I’ve been around coffee all my life. When I was a child, Christmas was not allowed to begin until my sister and I made a pot of coffee, poured cups of the steaming black liquid into heavy stoneware mugs, and delivered the drink to our groggy parents. My mother would send me into the Quick Shop, the only store with ten miles of our home in backwoods Maine, to buy a gallon of milk, a pack of toilet paper, and a large cardboard cup of hazelnut roast coffee.
I loved the smell of the stuff. Rich with caramel and earth, a complex essence that tigger at my senses and made me long to sit and breathe it in. Our family would sometimes trek to one of the organic food cooperatives in Portland… Maine, not Oregon, but they share a similar granola vibe… where I would revel in the scent from the bulk coffee dispensers along the walls. It was a special treat to cary a bag of whole beans to the grinder, listen to the clatter as I poured them into the hopper, and then breathe in their sharp essence as the freshly ground coffee fell into the waxed paper bag. I remember to the joy I felt when a friend of my parents introduced them to vacuum sealed coffee bags.
Bricks, I called them. We’d drive to the grocery store in Portland, an hour from home, and stock up on a month’s supply. Every week or so I would get one of the small serrated knives, wood handled with small patches of brass studding the handle where it attached to the tang, it as a steak knife I later learned, but we never had steak or any other meat on our dinner table. I would take the knife and pierce the thick red or black and yellow plastic, listening for the faint, sudden “pfft” as air rushed in. And like that the brick would go soft, ready to be poured into a canister.
Despite all of this, I hated coffee.
I had tried many times. Black, why the hell would anyone take it like that? Splashed into my milk, why ruin a good Oreo dipper? No amount of sugar could save it and nothing ruined a good pint of Ben & Jerry’s like accidentally getting the coffee version of a flavor.
Even when my wife started to drink Frappuccinos, at first by the cup and later by the gallon when I worked out a cheaper make at home knock off recipe, I couldn’t tolerate it. I was a tea person or, preferably, cocoa.
But I still loved the scent of coffee. I would make a cup of cocoa, or tea, or chicory root and sit with friends as they drank their coffee, wishing that my drink smelled as good.
In the winter of early twenty twenty, before the world went to hell in a hand basket of braided hydra guts, I drove to Maryland with Alli to retrieve the kids from an extended stay with her ex. We were supposed to meet them at a little bagel shop about ten minutes from the house they had shared and, being us, we arrived early. Stepping into that place, smelling the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee and hot bagels, I decided to take a chance.
“Make me a coffee,” I told her, as the cashier handed me an empty cup and turned to hand in our bagel orders.
“Really?” Alli replied, cocking her head to one side. “Are you sure?”
I nodded. “It smells too good and I’m tired of tea. All the good tea is expensive and cheap tea is shit.”
“Alright, here’s how we’ll do this…” Alli stepped over to the coffee bar and started pouring sugar into my cup.
She poured for a long time.
Next she added a shot of vanilla, a healthy pour of half and half, and at last a few pumps from the morning blend coffee carafe. “Try this.”
I sipped at the steaming liquid and, for the first time in my life, enjoyed the taste of coffee.
Now it has become a morning ritual. I wake up, give my cat his insulin injection, and prepare a pot of coffee. After Andy goes to work, but before the kids are awake, Alli and I sit in the window nook and drink our coffee as we read the morning news. Sometimes we chat about it. Often we just enjoy the companionable silence of a shared beverage.
It’s a nice way to start the day and, after a lifetime of missing out, I am so happy to fully enjoy coffee.