Coffee, like pretty much everything, has changed a lot since I was a young man. It’s still dark and steamy, and it still puts lead in your pencil, but ordering a cup has a measure of complexity to it now that didn’t exist back then.
I remember my first cup and the small-town cafe that I experienced it in. It came in a white ceramic cup perched in the center of a saucer, the same kind found in every small-town cafe of that time, I imagine. It came in one size, one flavor, and it was poured out steaming hot and black from a pot carried from table to table by a woman usually, and good folks politely accepted her offer of endless free refills. If you were the fancy type, you could spruce it up with some thick cream or sugar. Or both, if you didn’t mind the sideways glances that real men with calloused hands would send your way.
My first cup, a rite of passage for a young man back then, was hand-delivered to the table by a well-worn but very put-together and expert waitress. That’s what they were called, and they didn’t take guff from anyone. I called her ma’am, and she let me know she appreciated the gesture with a wink as she poured, and then a little extra English in her hips as she walked away. I drank mine black, and the whole experience tasted good.
I’ll confess now that I’ve never been a big coffee drinker, or much of one at all really until I met my Brazilian wife, Ana Tigre. She added something to the experience that has changed my view of coffee forever.
Since we spent our first night together, the ritual has always been the same. Each morning, she opens her beautiful brown eyes and greets me with a warm smile and a raspy “I love you,” words that will never lose their hold on me. We spend a few precious moments together before her tiny foot escapes the covers, and she steps gracefully from our bed. Intrigued by her every move, I watch her choose from a seemingly endless supply of tiny lace bottoms then stare breathlessly as she gently slides them into place. Next, she pulls a tiny top over her long black hair, and it reveals as much of her curvy body as it hides. As dressed as she is going to get, and barefoot, she strides hypnotically toward the kitchen to make coffee. I don’t believe there’s been a red-blooded heterosexual male born strong enough to resist following that woman. I don’t even pretend to try.
There, she slowly and sensuously prepares the water, grinds the beans, and then thoughtfully chooses a vessel from the cupboard that suits her whim that moment. When the coffee is ready, despite not being a coffee drinker, I find myself inexplicably intrigued, and aching to share a steamy, delicious, and satisfying cup with her. She smiles, then selects and fills a more substantial and masculine mug and hands it to me.
That’s how it started.
Soon after those first mornings together, I found myself passing up gas station coffee in favor of something more exclusive from a snobby urban roastery halfway across town. I learned about beans and the earthen elements native to each geographical region where they are grown and how those elements affect the taste. I learned about roasting, grinding, pouring, and drinking coffee. In other words, the secret handshake that will earn you an accepting smile from any barista worth his or her weight in biscotti.
Coffee became a much more significant part of my life than I would have ever imagined.
And so it was that we rose this past Wednesday morning from a long and peaceful hotel room sleep and didn’t even consider breakfast before having our morning coffee. We had been in Los Angeles the day before on business. The kids and dogs and any other demands and stresses stayed home with Aunt Elaine so we could work. For the first time in three years, it was just us so we took our time, hung on every moment, and just enjoyed our time together. It felt like heaven as we peacefully strolled, hand in hand, down a beach city sidewalk and into a trendy coffee shop we had discovered the night before.
The place is called Better Buzz coffee, and you’ll find it on the coast highway as it gently ambles through the enchanting beach town of Encinitas, California. It’s a magical place. The morning sun and fresh salt air pour unencumbered through the open doors and windows and mix deliciously with the scent of fresh coffee, the murmur of subdued conversation, and a feeling of gentle peace that permeates everyone and everything there.
While I cherish my memories of a time passed, I don’t recall ever having that feeling in the coffee shops of my youth. And after walking a mile in their khaki-wearing and backpack toting sneakers, I feel like I now understand coffee snobs. I’ve broadened my horizons. I now enjoy a good roastery as much as the next urbanite, although not as much as mornings at home with my beautiful and loving wife as we enjoy a steamy cup of delicious coffee together. Amidst the chaotic day filled with kids and the demands of owning and running a business, that time together in the morning means the world to us.
Now that I think about it, that precious time with Ana, lost in her every heartbeat, may have a lot more to do with me liking coffee than coffee.