Remains of the Heart

I love coffee.  There, I said it.  I love everything about it.  The smell.  The flavor.  Even coffee breath doesn’t bother me.

Although doctors have told me since the age of 26 that I shouldn’t drink it, I continue.  I’m a coffee rebel.  There are so many tastes and aromas.  My outlaw taste buds explore flavors from parts of the world I may never visit.  I could consume it all day, but it always reminds me of mornings.  It also reminds me of so much more.

Summer road trips with my family:  Mom and Dad always got up before we did.  They packed instant coffee and one of those fabulous little immersion heaters.  I would hear the sounds before I smelled the coffee.  They accompanied the comforting voices of Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley.  We would head to breakfast at the diner, next door (always) to the motel, and the smell of coffee welcomed us in, along with the sounds of early morning conversation and silverware clinking against plates.

Social hour at church:  Stale coffee poured out of urns into sad little Styrofoam cups.  Tiny red sticks attempting to swirl powdered creamer and too much sugar.  If I was lucky, it burned my tongue just badly enough so I couldn’t taste it.  I used the warm liquid to wash down stale cookies while making polite conversation with people I never saw outside of Sunday.

College:  Until college, I had only dabbled in coffee… adding instant coffee to hot chocolate, and sipping General Foods Instant Coffee to “celebrate the moments of my life”.  But sleep deprivation was no joke.  I kept canisters of Folgers Freeze-Dried Coffee to sprinkle on my yogurt, ice cream or oatmeal.  I would mix it with peanut butter on sandwiches, and, more often than I care to admit, eat it by the spoonful.  I am more than a little surprised that my teeth aren’t the color of the Declaration of Independence.

Adulting:  I remember getting my first coffee pot and feeling like a grownup as I brewed my first pot of…lightly colored water.  It took many attempts, a new coffee pot, and the realization that instant coffee was NOT ground coffee, before I figured out how to brew an acceptable pot.

Work : Pots and pots and pots of coffee in my early office days.  That stale smell.  The stained mugs.  The breakroom counter full of crap to add so it wouldn’t taste like swill.  This is probably my worst memory of coffee.  I eventually worked in a restaurant (or two) and a bar, and coffee (always Folgers) was brewed fresh constantly.

Heading into Property Management, I refined my coffee skills, brewing better-than-average coffee into thermal vacuums.  It stayed hot and fresh all day.  I drank a ton of it.  It was about this time that I discovered Café du Monde and felt like I was a bit of a connoisseur.  I also acquired a taste for chocolate covered espresso beans.  As yummy as they were, and as much as I enjoyed the “fix”, they were problematic in that I had to open my mouth and smile as part of my job.  Try chewing a handful of coffee beans and then smiling.  Now brush your teeth.  For three days.  The grounds are still there, aren’t they?  A few years later I became a Senior Property Manager and travelled often for work.  I was introduced to Starbucks and quickly became addicted.  This was my mainstay for years.  Little did I know…

Now:  All I can say is thank GOD for yuppies and their pretentious coffee houses!  That may sound like a joke, but I’m dead serious.  Whether or not they had refined coffee palates didn’t matter, because baristas were showing up and fine-tuning their skills.  Showing off for each other if for no one else.  Non-yuppies caught on quickly and started frequenting locally-owned coffee houses to sample different beans and witness incredible latte art.  Good coffee became incredible coffee.  It was served hot, iced and cold-brewed.  Foam became a food group.

Meanwhile, Starbucks became an ice cream parlor.  Turning coffee into a joke by adding colors and sprinkles and sparkles.  Almost everything comes drizzled with something sticky and topped with whipped cream.  I still find myself going back…for convenience sake…and desperately searching for something that resembles good coffee.  I’ve got my go-to’s.  But really… a perfect espresso, cortado, or cappuccino, and I’m a happy girl.

FYI – For me, a cappuccino is a two-course meal.  I start by opening a single packet of raw sugar.  It’s not because I like my coffee sweet… keep following…  Good foam will hold the little pile of sugar for a long time before it finally gives in and the sugar sinks to the bottom.  I don’t stir.  I then drink the coffee as carefully as I can (this is SO not how I do it!  What’s life without a foam mustache?!!), and once it’s gone, the beautiful foam is left at the bottom.  THIS is when I stir in the sugar.  Now it’s like dessert!  I tip the cup back and drink as much foam as I can get that way.  Then I use a spoon…or my tongue… (ever watch a dog try and lick the last bit of peanut butter from the bottom of the jar?)  I have no shame.

Occasionally, I will order a latte.  Mostly because I enjoy the art.  There’s something so comforting about that little heart floating on top of my coffee.  If it was made just right… if it was given the proper amount of love and attention, then it has real staying power.  Of course, I have to drink the coffee carefully.  This forces me to slow down.  To pay attention to every sip.  To enjoy the aroma and the taste, while still keeping the heart intact.  If I do it right, at the end of the cup, the heart remains.  Resting on a small pile of sugar I put in at the start.  What a lovely way to finish, don’t you think?

If you are lucky enough to have been given a perfect heart, take care of it.  Enjoy what it has to offer without destroying it.  And make sure to add just enough sugar to be able to savor it until the sweet end.