It was on the Appalachian Trail that I realized just how much coffee was more than a morning elixir of caffeine. It was a symbol of morning congregation, of talking and laughing, of slowly waking up, enjoying sunrises and dreary days, and of savoring the warmth radiating off of the mug. By the time we’d started the AT I was a coffee addict but I’d made the decision not to carry instant coffee for a morning cup, mostly because I didn’t want the hassle of needing to stop to find a privy or tree every twenty minutes after leaving the shelter or campsite in the morning. Plus, I knew how caffeine headaches worked and I wasn’t interested in dealing with those, so I saved my coffee indulgences for town. When we did get to a town there was nothing better than those first few sips, the tiredness and miles falling away as the coffee swirled down my throat.
I have a memory, or maybe it is one of those made-up memories that one pieces together after hearing anecdotal stories about something after the fact, about stealing sips of coffee from my neighbor that babysat me when I was little, like 2-3 years old. For some reason I’m seeing one of those flat bottom coffee cups sitting on the side of a chair. I can visualize the house, too, complete with early 80s decor. I know I had sips of coffee here and there growing up but my parents never really let me drink it. Mom and Dad had a morning routine of coffee in the house, the coffee pot autmatically kicking on at a certain time every morning, mom preparing the filter and coffee the evening before.
It wasn’t until college that I started drinking a little more coffee, mostly frou-frou versions like lattes and cappucinos from the automatic machine in the cafeteria. My friends were into chai tea lattes that were available but I remember liking the cappuccinos. I mean, these weren’t any kind of high-end coffee drinks, but they were just the right amount of sugar and caffeine to get going for a study session. We probably even drank those instant, flavored Maxwell House cannisters while sitting around our dorm rooms. I think it was when Starbucks started showing up in Target stores that I started trying other coffee drinks on the menu, getting my grasp on what all of the differences were. Some drinks still frightened me, sounding too strong and jolting. Drinking coffee without some kind of sugar and cream? No way…it had to have both of those.
I started drinking more regular coffee with powdered creamer and packs of sugar when I had my first job out of college. I’d fill a paper cup up with the Folgers that brewed in the break room of the micro lab I worked in and sip on my coffee during my mid-morning break. Later at my next job I took coffee drinking even further, having multiple cups throughout the morning and began weaning myself off of the sugar by switching to Splenda and then finally only adding creamer without any sweeteners. Then I managed to start having black coffee on occassion, but it had to be brewed right. My coffee love started heavily at that job but I was never able to bring myself to have a café Cubano that was highly popular in my office and all around Miami. You could get shots of it and café con leche’s at some Publix grocery stores where they had coffee shops set up in the front (not a Starbucks) or at various random coffee stands at gas stations, either inside or in the parking lot.
Coffee was on my mind most recently when my mom came down for two nights as Chris went out of town. It was going to be my first time alone with Forest since he was born and while I knew I could handle it, I was still nervous about being alone at night. I thought of the idea for her to visit at the last minute and wasn’t even sure if she could shift her schedule around with the care of my niece and nephew during the day, but it ended up working out. I got up earlier than I usually did those two mornings and had enough time to sip a cup of coffee with her at the kitchen table while Forest was still waking up. It wasn’t just that time that I thought about the relevance of coffee, the comaraderie of it. Any time my family comes to visit we usually have long, lingering breakfasts with multiple cups of coffee, reading various things on the internet, talking, looking out the picture window in the dining room to the pond as the sun comes up in the morning. If I’m at my parent’s house, it’s something similar but usually flipping through the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram instead and chatting.
I know coffee isn’t the only warm brew to elicit this response, tea enthusiasts I’m sure feel the same about their flavorful leaves. But coffee, there’s just something about coming into the kitchen to the brew of whatever roast was put into the filter and pouring it into your favorite mug and taking the time to just be.