Every morning at 4:40, my automatic coffeemaker begins dripping its aromatic Columbian treasure to the waiting pot, so by the time my alarm rings at five, and I shuffle to the kitchen, several steaming cups are waiting for me. I pour a mug and sip it while I check my email, waiting for the caffeine to awaken my groggy brain and inspire me to stretch the kinks from my stiff joints.
I have been drinking coffee almost as long as I remember. My parents were huge coffee drinkers, and in the house where I was raised, there was rarely a moment when there wasn’t a pot of dark brown liquid on the stove. My mother drank hers black, my father with milk and sugar. I prefer mine with cream and sugar, but drink it black to save calories, except on Sundays, when I savor one large mug fixed just the way I like it.
When I was a child, a milestone of maturity was to be old enough to fix my dad’s coffee. I think I was around seven when I reached this pinnacle of achievement. It was a simple process, but one that required close attention. My parents were smokers, so finding a match to light the gas burner was easy. I would place the battered aluminum coffee pot over the flame and wait until the deep brown liquid neared the point of simmer. Paying attention was crucial, because the line between heating coffee and boiling coffee is very thin. One moment of distraction- the time it took to grab an oatmeal cookie from the pantry- and the swirling liquid would bubble, leaving it bitter and gray. So I watched, and waited until the liquid just sizzled against the edge of the pot. I’d carefully fill a mug and stir in just enough milk to change the color from mahogany to oak. Then, just as carefully, I would stir in a rounded teaspoon of sugar, and then add the amount that my dad called “a little bit more” and stir it in. I sampled a bit from the spoon, just to be sure it was right, and gingerly carried the mug to the living room where my father sat on his easy chair. It was a ritual to be repeated countless times through the years. When I was a teenager, aggravated at being asked to wait on my father, I never expected to miss the task, but now I would give almost anything to bring him just one more steaming cup.
In my parents’ house, coffee was the catalyst for conversation. Whenever people entered the door, they were immediately offered a cup, for indeed, even during financial hardship, there was always coffee. When I was a small child, my father introduced me to my first cup. He filled a mug with milk and poured in a small amount of coffee, sweetened it with sugar, and invited me to sit with him and enjoy a cup and keep him company. To me this was a monumental statement. It meant that for the next ten minutes, I was like an adult- an equal, whose opinions and ideas carried equal weight as my father’s. I felt grown up, affirmed, and valued. From that day on, sharing a cup of coffee removed the walls that separate child from parent. Sitting at the old kitchen table to slurp caffeine from a cup and follow the slurp with a satisfied “Ahhh” put us on the same side, even if just for a few moments.
In much the same fashion, I shared coffee with my children. When Abby was a teenager, we began our own ritual of sharing coffee on the beach. We would fill a large thermos with hot coffee, mix it with sugar and creamer, and sip it while the sun rose over the Atlantic Ocean. Like they had when I was a teenager, the barriers that separate kids from adults toppled the moment that thermos was opened. The scent of coffee mingling with the salt air opened the heart and relaxed the soul.
My dearest friend Sue and I formed our friendship over cups of coffee. We would brew a pot and sit in her kitchen or mine, our children playing in the next room. When she moved to North Carolina, I thought my heart would break, but every once in awhile, the phone will ring and it will be Sue, asking me if I want to share a cup over the phone and catch up. I always do.
As much as I love my first cup of the day, I love to linger over a cup after dinner. When the children were young, their father and I would make a fresh pot, sit on the deck and chat while the sun faded and the kids searched for grasshoppers in the tall grass by the shed. I never quite understood how the same drink that woke us up in the morning helped us to relax at the end of the day, but it did.
I grind my coffee at the grocery store and before I close the bag, I often stick my nose in the bag and inhale a few times. I suppose it looks a bit ridiculous, but any true coffee lover knows that nothing beats the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans. My favorite coffee house is my own apartment. However, poured into a ceramic mug or a Styrofoam cup, in the car or on my front patio, served by a waitress or Juan Valdez himself, coffee will always be my beverage of choice. Come to think of it, I could go for a cup right now. How do you take yours?