Black Coffee

I’m a coffee drinker. I’ve been so most of my life.

Just A Few

Both of my parents were coffee drinkers. My initiation to the dark brew came when I’d carry their mugs of morning coffee up to their room. Sometimes a mug would be a little full and I’d sip off the top. I very much liked the taste.

No, my folks didn’t drink their coffee so laden with cream and sugar that it could qualify as a dessert. Both drank it black.

In fact, my mom has commented that when she was young she thought she didn’t like coffee because her mother always served it with cream and sugar. It wasn’t until Mom tried her coffee black that she realized she liked coffee. She still does. We’ve had many a conversation over a steaming mug.

Long before the trend for fancy coffee, my mom bought her coffee as beans rather than the more typical pre-ground. Her grinder had a reservoir on top where about a half pound of beans could be stored. Many a time, I’d come in the kitchen door, slide open the top of the grinder, dip out a few beans, and eat them.

This habit was so ingrained that when I was about fifteen and my high school best friend, Anna Cooke, went to visit family in Jamaica, she brought me back a pound of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. I kept it in my locker at school and slowly ate it.

About a year ago, Anna brought me more Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. This time I drank it. It was very fine indeed.

I didn’t really start drinking coffee on a regular basis until I was out of college. I was just too poor to invest in a coffee pot and coffee. Counter space was also an issue.

Eventually, someone gave me a battered stove top peculator. I used that for years. Eventually, the glass knob at the top broke. However, I discovered that the bottle in which a friend had brought over a coffee-flavored soft drink threaded into the place where the knob belonged.

For quite a while, I made my coffee in that jury-rigged pot, the coffee perking up into the bottle and swirling down again. It was actually rather transfixing.

Eventually, I got out of grad school and acquired not only a job, but also an apartment with enough counter space for a coffee pot. By then, drip coffee pots (rather than the blue and white Corningware peculator that had been the standard of my childhood) were common. I remember having to figure out all the intricacies of baskets and paper filters.

Today I have a drip coffee pot with a metal mesh filter that in some ways harkens back to the metal basket of that first Corningware peculator. I have a tidy little grinder for my coffee beans. I also have more coffee mugs than I need…

My current favorite is a cobalt blue glass one which Jim bought me at the State Fair. One side is ornamented with a white tiger among bamboo. On the other side is etched “Jane and Jim, 2003.” The artist insisted he should write something on it. At the time, I thought it was rather silly, but now I’m sort of glad. It’s a nice memory.

These days I no longer need to worry about affording coffee. My current favorite is a Sumatra medium roast. It’s full-bodied and smooth without being bitter. Now that I think about it, my mom introduced me to this, too, when she gave me a bag of Sumatran coffee as part of a gift one year.

I drink decaf, too, having found that if I buy darker roasts than I typically buy for my caffeinated coffee, this takes care of the somewhat watery note I find in most decaf.

So it’s not the caffeine jolt I crave (although, I admit that on those days I’m out of bed before 6:00 a.m., I rather would miss it), it’s the flavor, the scent, the ritual.

I think I’d like a cup now, in fact. Join me? Or is your ritual something different?

P.S. Remember, tomorrow is the first Thursday Tangent. Join Alan Robson and me for a discussion of the language of underwear, same site, new posting.

16 Responses to “Black Coffee”

  1. Alan Robson Says:

    When I first met Robin I knew she was the woman for me. She drank her coffee black, without sugar, just like I did. I’d never met anybody else (male or female) who did that. We’ve been drinking coffee together for almost twelve years now.

    When I left university and finally had to face the terrible prospect of working for a living I owned a huge cushion, a lot of books and a coffee pot. For quite some time I lived in a one room bedsit. I read books, sat on my cushion and drank coffee. I find it hard to think of a better lifestyle.

    Today I have a very simple drip feed filter. Coffee is a simple drink and elaborate mechanisms are not needed. I just love the smell as it brews, and the taste tickles all the proper taste buds. The caffeine kick doesn’t do much for me. Like Jane, I’m quite happy to drink decaf — it tastes slightly different but it is still yummy.

    The very best coffee I have ever drunk was on the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu. In colonial days it was jointly administered by the French and the British. Fortunately the French influenced their culinary traditions far more than the British ever did. They grow their own coffee and they don’t export it. If you want to drink it, you have to visit them. It is smooth, rich and full of body. Believe me, it is well worth travelling all across the world just to drink a cup of it.


  2. heteromeles Says:

    Thanks for the tip on Vanuatu, Alan. It’s great to know that the homeland of kava has great java, too.

    The only coffee-growing region I’ve visited is the Kona coast, and they have great coffee there, better than the Kona I’ve tasted on the mainland. I think coffee may lose something from being shipped.

    Back in grad school, I ran a grad student association. The school was too poor to have much money to bring in speakers, so the grad students sold coffee and baked goods in the lobby every morning. We raised several thousand dollars per semester, enough to bring in a steady string of speakers.

    The secret? Good coffee, preferably sumatran or mocha java. Since one can make 40-50 cups of coffee per pound, even $10/pound coffee can bring in $40-50 at a dollar per cup. We learned through experimentation that mocha java sold the best, because everyone was willing to drink it. Unlike Colombian coffee, it was hard to mis-brew, too.

    Another student group tried to undercut us by selling Yuban at 50 cents per cup. They didn’t get much business. I think there was a lesson there, too.

    • Alan Robson Says:

      Ah! The kava in Vanuatu…

      I was teaching a Linux course at the Port Vila campus of the University of the South Pacific (USP) and on the Friday I was invited to the campus Nakamal for kava. I’ve had kava before in Fiji so I thought I knew what to expect. But I was wrong.

