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This morning I went out to breakfast with my husband. I ordered a decaf latte with one shot of espresso and one shot of sugarless chocolate syrup. As I sipped this concoction through the peaks of steamed milk, I experienced the epiphany of the bean. This was probably the most satisfying liquid I had ingested since breast milk.
I know very little about the history of coffee. I seem to remember that South American natives cultivated it, brewed it, and ultimately got smart enough to sell it. Coffee became the beverage of choice with political activists after the Boston Tea Party, and Western "he-men" on the range told tall tales around a tin pot which boiled in the fire until coffee-flavored sludge no longer poured through the spigot. While tea remained the libation of white gloved luncheons and ladylike behavior, coffee was the heart to heart, soul to soul, American kitchen story-telling beverage. Some of my more empirical friends try to convince me otherwise, but I am certain that measure for measure, coffee is thicker and richer than tea.
Tea, as evidenced by various world monarchies and the people who love them, delivers the sipper into a contemplative, regressive mood. Tiny watercress sandwiches crunch on the palate as maneuver surreptitiously to remove the caper from your uvula. But coffee, especially with its natural charge of caffeine, surges toward the future. Sweetly (or unsweetened) and seditiously, it takes hold of our politics, religious sensibilities, and educational backgrounds. Would Strom Thurmond order "a double decaf cappucino with a shot of almond syrup?" Do fundamentalists even know about breakfast blend? And who but a boomer or a yuppie would even know the difference between a latte, a capuccino and an espresso?
I don't mean to spill the beans, but I think we must accept the possibility that coffee could creep into all the decision-making phases of our lives. Watch out for the Stepford Beans (they taste terrific but remove your brain and soul), The Orient Espresso (tastes great going down but it's murder on the way back), Two Thousand and Bean (A Taste Odyssey), The Beans of August, ME (a bitter, intergenerational blend), and, of course, Orson and L.L. I'd love to rant some more, but I really need a cup of coffee.
I remember the days when few families had second cars, and suburban women confined to their neighborhoods practiced home-grown psychotherapy over coffee. My mother always had a pot and a potboiler going. Esther enticed her friends and neighbors with a collection of dainty Spode cups, a tireless percolator,and just the right "and" to go with the coffee. From gourds, to porcelain, to melamine, to styrofoam, to biodegradable cardboard, we may still have grounds for improvement. But whatever the vessel, there's always a place to spend your time and your bucks for a great cup of coffee.
My young son recently asked if grownups actually like the taste of coffee or if they just enjoy the things put into it. "I really like the way it tastes," I answered, licking some cinnamon from the frothy steamed milk. He responded succinctly, "Yuck."
Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
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