Do you remember your first cup of coffee ever?
I had my first cup a month shy of my 16th birthday. I was a counselor at a summer camp and the mess hall cooks always made gallons of it in the morning and at lunch. They knew all the counselors needed this elixir to keep going after late night revelries. We all found ourselves returning to the coffee urns with our teacups a multiple of times each meal. Being the youngest of the group and a novice with this morning ritual, I added cream and sugar to mine. I can still remember the rich sweet taste of it and how grown up I felt drinking it.
I was 18 when my mom finally relented and let me have coffee at home with my breakfast. That was after my dad piped in and suggested he wouldn’t mind having a cup now and then. Mom went out and bought us some freeze-dried coffee. She reserved the use of the percolator for when we had company. The day I moved out to live on my own was the last time I ever drank an instant brew.
The enjoyment of coffee is something I shared with my dad. I bought him arabica beans from a gourmet coffee shop next to where I worked and taught him how to prepare it with drip filters. His eyes would light up every time I popped in for a visit and he’d rush into the kitchen to prepare us both a cup. But honestly, we had some of our best conversations sitting in a bustling coffee shop. It was always my dad’s treat.
Nowadays, my favorite time to drink my untainted coffee is in the mornings. Wearing my plush housecoat, I snuggle in my comfy chair, a throw wrapped around my knees. I leisurely sip from my mug while watching the gulls soar over the bay, the amber sunlight coating their wings with a silver sheen.
I can’t imagine eating the cherry-like coffee fruit, although that is how it was first consumed. According to legend, around 850 AD a lonely Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi watched his goats frolic around after eating from the coffee bushes in the fields. He started eating the yields from the shrubs at night to keep him awake and alert while guarding his flock.
In due course, others began consuming it as well. Early adopters prepared a brew soaking the whole fruit in hot water. Some created snack bars by mixing the fruit with animal fat. And there were those who fermented the pulp to make a wine-like cocktail. I can’t imagine what that tasted like. It wasn’t until the 13th century that the beans were roasted, and the 15th century when they were finally ground before use.
Today the coffee industry is much like the wine industry: artfully complex. That refreshing cup of morning joe is dependent not only on the bean’s varietal, but also on where it was grown, how it was picked, milled and roasted. The type of grind and preparation technique continues to shape the flavor. And then there are all the coffee enhancers we add to customize the concoction for our palates.
Our ultimate perception of whether that brew is perfect or not is dependent on a collection of intangible factors like our genetics, cultural backgrounds, where we are while consuming it, who we are with and how we feel. I have taste preferences for sure, but what makes the cup of coffee perfect for me is the experience I’m having while drinking it.