Two Wrongs don’t make a White


Just let that chemical name roll over your tongue. Tet-ra-clor-o-eth-y-lene.

Does it sound remotely tasty? I think not.

Back in 1981, I was in Year 11 Chemistry class. I believe the besser-block walls of the Eyre High Chemistry Lab Number One probably still bear the stains of of phenol-blue fight I had with Billy Christopolous that year. Certainly his cream-coloured jumper* would have born the bright-blue scars of that event until the day it ceased to be.

I was on the left-most column of benches, third from the back. My good friend David Fagan sat one row back, and we were playing up. It’s a shame, as I was always good at chemistry, but the allure of rock stardom was starting to exert its pull, and we all know that you can’t pass High School AND be an internationally renowned rock star. It turns out that achieving neither is eminently possible.

But today we were discussing hydrocarbons, and it’s hard not to be interested in those saucy little building-blocks of life, so I was paying at least some attention.

The funny thing is I can remember what I was wearing, who was around me , the scene through the window and every word that was said, but not who the chemistry teacher was that day. I have no idea. Male? Female? Android? Emperor of Alpha Centauri? Chuck Norris?

Anyway, he/she/it/one’s royal highness/The Chuckster has just drawn a lovely picture on the blackboard (yes, boards were black back then, something to tell’s one’s grandchildren if one ever has any).Innocuous looking little beast, isn’t it?He went on to say it had two main uses.

One is in dry cleaning. Pour this stuff on stains and they disappear. Neat, hey? And the other is in dehydrating instant coffee.

WHAT! My hand went up.

“In instant coffee, Sir/Ma’am/Rusty/Your Majesty/Chuck?”.

“Yes”, the unremembered being replied before moving on to something I have long-since forgotten.

This changed my life. At the time, about half of my hot beverages were instant coffee. I have not knowingly had one since. It’s just too awful for words.

I’ve since heard that there are now other ways to make instant coffee. I don’t care.

Now, let’s talk about something that isn’t milk or cream. Something specific that is, not just any old substance that happens to be neither.

I’ve redacted this passage from Wikipedia:

Experiments have been conducted to see if powdered {REDACTED} would ignite in midair, and people have found large quantities make beautiful, and pleasant-smelling, fireballs. The amateur film scene has jumped on this opportunity to create Hollywood-style explosions on a low budget. All one needs is {REDACTED}, an ignition source, such as a burning coal or a road flare, and a way to propel the {REDACTED}, such as compressed air or a bicycle pump. One of the key advantages in using {REDACTED} is that it only burns in midair; as soon as the {REDACTED} touches the ground, it goes out, making {REDACTED} a much safer alternative to using gasoline.

Now whatever this benign explosive is, you wouldn’t drink it, would you? I’m pretty sure ‘alternative to gasoline” is a warning sign.

Well, some people do. In some places it’s called “creamer”; in Australia that description falls foul of the Trades Description Act and it’s called “whitener”.

All over the media here is a new product – instant coffee with the whitener and sugar already in it, you just add water. AMAZING, hey? Well done Nestlé! And based on the TV ads, it’s great for that awkward moment when you run into the person you vaguely remember having sex with the night before.

I drink coffee, but I don”t consider instant coffee to be coffee.

So I think, once and for all we have settled it.

Tea is elegance, it’s poetry; it’s love; it’s loving caring relationships; it’s as light as the wings of a butterfly or as strong as a golden ox; and above all it’s all class.

Instant Coffee and it’s companion in crime “creamer” are explosive-toting; bad breathed, chemical  one-night-standers; ugly; foul symptoms of a world gone bad; like a signet ring for the lazy and the stupid.

And when I look at the shelves of my supermarket, and see 4 small boxes of loose leaf tea, and a whole range of this “jast add water” stuff, I want to weep; and clutch at the emergency quantity of Temi in the pocket above my heart, as a I buy real milk and sugar for Lady Devotea’s tea, and hurry from this sad, sad reflection of all that is wrong with humanity.

*Jumper is the proper name for what Americans call by the ugly word “sweater”.

7 thoughts on “Two Wrongs don’t make a White

  1. Every once in a while, I drink a beverage with creamer. I rarely like it and in all likelihood only needed this piece of information to avoid it entirely.

    Fine work there Mr Chemistry.

  2. Creamer is definitely one of the most vile things to be invented by man. Can you imagine devoting a life of research into making whitener?

    One of my school holiday jobs was with General Foods, maker of Maxwell House instant coffee and Dream Topping among other things. One day the experimental kitchen asked us to do a tasting for them. It turned out to be Dream Topping – for those who aren’t familiar with DT, it’s really creamer and thickener whipped into milk. Three bowls were too much for even the most hardened digestion; in fact the result was fairly explosive and thanks to you I know why.

    And since I heard that coffee is decaffeinated using ether, I have been completely put off drinking decaf instant.

    No wonder we discerning folk are all tea drinkers!

  3. Nice work. Creamer is vile anyway. Next we should have instant tea! Huzzah.

    As a chemistry nerd I must point out that your picture is not tetrachloroethylene. Its tetrachloromethane.

  4. I don’t drink coffee, not freshly ground nor instantly granulated. Hence no exposure to creamers, whiteners or the like. Problem solved!

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