Do you remember your first cup of coffee?
I do. I imagine that my first memory is clouded by my longing for comfort that night long ago in upstate NY.
My first memory of coffee as a sacred beverage was at my mother’s knee. She made it clear this was her time to sit at the table and not be bothered. I could talk to her after she finished writing a letter to her cousin, Lois. She loved her cousin and they often exchanged letters. That day however, as a very lively fidgety 3 year old I wanted her full attention. So, I watched as she sipped on that coffee, savored and wrote. It felt like an eternity. I watched the longing in my mother’s eyes. Now I imagine she was remembering times past when she sat around with her beloved Lois and sipped cups together.
We percolated coffee then. I especially remember my grandmother’s percolator on the gas stove in her home in South Bend. Today, I jokingly call it cowboy coffee. All of my family always drank their coffee strong, black, no sugar. Of course, to be polite my mother served cream and sugar at her coffee klatches. She was known as the best hostess for coffee klatches.
We had sips probably, my brother and I but were never allowed to drink coffee. It may stunt our growth! At least back in the day that was the tried and true lore. This always puzzled me when we were allowed cola. Also, my brother was normal in height. I on the other hand am startlingly short. I considered my parents just brilliant when they took every effort for me to achieve as much height as I could.
Let me get back to my first memory of me drinking coffee. On a cold, dark, night in January, working the midnight shift in a hospital chemistry lab in upstate NY at 2 am I had a break. Something about that night left me bone cold and just a little weary. There was 3 feet of snow on the ground. It was snowing on the walk in. I lived about 4 blocks from where work was so I always walked. I liked the work. It paid for my living expenses in graduate school for biochemistry. For the first time I could remember I really needed a pick me up.
Any hospital worker will tell you there are cases that leave scars. That night was one for me. A baby had been brought in who would not survive the abuse they had suffered. That baby had lived on the same block that I did. My co-worker suggested going down to the peanut butter palace.
The peanut palace was so named as a midnight snack place that literally served for free to the 4th year medical students/interns in the hospital peanut butter on bread. No jelly, just white bread and a huge industrial tub of peanut butter. Plus, free coffee in one of those huge urns, with little creamers and sugar. They really did not care if you were an intern. Just do not wreck the microwave or talk too much. Get your fix and go. This is back in the day before the gigantic cup. 8 ounces would do nicely.
That night loaded I up my coffee with milk. I cannot remember if I put in sugar, probably not. That cup tasted like manna from heaven. Of course you could still taste the Styrofoam through the milky liquid. This is back in the day.
That year I continued to dip toes and experiment a bit more with coffee. Every research lab I worked in had pot brewed. You could put money in the kitty to pay for your share. It was the honor system. But, the absolute rule was you never took the last cup without making a pot. That coffee tended on the strong side. Unless, of course Tammy made it then it was see through weak. She was a shrinking flower that could not stand anything robust passing her delicate lips. Thankfully, she rarely made the coffee in my research lab.
All of my various roommates drank coffee and drank it strong, hot and straight. Of course, they also were in the business of hard work in the hospital labs, graduate research or medical school and making ends meet.
Time passed and I found myself married, with a baby, living in Germany and you guessed it working in hospital labs. There, thankfully, the coffee was strong, hot and straight. I pitied my American compatriots who did not understand these facts about coffee. Germany endeared itself to me by understanding coffee.
Now that I own a coffee café one of my favorite things is listening to others tell their first memory of coffee and their first real taste.
What is your story?