      In Fiji, the kava is quite dilute and people sit around the kava bowl for hours at a time (sometimes all day) drinking the occasional bowl and talking while they drink. There is quite a strict ceremony associated with the drinking of kava in Fiji. After downing a bowl, you must clap three times to show appreciation. As the hours pass and more and more kava is ingested, the pleasant, numbing effect of it gradually creeps over the whole body.

      However in Vanuatu things are quite different. The Nakamal is a social place where kava is drunk. But the actual drinking itself is a private thing, a holy thing, a communion between you and the kava. You go off to the edge of the Nakamal to be alone, to contemplate the infinite, to clap one hand and listen to the sound of it (you get very Zen after too many bowls of kava). After drinking the kava in one huge gulp, you spit copiously to get the revolting taste out of your mouth (in Vanuatu the hills are alive with the sound of hoicking). Then you return to your group of friends and indulge in social chit-chat until it is time for more kava.

      A visit to a Nakamal doesn’t last for very long. The Vanuatu kava is enormously strong, not diluted at all. One drink, possibly two, and you are completely wrecked (in the nicest sense). I felt an enormous relaxation spread throughout my body. I felt calm and happy, completely unstressed and I became quite talkative (most unusual for me; I tend to be a listener rather than a talker in most social gatherings). I could feel the effect quite clearly and I absolutely knew that if I drank one more bowl I would be so relaxed that I’d have to be carried home.

      Wonderful stuff.


      • heteromeles Says:

        Sounds like fun. I know what kava tastes like, but I’ve never had the fresh stuff.

        As for the profits of coffee above, I should note that we made $40 per pound of coffee, not per cup. Then again, this was a campus where the students used carabiners to attach their 16 oz travel mugs to their packs, so coffee was a serious part of many students’ mornings.

  3. Dominique Says:

    I’d love a cup Jane!

  4. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Sorry. I can’t stand coffee, in any form.

    So I run on soda instead. Anyone who knows me knows I’m never far from a bottle of Mountain Dew. Though don’t panic heath nuts. I keep my soda intake highly regulated, and I drink plenty of water and milk as well.

  5. Ann M Nalley Says:

    I wish I could say I was a black coffee drinker, but for years I have been a cream and sugar coffee drinker! I have weaned myself off the sugar, and in the last six months just drink the coffee with cream; however, I used to love my morning cup of coffee with cream and sugar. I still love it with just cream, and who knows? Perhaps one day I will learn to love it black.

  6. Chad Cloman Says:

    Jane, I hate to be the the spelling nazi, but I just can’t let it go…

    It’s spelled “percolator.”

  7. Paul Says:

    My folks both drank coffee, but told me it would “stunt your growth.” I never tried it until the Army, when I was limited in what I could find to drink. I’ve been drinking it ever since, but have resorted to decaf. I found that, when drinking the real stuff, if I would go without it for any length of time, I would develop a caffein-deprivation headache. A co-worker once insisted to me if I would try coffee without milk and sugar (or, nowadays, artificial sweetener), I would grow to love it. I tried it for a while, but never did. Back to milk and sweetener (in fact, I’m having a cup of that right now).

  8. heteromeles Says:

    Actually, to combine this with the linguistic thread: white coffee.

    I’ve heard that term more from Australians than Americans, but it’s just coffee with unsteamed milk. At least as I understand it. Looking at Wikipedia, it turns out that there are a bunch of other white coffees in the world.

    Where else is it used?

  9. janelindskold Says:

    Nicolas, you’re in good company. My buddy, David Weber, doesn’t drink coffee either. Like a good Southerner, he’s most likely to want iced tea.

    As for not drinking coffee black … some of my favorite people, like Jim and some of my siblings, don’t drink it that way.

    Actually, I think the taste of coffee with cream and sugar can be dandy — but as a dessert, not a drink!

  10. OtherJane Says:

    I never could drink coffee. Both my parents did, but I never liked the smell of it enough to even taste it. I used to drink a fair amount of pepsi and iced tea, but got away from the caffiene.

    I do like a good fresh iced tea (unsweetened) on occasion, though these days my normal beverage is water. I like to flavor it with a little lemon, lime, ginger, or fresh mint depending on what I have available.

    I guess it’s not a ritual for me. I was never one for morning rituals (or mornings at all for that matter.) I generally don’t get up any earlier than I have to…so I never had/have time for a relaxing drink before I start my day.

  11. Eric Says:

    I’ve never been a coffee drinker. I can’t get enough of the smell though. I would keep a bag of grounds around just to smell in the morning if I didn’t think my roommates would think me quite a bit more odd than they already do if I began doing that.

    As for morning rituals, I tend to be a get-out-of-bed-just-in-time kind of guy, but I’d love to just watch the birds at the feeder for a little while each morning.

  12. janelindskold Says:

    Oh! I have a bird feeder right outside my office in winter and a bird bath all year.

    I love watching the visitors — even the “ordinary” birds like sparrows and finches.

    Nothing beats a robin when it comes to enthusiastic bathing!

  13. Ann M Nalley Says:

    Perhaps Jane could do a Wednesday Wandering on Backyard Birdwatching! We are enthusiastic, year round bird feeders and bird watchers. I felt an immediate connection with Eric when he mentioned bird watching! For a while this spring, we would have 15 or 20 finches (American gold finches and house finches) at our feeders ~ and then, all of a sudden, they left! I love sparrows! They are so feisty and will “push” a big blue jay out of the way to get to a feeder!

  14. janelindskold Says:

    Ann —

    That’s a great idea! With the fire on the AZ border, we’re seeing some new visitors. I’ll take some notes…

    But probably not for this week! I’ve got ideas already for that one.

    Thanks for the suggestion.

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