? It’s fantastic!”
“Fruit Fiesta I think. Do you like it?”
“I love it! The lemonade is great with it.”
“Could you tell what fruits I put in?”
“Erm, Grapefruit, Kiwi, Blueberries, Raspberries, Satsuma’s, Pears…”As my list continued Dad beckoned everyone to the buffet table, they all knew I had gone into a moment of fruit passion which was only ever shared between me and Mum.
After that birthday Fruit Fiesta became a new favourite of my school friends and in fact all the school kids who went past our café on the way to and from school. It beat Lilt and Cola hands down, there was simply nothing better.
Only when I hit sweet sixteen did Mum and Dad decide to officially integrate me into the business giving me a part time job as drinks assistant with Mum. I could not bring myself to say yes just jump up and down with pure excitement and joy. There was no place on earth I would have rather worked than with my Mum and it meant finally I would be able to learn to make and serve them myself. Until then I made them for myself at home but this job would allow me to do it professionally. Mum and me split the drinks between ourselves she would handle the coffees and hot chocolate whilst I made the milkshakes for all my friends who still visited after a day at the local college where most of them went after we finished school. I myself was content with where I was, I needed no further education but that given from Mum.
I had only been working with my friends and parents barely six months when Mum took me into the store room for the first time. The smells in there were intensely delicious. Sacks of Mexican cocoa beans, boxes and cartons of every type of fruit we use in the milkshakes, crates of African coffee beans, two large fridges full of milk and ice-creams of every flavour. To me this was a place full of edible magic. She helped me learn and memories the correct measurements of each ingredient she used and spot the beans that were a bit lower in colour, smell and texture than the rest. Mum only ever used the best to make the best and that was the only secret behind her creations.
After gathering several small tubs filled with cocoa and coffee beans she showed me how to set them in the coffee and hot chocolate machine, how long to grind them for before mixing the hot drinks correctly and adding just the right amount of milk and cocoa powder on top of the froth. She sipped it and gave me the thumbs up.
I had learnt the final lesson, how to make the perfect coffee and hot chocolate which meant that I could finally serve both hot and cold drinks as good as my own Mum. At that moment I felt like things were truly perfect and right with the world.
Eventually months became years one after the other and I continued to work and learn from my Mum. Our family run café had been serving customers for coming up to ten years. However things weren’t as they used to be, Dad announced to us both one night that the finances were struggling and had clearly dipped over the past years and with the lease coming up again we might struggle to pay it off this time. Things had to change. We had stayed the same whilst all around us the town grew and other businesses became big competition such as clubs and bars and the dreaded fast food franchise which had also arrived. The question was how could we attract more customers and new business? Sacking staff was out of the question in my Dad’s eyes but we all agreed that it would have to be done if we wanted to save up money to keep the business going. I went to bed that night determined to do something that would save the Amazon, all my thoughts focused on it making sleep slow to capture me yet it was sleep that gave the answer.
The next day I set to work, calling up old mates and former collegeus asking for their assistance, only after I made the tenth phone call did Mum ask what I was up to. I told her. She gave out a loud shriek of excitement before running off to give Dad the news. Their reaction all the more confirmed that my idea was the best course of action.
Three weeks later my plan became reality. It had taken lots of hard work from all those loyal to our cause but I had the best fun in ages. The flyers, posters and pamphlets had been handed out, word had been spread, all that we could now was prepare for the crowds we all hoped would come. So it was that summer evening everything was ready, two tanned guys wearing skirts and arm bands of leaves and holding bamboo spears stood at the door to welcome our guests, strings of fake vines and toy monkeys adorned the ceiling and flower candles were aglow on all the tables, shelves and any available surface. Everyone was wearing green and brown outfits, with flower chains hanging from their necks or in their hair in the case of the girls. In the background our home hi-fi system was playing jungle tribe music. Half an hour passed and we all shifted about anxiously looking outside every ten minutes. Our first couple arrived quite surprised by the decoration of the place and my Dad guided them warmly toward our buffet of Amazon themed edibles and Mum’s latest fruit packed cocktails which she had invented especially for this evening, another set of drinks I was eager to learn myself having sampled them all. A few more arrived not long after, then another small group until gradually we became quite full. The Amazon extravaganza had begun.
That night was one to remember not just because it was successful in raising the much needed funds and becoming a regular event enjoyed by all but amongst those numbers I met my husband, a bar manager and expert cocktail maker who still claims it was my Mum’s own cocktails that changed him. Now twenty years on we’re still here and it is me this time who teaches the next generation the secrets my Mum formerly taught me, behind Amazon Aromas.

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