I never liked coffee when I was younger. Didn’t really have much use for the stuff. It kind of made me an anomaly in my family. My parents and grandparents drank coffee by the gallon. Perked at first, later drip brewed, always with milk or, if need be, non-dairy creamer.
Mom was the real fanatic. She was a caffeine fiend of the highest order, and would stop at nothing to get her fix. But it had to be brewed coffee, never espresso or anything like that. She was somewhat nonplussed when we took a family vacation to London. A true daughter of the American South, she had no use for tea unless it was A.) iced, and B.) sweet.
But she carried on — she dragged Dad and me all over the city searching for her beloved coffee. She finally found it, not far from Piccadilly Circus — at a Burger King.
Not for me. I just didn’t like coffee. Even in college, when I needed a pick-me-up for an all-nighter, I’d walk to a nearby convenience store and pick up a can of (shudder) instant iced tea with artificial lemon flavor. That stuff bore a closer resemblance to battery acid than anything someone would actually drink. But it was caffeinated, and the nasty taste helped keep me awake for a few more hours of cramming for an accounting test.
Strangely, I always enjoyed coffee flavors in other foods, such as candy, ice cream, even liqueurs. But I didn’t like coffee.
Then came the ’90s. Coffee shops blossomed everywhere. My wife and I were out shopping one day with Mom, and stopped at a coffee shop. I tried a cappuccino.
With the first sip, I had a revelation. A light went on. It wasn’t that I didn’t like coffee. I just didn’t like BAD coffee. It wasn’t the coffee that was terrible, it was my family’s low expectations for it. The truck stops, drive-ins and Waffle Huts were to blame, not my taste buds! Begone, Maxwell House of Horrors! Farewell, foul Folgers!
I started having the occasional latte. True enlightenment came when I discovered a working pump espresso machine in a thrift shop. Despite her trepidations about allowing me anywhere near a combination of hot water, electricity and pressurized steam, my lovely wife bought it for me.
I began enjoying a daily latte before work. Before long, I was up to two a day. I couldn’t help noticing a tinge of pride in my Mom’s voice when she told Dad “he drinks coffee now.”
The thrift shop espresso machine served my needs for a couple of years. But I knew I could do better. I soon got a real espresso machine from a serious coffee provider, and a proper grinder to match. (I got both as Christmas presents from my lovely bride. Mom was beaming as I opened the grinder box.)
I drank more coffee. I became a coffee snob, able to discern fruity notes, a hint of chocolate. I looked down my nose at drip brewed pre-ground beans.
Yet the seductive siren song of the caffeine monster called my name. My habit grew. My workplace added one of those handy little pod machines. I rationalized it by saying, “it’s not great, but it’s better than drip.” And with a serious lack of coffee shops of any kind in Walruslandia, I had little choice but to drink drip brewed coffee (or in my preferred term, “swill.” ) whenever I visited Mom and Dad.
A lot has changed in the last few years. Mom’s gone. I’ve changed jobs. My job no longer has a pod coffeemaker. There’s no grinder. Instead there’s the usual suspect — an industrial strength drip brewer, complete with its own plumbing. And pre-ground coffee filter packs.
And I drink the stuff. Several cups a day.
I’m still a coffee snob. But somewhere up there, Mom’s looking down, watching me pour the dreaded swill into my cup. And getting the last laugh.