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Sunday, August 27, 2006


My Coffee 'Tis of Thee

Interesting article this morning on Salon. It's a look at the trend of teenagers hanging out at Starbucks and drinking coffee drinks in lieu of eating a proper meal. The article talks about the chain's new-ish role as a teen hangout and how kids are getting addicted to caffeine at a younger age through the miracle of non-bitter sugared-up coffee drinks. Which, of course, prompted me to think of my own history with this most wonderful of all drugs.

The first time I ever had a sip of coffee was when I was maybe four or five. My parents had had a party the night before and my sister and I came down in the morning while my parents were still sleeping it off. My folks were not big on the whole "clean up before you go to bed" school of thought. They were much more of the "fuck it, I'm going to bed and I'll worry about this shit in the morning" type of folks. So there were plates of stuff all over, ashtrays full-to-overflowing and half-empty glasses/cups/mugs of liquids. Being small and a fan of soda, I saw this as an opportunity to get me some of that delicious Pepsi that I was only allowed to have so much of. I picked up a mug filled with a dark liquid and I took a slug. Turned out that it was cold coffee (made, probably, at the end of the party to help drivers sober up before weaving home). I nearly barfed and I didn't touch the stuff for years and years.

My grandparents (paternal) were huge, huge coffee drinkers. I remember my grandma making iced coffee in the summers. Now, this was a good fifteen years before the Frappuchino. It wasn't some attempt to be gourmet or anything, my grandparents just preferred coffee to tea, hot or iced. I think I tried one once and, even with a couple dozen spoonfuls of sugar, it was too bitter for me.

As a kid, I knew from an early age how to make a pot of coffee, even if I never partook of the stuff. The first time I ever made a pot for myself was the New Year's I went to my first non-family party. I'd gotten hammered. Drunk enough that someone had to drive my car home. And then I was supposed to go to Pennsylvania with some friends of the family who were coming through at around four in the morning to pick me up. Riding to PA with family friends while intoxicated didn't sound like a great idea to me. So I forced myself to drink three cups of coffee, which sobered me up enough that I drove the last hour of the trip. Thus was I introduced first-hand to the wonderful benefits of being a coffee drinker.

I still preferred Diet Dr. Pepper to coffee, though. I drank tons of that stuff, even before they'd gotten the hang of making it taste like regular. When Diet Dr. Pepper first came out, it tasted sort of like how Pepsi might taste if you poured some of it in your mouth, swished it around for about five minutes and then spat it back out in the bottle. I was fat, though, and figured out at a fairly young age that adding a buttload of non-diet soda to my weekly intake wasn't going to help me get thin.

When I got to college, I still wasn't a coffee drinker. I had a mini-fridge in my room and I kept soda in there. Until my sophomore year, when I was hanging out at the house of one of my more sophisticated classmates. He was a year ahead of me and lived off-campus. He played piano, liked jazz and was basically a rockstar in the theater department, at least in terms of girls who wanted to/actually did sleep with him. I thought he was really cool. So we were hanging out one night and he made some espresso. Not wanting to seem like a rube, I accepted the tiny little cup he offered me and I downed it. Then I got a quick case of the holy-shit-that's-bitter shivers. Then I had another. And I liked it. And that was it.

I've loved coffee ever since, in all its forms. I love espresso. I love iced mochas. I love coffee ice cream. But most of all, I love a big old mug of plain black drip. Especially on a morning like this, with a massive chill in the air and gray clouds in the sky. To sit listening to good music and drinking a cup of coffee is pretty damn close to heaven.

Now, there have been, I have to say, long periods of my life when coffee was not my caffeine-delivery system of choice.

I've written before about my decade-long struggle with the monster that is Diet Mountain Dew. A monster, by the way, that I slew this past December. I slew the living shit out of it. It's weird, but I get this little twinge of nostalgia whenever I walk by a bottle of the stuff. It's somewhat akin, I guess, to the feeling I get when I see someone lighting up a cigarette. It's that sort of, "Oh! I used to be able to have that" kind of feeling. You know the one. Like hanging out with an ex-girlfriend.

And there was also a period when I preferred, instead of drinking coffee, eating chocolate-covered espresso beans. This was in college. I used to love to get high and then chug beans to keep me awake. I still love them, but I've long since realized that they're best in moderation.

It took me a long time to get to a place where I'm comfortable with my caffeine intake. These kids who are drinking a grande skim vanilla latte before their big algebra test are going to go through the same journey of self-caffeinated discovery that I did. They're just starting it sooner, thanks to the omnipresence of Starbucks on the American landscape. I suppose, though, that it's better they're drinking coffee than shooting heroin. Or maybe it's not. I don't know.

My preferred caffeine delivery system has always been cold and bubbly.

My family didn't drink coffee at all, except my grandmothers, one of whom occasionally used to have a cup of Sanka (which, granted, is to coffee what gardenburgers are to Big Macs--except Sanka tastes a lot worse) after dinner, and the other who drank coffee more like a seemingly normal person.

My mother used to buy Tab by the case and drink several six packs a day. She's living proof to me that there must be some genetic link to why some people develop cancer from exposure to certain carcinogens and others don't. If anyone should have developed cancer from saccharine exposure, it was my mother.

At one point, my mother my sister and I all drank different diet colas-- Mom drank Tab, I've always preferred Diet Coke, and my sister went with Diet Pepsi. My sister has since moved on to Diet Mountain Dew.

Like you, I didn't learn to tolerate, much less appreciate, the taste of coffee until I was in college. I know how to make a pretty good cup of coffee (so I've been repeatedly told), but I still usually prefer Diet Coke. But Diet Coke with Aspartame, not that icky Splenda stuff. Too sweet by far!

For some reason, the only time I usually have coffee these days is when I go out for breakfast, or am at a greasy spoon diner, like the Mecca. I used to like to have a cup of coffee after dinner, but now if I have caffeine after 7pm, I'll be up until at least 4am, being the sensitive, delicate flower I am. or perhaps being the haggard old bat that I am, same dif!

But there are times when a nice cuppa java on a chilly morning or afternoon hits the spot like nothing else. I'm totally with you on that one, Joe!
I read this while sitting in Third Place Books drinking Grizzle blend coffee and eatinf a sliceof Chocolate Lovers cake. Is that amazing or what?
Ah, Third Place. Truly a haven of variably caffeinated consumables.
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