Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ode to Coffee


After my family of origin, the longest, most enduring relationship of my life is with coffee.

Mom was the coffee drinker. Dad hated the stuff. We owned a perculator but it was only employed for guests. Most of the time, I think, mom made due with instant coffee crystals. This made it easy for me to start sneakily helping myself. I adored my mom (still do) and anything she did was worthy of emulation. If she loved coffee, then so did I. I'd sneak into kitchen, boil some water and mix up a mug, heavily laden with milk and sugar, but delicious to my 9 year old palate. I was in the closet about my coffee consumption, knowing as I did that it was stunting my growth. (I topped out at 5'7" so perhaps I did myself a favor).

I "came out" in high school, drinking my coffee more openly and feeling tres sophisticated for order it at the pie shop with friends while they were still ordering Coke. I remember seeing a movie where a character ordered a hamburger and coffee in a diner and thinking that was the essence of New York cool. (I tried it. It was ok).

By college, of course, one couldn't survive without the stuff. Somewhere around sophomore year was when I went to one sugar and then started leaving out the milk as well. This was also the advent of those nasty International Coffees with which one could celebrate the moments of her life. Nasty now, tres chic at the time. Mom would often include a tin of said coffee in her care packages to me and the smell of faux amaretto and coffee still takes me back to all nighters in my room in Ashton hall. Good times.

In so many ways my evolution as a coffee drinker can be tied to my evolution as a human being. From a provincial, fundamentalist farm girl I grew into a semi-sophisticated liberal urbanite. That this transformation roughly corresponds with the establishment of the first Starbucks down in the Pike Place market is, I'm sure, no accident. All of a sudden coffee wasn't Folgers brewed within an inch of its life and it sure as hell wasn't instant. It was a deep and vibrant cup of soul. It was my destiny. The consumption of coffee had always been a ritual for me...boiling the water and measuring out the precise combination of coffee and sugar to perfectly balance bitter and sweet, cupping the mug and inhaling deeply before the first sip. But now the liturgy of coffee became more High Church, requiring paraphenalia of the highest order: a grinder, Melitta filters, whole beans. Always whole beans, stored just right so as to retain the peak of freshness.

And then, somewhere in there, the sugar became history. I had my first cup of black coffee and that was it. The purity of it was astounding. Even now I rarely get a latte and never a mocha. My standard order is a "tall drip, no room". Coffee, straight up.

(My wine drinking followed a similar path. The first wines were stupid and sweet, like Cella Lambrusco, for heavens sake. Then I had dinner in a French restaurant with a visiting French professor and drank my first burgandy. Real burgandy, not Gallo burgandy. And there was no going back).

Extreme youth is the only excuse I can offer for the snobbery that followed next. I couldn't go home for a visit without carting along all my paraphenalia and trying to educate any poor sod I encountered as to the proper consumption of "real" coffee. And I endure many complaints about how strong I made it. (And I do make it strong but I figure you can always dilute it. There's simply nothing to be done about weak coffee except to pour it down the drain and start again). And yes, eventually they all took to improving their coffee pots and buying whole beans but sheesh, I was an arrogant twit. (I was also a snobby enophile for a while but thankfully got over that as well. Our house wine is now 3 Buck Chuck from Trader Joes. Deal with it).

About a year before I met The Spouse I bought a small 2 cup coffee maker for my bedroom. I'd fill it with coffee and water the night before. When the alarm sounded I would turn on the coffee instead of hitting the snooze button and wake to enjoy my first cup in bed. This device was one of the reasons The Spouse fell in love with me.

I switched to decaf when pregnant with The Child, with the approval of my midwife. She and others suggested that I might not want even that as the smell of coffee is often ananthema to pregnant women. It never bothered me.

I pour many cups of coffee a day but the only one that counts, and the only one consumed in it's entirety is the first cup. Even with a thermal pot, the quality changes over time. It is the first and freshest cup which tastes the most like coffee, lending its perfume and steamy magic to the morning. This is the one I sit with, doing nothing else but savoring thinking randomly and somewhat prayerfully about what the coming day will bring. I do refill my cup but it's a sip here, a sip there and then it grows cold while I tend to the business of the day. The first cup signals the start of the day and admission to the little cafe society in my head.

5 Comments:

Blogger Bad Alice opined...

Ah, coffee. I adore coffee, but when I was pregnant, I couldn't bear the smell of it (admittedly it was usually office coffee that pushed me over the edge) but then I hated the smell of everything (fabric softener sheets, Dear Husband's cologne, soap). It was such a relief when I could go back to my morning nectar.

One of my favorite gifts is a Starbuck's gift card. It's a license to indulge.

February 19, 2006 3:47 PM  
Blogger Grish opined...

Not much of a coffe drinker myself. However, my wife loves the stuff and my grandparents and my wife's parents kept a perculator going as long as there were people awake in the house. Grish

February 19, 2006 5:30 PM  
Blogger Pamelamama opined...

poetic, Lorraine!

February 21, 2006 10:57 AM  
Anonymous GP opined...

Ciao!
I am sorry you consider stupid Cella Lambrusco. If you have a chance to be in Italy visit Modena. I will invite you forlunch and I will show how we make Lambrusco and how good can be with Parma Ham and Prosciutto in the garden in a sunny day like today. Of course well chilled, like Champagne! Un abbraccio Gian Paolo

ps change the legislation in USA, where we have to ship Lambrusco with lower CO2 (less bubbles!!) because otherwise there is a "luxury" duty tax! Incredible

July 18, 2006 3:36 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

GP, Thanks for stopping by. I'm sure real Italian Cella Lambrusco, well chilled, eaten in a sunny garden with parma ham and proscuitto would be heaven on earth. Sounds worth getting on a plane and coming to Italy! Ciao.

July 18, 2006 9:13 AM  

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