Coffee and I have a long history together, albeit a rather diametrically opposed relationship. My father was the kind of man that felt there was never a bad time for coffee. He fell into the category of some of the hilarious scenes you might see in film or television, such as the retrieval of the filter containing used grounds after discovering there was none left in the kitchen cabinet. The one that stands out in my mind was how he would pour last nights leftover coffee back through the machine to heat it up rather than taking the time to make a new pot. This is a level of dedication against wasting an ounce of coffee I have never since witnessed in real life.
Any good father will always teach his child to perform daily tasks, especially if those tasks might save him the trouble. Some might view this as a level of slave labor, but in most cases it gives the child a sense of accomplishment. The downside is when the task is not performed in the prescribed manner there can be repercussions. Thankfully, the reactions to poorly made coffee were more often humorous than dangerous. Adding too many scoops usually got a response such as vigorous shaking, as if some horrible medicine were ingested, followed by, “That’s good paint remover.”
My personal favorite in this category came from my wife, as she slowly places the cup on the table saying, “Oh yeah, you can build shit with that stuff.”
Oddly enough, making coffee too weak generated more anger than making it too strong, affording a reaction such as, “I told you to make coffee, not horse piss!”
That comment always made me wonder what circumstances dictated the actual tasting of horse urine? What ever they were it couldn’t have been pretty.
So, I was well schooled in the making of coffee from an early age, in everything from stove-top percolator pots to the more modern wonders of Mr. Coffee. Who can forget an endorsement from Joe DiMaggio saying it was the best he ever tasted, especially coming from the man who married Marilyn Monroe?
Given all my experience with making coffee, and the wonderful aroma that comes not only from the brewing process but the fond memories of going with my mother to the A&P grocery store where you ground beans right into the bag. The smells have lingered with me to this day and I’ve always found them to be moments worth savoring.
It wasn’t until I neared my 16th birthday and was under the heavy thumb of my father’s driving instruction that he forced the first cup of coffee in front of me. I was weary from an evening of bombastic obscenities regarding my skill as well as the origins of my DNA. We pulled into one of his favorite truck stop haunts and he insisted this cup would cure my ills. In point of fact, I’m sure it was calming his nerves rather than improving any ability or genetic building blocks of my own.
He suggested I try it black for the greatest effect, and my reaction was immediate, almost spewing the drink all over the bar. I followed further instructions by adding milk and sugar, which I continued to do to taste. I found no amount of either additive had the ability to quell the bitter stab on my tongue, and after a few minutes he asked if I planned to drink or turn the cup into a milkshake. Needless to say, we left with my cup still very full and his attitude only slightly improved.
Years rolled by and the coffee shop took on a life of its own, starting off in bookstores and further exploding to almost every street corner. So often on a chilly day, I’ve walked past one of these distributors of legal stimulants and breathed in the aroma with great appeal. More than once it has stopped me in my tracks, forcing me to wonder if my taste buds had evolved over the decades? Given the new variety of flavors splashed across the menu board and the visual allure of watching someone with a mug the size of a soup tureen topped with a quarter pound of whipped cream settle at a cozy table, the pull of the moment can be powerful. Yet every time I’ve fallen prey to this onslaught of temptation, one sip of the cup immediately reminds me at the base of all this fanfare is still…coffee.
I can think of no other drink that has been doctored and embellished to such extent. Yes, there are many flavors of tea and countless brews of beer, but I have never seen either marketed with so many additives and toppings. Listening to people order their favorite mix of coffee is almost disorienting, and seems to annoy the shop wait staff as well. I remain both dumbfounded and curious as to why they don’t simply offer 5-8 types and call it a day. Burgers have become a thing as well but at least there are menu limits.
I recently entered a train station where I was picking up my wife from her trip to Manhattan, and the coffee shop nestled in the end of the lobby began to lure me in. The setting looked so social and warm with friendly bar height tables, free wi-fi, rich wood tones, and the potent aroma lingering in the air on every breath. I stood there spellbound, thinking how inviting it all seemed, but wondering underneath if anything would be different? I stepped closer, savoring the visual and the scent, fantasizing the experience of a warm cup in my hands, the swirl of whipped cream creating the image of dessert, and the thought of pleasantly passing the time while inviting my wife to join me when she walked in. It all seems like a vision from a romance film, which is exactly what it was until the bold, unshakable taste of coffee slaps you back to reality.
I enjoy making coffee for my wife in the mornings, and I have found through unpleasant experience that my life will be far better each day if I make sure she gets her morning elixir. I watch how she relishes that first cup, and I have to admire the passion of her addiction. Indeed there are days I feel the tinge of envy, mostly because the notion of enjoying something with her that carries such importance and emotion seems like it should be shared.
Maybe it’s the coffee shop, maybe it’s the aroma, maybe its my long-standing connection, but I still find it ironic how something with such broad-reaching effects and memory triggers in my life remains a disdain to my taste buds.
I’m sure at some point the coffee shop craze will fade like so many other trends have done in the past. There will always be those that remain in certain areas or locations, but I feel certain coffee itself will soldier on. I don’t know if I will ever come to grips with my love/hate relationship over coffee, or if my desire to share the emotional glow of morning cups with my bride will win over, at least for that hour of the day. Until then, measuring and brewing in the morning makes her smile, and that’s a joy no drink will ever replace.
Step aside, alcohol, this is a job for coffee.
-T. August Green