I’m 3 years old, at my grandparent’s house. We lived with them until I was 6; a common practice to let grandma chase after me while my mom and dad worked taking care of the family grocery store. I was a hyper curious kid. They tell me I was always lurking and watching, two huge dark brown eyes, on an disproportionately huge head on my tiny chubby body, staring in silence. Observing.. Watching… learning..and plotting.
Today’s target was the kitchen table. It was yellow formica, speckled with tiny black, sandy grains, and framed in silver chrome, accented lightly with brass details.
It was one of my favourite shelters, the world is a different place in the eyes of a sub 3’ being. I remember sitting underneath it for hours, on the brown and white squared linoleum floor, playing with the cold brass rings on the tapered chrome legs, flicking them up and rotating them, making the hoops ring, chime and buzz as they fell.
The kitchen table was where we ate all our meals. The dining table was only used for special occasions, and eventually became my grandfather’s desk in later years, as age caught up to his legs, making the descent to his basement den uncertain.
I peeked up, and around the corner and there it was !! ... the round, dark brown coffee cup, perched on its matching saucer.
It was bowl-shaped with a slightly narrow waist down near the bottom, but not so much so that you would call it tulip shaped. It was a man’s cup, thick, and heavy, with a thick coarse rim, not dainty at all. It had a big chunky handle a man’s finger could fit through.
It was my grandfather’s cup.
He had just left for work to join my parents, having earned the right to start later, and arrive when the chaos of opening the doors was over. He would take breakfast by himself, basking in the leisurely solitude of a quiet house in the morning.
I knew it was his time, and would hang around quietly under the dining table, or play with my toy cars on the big picture window sill. Every now and then I would peek in until I finally broke his meditation, and he would acknowledge me with his smile and words for the day.
After some warm moments exchanged between grandson and grandfather, it was time to leave for work.
He would disappear into his bedroom to put on his tie, and jacket and his hat in the top shelf of the main hall closet. My job was to pull his shoes of the day ( the pair that didn’t have the shoe trees in them) , out of the closet near the bathroom and have them waiting for him by his bedroom door, where he could shoe horn them on.
Together with my grandmother, we followed him downstairs to the basement and out to the carport, and waved “ bye bye” in that crazed, exaggerated way that only a 3 year old can do, as the Oldsmobile 98 roared to life.
As I got bigger, this job evolved to me carrying his thick leather briefcase down to the car, and jumping up to run down the stairs and retrieve the same briefcase upon hearing his car come home.
So back to the object of my desire.
One final look around, I clambered up the chromed vinyl chair ( also speckled in the same matching pattern as the table) , and squirmed my little round body up. I managed to stand on the seat, and planted my two plump palms wide apart as I leaned forward and peered into the bowl.
At last, the object of my quest... the last few drops of at the bottom of the coffee cup, glistening like gold in the bottom of the pan. I stared at it like indiana jones pondering the golden bust in raiders of the lost ark.
It was still warm as I picked it up with both hands, and I tipped it into my mouth, my tiny tongue probing forward to taste the nectar that lay at the bottom.
Though it was now lukewarm, it was beautifully sweet from the sugar that had failed to dissolve. The harshness of the percolated coffee, tamed by cream. It was liquid candy, only with the forbidden taste of adulthood, and a hint of danger.
I drained the cup, licked the spoon on the saucer, and made my get away to the dining room fortress, still smacking the sweetness off my lips in smug, three year old satisfaction, while I plotted my next adventure for the day.
This is my earliest coffee memory, and time has marched on since. Percolators have fallen out of fashion for decades now, as have hats and shoe trees. The Oldsmobile would be considered a classic muscle car today, and 3 year olds would be watching loud cartoons in the morning.
My grandfather has been gone for almost 17 years now, but on some quiet mornings, when I manage to shut out the noise of the world, and remember to take a breath, I sit down with my grandfather in reunion and share another cup with him, in that same cup and saucer.
Cream and sugar of course, to the last drop. And never forget to lick the spoon.
First Coffee Experiences
We all share similar first coffee experiences, leaving equally impactful impressions. How we become coffee drinkers is relevant because hardly any of us started with drinking single origin espressos straight up, or a “ juicy” pourover.
We all started with some sweetened, or syrupy, milkshakey concoction until we finally managed to acquire the taste for coffee by itself.
For many, this never happened, and continue to drink their adulterated cup every morning. So who are we to decide how people should or should not enjoy their morning cup?
None of us connoisseurs started off drinking single malt whiskeys or extra hoppy IPA’s. We all had to cut our poison with pepsi or seven up, orange juice until we could adjust to the blast of alcoholic intensity of straight shots.
These are the training wheels of our palates, the water wings of our culinary adventures. They allow us to gain confidence and go deeper into the depths of drink and food.
Eventually some of us learn to appreciate complexity of keeping things simple.
Show me a coffee snob and I’ll show you someone who probably inhaled cases of nuclear yellow kraft dinner as a child. Just think what an Italian might think of that.