I’ve Been Drinking Coffee Since I Was Nine
I drink the best coffee now. Kona beans ground and brewed in a two-in-one machine. The results splashed with heavy cream. Even holding the cup is a familiar kind of comfort. The warmth radiating through my entire hand.
I’m married to someone who doesn’t even drink coffee, and yet he’s gone out of his way to make sure I’m drinking the best coffee I possibly can.
But this wasn’t always the case. My parents didn’t drink coffee at home. My mother had a strong aversion to it. She found the smell offensive. And she was rather sensitive to caffeine.
So the coffee of my childhood always took place somewhere else. I first started drinking it with my grandmother at her house after church or a morning of going to yard sales. Grandma’s coffee was a flat budget brand, brewed to a scalding heat. No milk or cream.
Drinking her coffee was an exercise in mindfulness. How long could you wait before you tried it? The fate of your tongue depended on it. But you couldn’t wait too long or you’d have to drink it cold. And no one wanted that. Her coffee was terrible cold.
There was a narrow window where the coffee was palatable but wouldn’t burn you deeply.
So Grandma and I would chat until it was time. And then take our tentative first sips. She always seemed to know rather effortlessly when to drink it, a well-practiced woman with a highly developed internal clock.
Me, I was hopeless the first dozen times or so. I burned my tongue and choked down lukewarm coffee at the end of our time together. Destroying the evidence of my failure. I did it quickly with a performative stoicism that signaled, “I may be nine years old, but I’m grown up enough to do this.” Like a person might refuse to wince the first time they drink alcohol in college even though they’re completely unprepared for the taste.
If Grandma picked up on it, she never let on. There was always another cup waiting for me the next time I came over.
And one day, I found I was reaching for the cup instinctively at the same time she was. I’d found the magic timing.
It became our bond. Something we had together that my mother didn’t understand. We were the coffee drinkers. A tribe of two.
Taking It Where I Could Get It
I drank coffee pretty much everywhere. At my older sister’s apartment, at friends’ houses. Everywhere I lived when there was trouble at home. If anyone offered me a cup, I’d say yes.
My band director had a coffeemaker in his office. When he needed someone to type his master’s thesis, he paid me in free coffee and first dibs on any calls for gigs that came his way: “Do you know any kids who want to come and play at my barbecue?” That sort of thing.
The balance of his brew was always a little off, and I felt bad about the styrofoam cups, so I’d try to use one for several days, stashing it around his computer, at the base of the chair, slightly obscured by his bookcase, rinsing the cup out, until the director would finally find it, become grossed out, and throw the damned thing away. Because ew, right?
We didn’t see eye to eye on the whole styrofoam thing. If I’d been more clever, I would have brought in a cup to reuse.
But the thesis got written. I played a ton of gigs that year. And I was always properly caffeinated.
Sure, sleeping was difficult, but I had this whole staying awake thing handled.
We Both Drank the Coffee, But I Always Brewed It
When I first started dating Seth, the man who would become my first husband, he’d never drank alcohol. And sure, we were only 20, so in some ways that made sense. But a lot of my friends had parents who let them at least try a drink. Or in my own case, I had started playing gigs at 11. Some of them were literally in bars, and others were private parties — birthdays, anniversaries — where the caterers set wine and champagne out for everyone.
I had a fairly low-key introduction to alcohol in some ways. Sipping white wine along with crudités. Alcohol was something that just showed up when you hired a caterer. Just don’t drink too much. And don’t drive.
I didn’t see what the big deal was.
But Seth viewed me as some kind of alien creature. For the alcohol thing, yes, but also because once we moved in together, he noted that I drank coffee, of all things.
Why would a person drink coffee, he wondered, when there was Mountain Dew? And other things that had plenty of caffeine — but actually tasted good.
“Well, coffee does taste good,” I explained. “Just in a different way.”
I didn’t have the words for it then, but somewhere along the line, I’d become more attracted to darkness than the light. I preferred bitter to sweet. And looking back, coffee was just another manifestation of that larger pattern.
But in the moment, I didn’t elaborate further, Seth just shook his head, and we were done with it. Until we ended up visiting a coffee house a friend had opened up locally with her mother. They had poetry readings there for me. Gaming there for him.
“You don’t drink coffee?” our friend asked Seth.
He shook his head no.
“Have you ever tried a latte?”
“Hold on,” she said. “I’ll make you one. If you don’t like it, it’s free.”
Seth loved it. He began to order one every time we visited the cafe.
And then one morning when I was making coffee for myself, he asked if I could pour him his own cup. I watched with great interest as he took it, added what was to my view an obscene amount of cream and sugar, and drank it.
Seth had become a coffee drinker.
We were together 10 years, all told, and while it took him a few years to develop a taste for it, he drank coffee nearly every day for the final 8 years of our relationship.
And it’s strange looking back, for one simple reason: I always made the coffee.
Even if I were sick, exhausted, done with the world for one reason or another. I was the one who got up, measured the coffee, brewed it, made up our cups the way we each liked them. Mine was just a splash of milk or cream, his laden with cream and a heap of sugar.
We both drank the coffee, but I’m the only one who brewed it.
There’s Something Magical About That Person Who Raises Your Standards
Seth and I ultimately didn’t work out. I’ve remarried since then and have been with my second husband Justin for 7 or 8 years now. I’ve seen him drink coffee maybe two or three times, when he was extremely exhausted or otherwise stressed out from something else. Justin is a supertaster and highly sensitive to bitter. Coffee to his taste buds is like a stereo screaming at full blast. It’s a lot.
I’m basically the only person who lives in my house who drinks coffee on a regular basis. And yet, Justin makes it for me all the time. Especially on the weekend, if I’ve had a rough week. Or if I’m really tired, stressed out, or sad about something.
Justin is the whole reason I even drink Kona these days. He paid careful attention to what I seemed to like when I would order at cafes. And when he heard other people raving about how good this particular light roast was, he picked it up for me. Before Justin I didn’t even know that Kona existed, let alone how much I’d love it.
When I tell him that I know heavy cream is more expensive so I don’t have to use it, I can settle for half and half, milk, or even the powdered creamer, he waves the notion away with his hand.
I’d say it was surprising, and in some ways it is — but it also fits with the larger pattern of our relationship.
Yes, I drank and actually enjoyed terrible coffee for years without knowing it could be any different. And now I drink coffee that’s rather snobby compared to what I grew up on. But the same thing happened with love. I was just happy to have anybody in my life. I didn’t know what it was like to be really appreciated. To be cherished.
Just like my taste in coffee has changed, I’ve learned what a loving relationship feels like, and there’s no going back.
There’s something magical about that person who not only meets your needs but also raises your standards. Who turns you into a bit of a love snob. Who can throw away the storybook notions you had of romance at nine years old and replace them with something that’s somehow both more realistic and better.