The Loving Cup
My romance with the bean began over 20 years ago.
As with most things with love, it is best not to start too early. A young heart in love with the bean will get the jitters, become overexcited, and eventually unbearably irritable. I wasn’t a kid anymore when I really sampled my first home-brewed cup, and while it wouldn’t override my love for sweet diet colas and iced teas, I knew that a new door had been opened for me, a romance that would most likely never go away.
I was still a student at The University of Michigan when it happened. I was house sitting for some friends; folks who lived rather far out of town. It was a neighborhood where an illuminated house was a safe house, so these friends would invite house-sitters to stay and keep the place cozy while they were away. For one 2-week period, I got to be the watchdog.
“House is FULL of food,” I recall them saying, “Have whatever you like, we appreciate you keeping an eye on things.” I nodded and waved as they drove off, fully expecting to find all sorts of goodies to sample. Eating mass quantities was a primary focus of my college days, so such an invitation would not go unused very long. I recall padding over to the kitchen to check things out.
This was Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1982. The echo of the 70’s still reverberated through this community, and the owners of this particular house were grad students who majored in the late 1960s lifestyle. This meant that I was not going to find “french bread pizza” in the freezer. I found sprouts. Damn nice sprouts, but sprouts. And big mason jars filled with dried beans. And paper boxes with dried leaves and twigs. This was not a house FULL of food, as was promised … it was a house filled with hippy organo-crops that looked more like the product of a John Deere tractor than the grocery store.
I was in trouble. I was going to have to buy my own food while I was at the house. I had limited funds, so I had to be particularly creative … I think this is where I found a full can of refried beans over corn chips and topped with cheeze could keep me going for at least a full day. But there wasn’t a soft drink to be had in the place. Nothing, since these kind homeowners probably grew their own wild teas and let them infuse using sun jars or similar non-sense.
Wait a minute….
While I continued to rummage for old packages of Grape Kool-Aid, I spied a large, large glass jar. I mean a really big glass jar, something that looked able to hold 2 or 3 gallons of cargo if properly filled. I noted the contents to be dark and mottled looking, filled nearly to the top. The jar was filled with dark, shiny coffee beans. Hmmm….coffee. I remember my father enjoying cuban coffee in the afternoons when he got home from work. He really liked them…more like needed them, really. I peered through the side of the jar, twisted the lid open, and stuck my face near the open mouth.
Just one sniff. One little sniff, that’s all it took. It was like that first kiss, that twinkle in perfect eyes, that first uncertain smile. In just one deep inhale, the love of coffee took root. There was no turning back. I took a single roasted bean in my hand and rolled it back and forth. I would not have been able to tell you what sort of bean it was, or anything about the roast, other than the small round object was smooth, brown and sported a nearly iridescent sheen.
A few minutes later, I was at the coffee grinder in the kitchen. It was an ancient affair, a manual deal with a crank at the top and a catch box at the bottom. I tossed in some beans, twisted the crank, and even more of that wonderful smell filled my lungs. I hadn’t even brewed a cup, yet I knew I was going to really like this coffee thing.
To make a long story as short as possible, I will save the trial and error associated with actually brewing the stuff. I probably made a ton of errors and wound up with a cup half way to 30 weight motor oil. I tossed in several heaping spoonfuls of sugar, and started to toss the stuff back.
I recall working on a term paper, perhaps a review of a movie I had watched for a class. The normal drudgery of hand pecking papers out on my Brother typewriter seemed to lift that night; it became fun to fly across the keys and type all the movie-related drek that popped into my highly caffeinated brain. The big secret of coffee suddenly became clear to me: If you drink enough of it, you become …superhuman.
“Man, this is really good stuff,” I mumbled to myself in that modest country shack in Ypsilanti, “I gotta have some more of that, and I gotta have it NOW.”
A week later, my home owners came back. They found their sprouts intact, looking rather tired in the fridge. The same was true for the tofu, the goat’s cheese, and the organically grown dry pinto beans. The trash was filled with McDonald’s styrofoam and french bread pizza boxes. There were also several large mounds of spent coffee grounds. One of the homeowners stood gasping at the nearly empty 3 gallon jar of expensive coffee beans.
“That was pounds of coffee,” my landlord-warden shouted. He wasn’t happy I had sucked up all his expensive java.
“Oh, is that a lot?” I said politely, “I don’t usually drink coffee, but I had to do something to keep from starving in this 1960s hippie shack. Sorry ’bout that. Great coffee though.”
And so my love of coffee began with a wild, wild week of abandon one spring in the early 1980s. It was a romance of reckless, perhaps excessive indulgence, boiling hot and filling my senses with memories so intense that they stay with me to this day. That’s the week my love for the bean began, a relationship that continues unabated to this day.
I’ve put in a lot of time with the bean since then. I’ve also had a lot of fun learning how to roast, grind and make the best cup I can. I am not a barrista, so don’t ask me for one of those multi-syllabic concoctions that look more like ice-cream than a cup of joe. I’m just here to make a damn good cup of coffee.
I hope you are too.