Five months into the dramatic shift in daily life and one of the things that help me is an occasional cup of coffee. I’m sure you understand: life is often about simple pleasures.
I’ve previously confessed in this space to binge-watching too many television shows since things went all “Corona.” But, I did not confess another fact about my world of addiction. Coffee. Some, who know me, understand that I love coffee but it doesn’t always love me back. At various times, more than a few local coffee shops were under direction not to serve me coffee. It’s usually done politely by the barista asking, “Is that okay? Or, are you sure? Or, don’t you mean decaf; are you allowed to have regular coffee?” Lest you think I become a raving sociopath while “under the influence” let me explain.
For the entirety of my life, I have seldom had more than one cup of coffee in a day, and, I have seldom drunk coffee every day as many do. Normally, I have one cup every few days, early in the morning, and then I get A LOT done for the rest of the day. I can bang out the crossword puzzle or nail Jeopardy questions as if a superhero! I talk a lot, but that’s not so unusual, and if no one is around I don’t talk but work hard and focused at one thing after another. This is good for a writer, a builder, and a gardener. So far so good, until sixteen hours later, I cannot sleep, my muscles get tight and painful, and the jitters set in. One Cup, sixteen hours later!
If I drink coffee on consecutive days, by the third day the boom book starts going away, less gets done, and all that chatty, creative energy transforms into a Zombie land depression. My energy flags, my speech slurs, my body hurts to the point that walking stairs is difficult and my neck gets so tight I want to snap it off. I begin to organize my world in a bout of OCD, and honestly, I just get weird. And yet, all day, all I think about is getting that next cup the following morning. Though my addictions are legal, relatively safe, cheap, and benign, they are still addictions.
Caffeine can have both positive and negative health effects. Some people experience sleep disruption or anxiety if they consume caffeine, but others show little disturbance. Caffeine can produce a mild form of drug dependence associated with withdrawal symptoms such as sleepiness, headache, and irritability when an individual stops using caffeine after repeated daily intake.
I recall well the two best cups of coffee in my life. In August of 1974, driving with friends from San Francisco to my home in Tumwater, Washington, we detoured to Crater Lake. We arrived at the rim at midnight with a few blankets and no camping gear or warm clothing. The temperature was 31degrees, so we retreated down to a campsite and went to sleep. At four o’clock in the morning, it started raining, so we piled back into the 1974 Pontiac Catalina and set off. It would be fifteen years before I saw Crater Lake in the daytime. We headed downhill with the heater cranked on high. An hour later we stopped for breakfast at a café, and when they poured the coffee into the restaurant ceramic cups, it was heavenly: to that point in my life, the best coffee ever. It was probably Boyd’s or Folgers but I didn’t care: “any port in a storm.”
The next great cup of coffee would come under different circumstances, but oddly similar. Nancy and I were in Europe in 1988 for the first time and traveling by train from Barcelona to Rome. Sharing our cabin was a young Argentinean whom we befriended and spent much of the overnight trip talking with instead of sleeping. Arriving in Rome, early the next morning, the Argentinian, a well-versed traveler, said, “Let’s get a coffee,” and we stepped into the bustling coffee line where a veritable phalanx of baristas stood cranking out shots of espresso. The Argentinian said, “Be sure to order two so you don’t have to wait in line again.” This we did and enjoyed the coffee agreeing that it was the best EVER!
If you think this piece is simply the rationalizing of a drug addict (it is), let me say that coffee is not simply a drug experience, but more an aesthetic ritual I enjoy sharing with others. The other day, one of the Oregon Department of Forestry fire patrol crews stopped by to say hi, and with respect and appreciation for how hard they work and the service they perform, I made them a cup of coffee. They had heard about my coffee ritual and before preparing it, I explained my process in a step-by-step fashion. A few minutes later, they joyfully received the brew.
In pandemics as in life, it is the little things that sustain us. Amen.
Uncle Joey’s Obsessive Compulsive Perfect Cup of Coffee
- Prepare a Clean work area
- Layout your required teaspoons, cream, sugar, coffee, cups, pitchers, and whatever device you use.
- Use good coffee (this is dependent on individual taste)
- Make certain that nothing hot: water, cream, coffee ever meets a cold surface. Pre heat everything
- Make the coffee strong. One tablespoon per six ounces is a joke; double it!
- Never allow the coffee to cool, and only add hot milk or cream which has been heated to “The Natas” point, which for those who don’t speak Spanish, is when heated milk forms a very thin layer of skin on the surface seconds prior to boiling.
- Blend the milk, cream, half and half together with the hot coffee and if you’re like me, add sugar. In my novel, Bedtime Stories, Philosopher Mechanic, Fish, says to the protagonist, Jake, “Black coffee is just a drug, but if you add cream and sugar, it is three drugs!”
- And last, perhaps the most important step of all in the ritual: serve the coffee in a perfect cup to yourself or your guest who is “ready to receive it.” Receive means, calm, and ready to taste and appreciate the coffee instead of just banging it down.
- Savor the first sip and each additional sip