I was nine, when I tried coffee for the first time. Sitting with my mother at our breakfast table, I took a sip from one of our reversed-dyed Easter egg coffee mugs and immediately scrunched up my face.
“How do you stand this stuff,” I asked her.
“You learn to like it,” my mother responded, as she took a sip from her own mug as easily as if she was taking a swallow of tap water.
Learning to like most things deemed for grown ups, such as coffee, has been my ongoing struggle into maturity. My mother was 40 when she answered my question about coffee drinking. Now, I’m nearly 50 and finally learning to like coffee, but I have, as of yet, failed to learn to like it straight up black as my mother did.
After my first coffee encounter, I chose to avoid it for a long time. Most people I knew by the time they were 25 jolted themselves awake with a cup of joe. Not me. Although Pepsi is an afternoon drink, something to refresh and revive you after a long day toiling in the sun, it was the closest to the coffee jolt that I would allow. Later, I switched to Diet Coke when I conceded I needed to stoic up a bit in my approach to life. No more unlimited amounts of a sugar buzz for me. Before bedtime I would be lulled into dreamland with a somniferous sip of milk, or later in my life, herbal tea.
Coffee, on the other hand, is what you drink to parachute yourself into your life, to hit the ground running, to take on the battles of the day. But I wanted no part of that. I didn’t mind watching other people jump from the plane, but I didn’t want to myself and I barely wanted to even board the plane.
People would ask, “would you like a cup of coffee,” and immediately I responded with a grimace on my face at the long ago memory of that one sip. “No thanks, I can’t stand coffee,” I said. “But do you have a diet Coke?” I convinced myself that caffeinated cola products were just as grown-up as coffee even though whenever I ventured into Quik Trip, a local convenience store, the people in business suits gravitated to the coffee makers and the high school students headed for the refrigerated drink section.
I graduated from college with a journalism degree, a field notoriously famous for hard drinking, chain smoking, facts oriented wordsmiths. These people were content with the world as it was without embellishment. I wanted to search for deeper meanings and look at life through an artist’s lens, softened by sugar and cream.
I needed to dig deeper to reconcile the life of the coffee grower in Brazil who handpicks a crop by hand and earns less than five cents a pound with the coffee drinker who spends an average of $6 a day from specialty coffee shops. And I wanted to excuse myself for any culpability in the exchange. Dollar for dollar, the exchange rate is in favor of the middle man on Wall Street and not the field worker or the coffee drinker.
It’s easy to be in solidarity with third-world farmers by refusing to drink something I didn’t like anyway. But giving up other luxuries, such as my car, is another matter. Petroleum is the most traded item on the world market with the U.S., China, and India leading the way. All the way around, petroleum is a volatile commodity on the markets for pricing and as a discussion between opposing political forces.
In the end, though, it’s been an oil and gas man who has progressively changed my thinking about certain grown-up aspects of life , such as coffee, that I only cared about from the edges.
My husband has been a thermos-full (and many times two) of coffee a day drinker for most of the time I’ve known him: 17 years. As part of his morning routine he brews a pot of coffee, takes a single mugful from the pot to drink with his breakfast, and the rest he pours into his thermos, which he takes with him to work. When I first met him he drank only the strongest black brew that could be made, cowboy coffee. He had lived for 12 years in the west Texas, eastern New Mexico region of the United States and there the sugar-filled mocha lattes and double espressos were harder to come by than just plain, straight up black coffee.
In urban areas you can now buy a cup of instant mix cappuccino at a gas station. Until recently, in west Texas oil towns your offerings of coffee were limited to a range of intensity of black and decaff and the decaff, many times, could only be obtained by special request of the attendant. It’s not that the lighter versions are hard to buy or transport to the remote desert it’s just hard to sell to calloused-hand oil roustabouts and rodeo riders.
I have always had a shut down time of 6 p.m. when I stopped drinking pop. My husband can savor a cup of coffee just minutes before bedtime and still drift off into lullaby land as if he had been rocked to sleep like a baby in his mother’s arms. He has either developed a tolerance to caffeine or he ignores its stimulating effect to ensure a restful night of sleep. He knows every day is a rigorous joust in conquering the monstrous iron machinery.
My husband had a brief period when he disliked coffee. In his 20s, my husband participated in a smoke-ender’s program. A three-pack a day Marlboro man, he voluntarily signed up for the program when the oil company he worked for enacted a policy prohibiting smoking at the gas plant. It was a sensible policy on the surface, but a difficult one to enact from a practical matter. Many of these guys had smoked from the time they were teenagers and it didn’t occur that their deadly personal habit could have far harsher consequences if the right flick of a cigarette met up with the wrong vapor of gas.
“They had us brush our teeth five times a day,” Mike said of one of the techniques used during the six-week program. “The taste of the coffee just didn’t sit well in my clean mouth.”
Except for that brief interlude, my husband has sped like a train through life with coffee and caffeine coursing through his engine. This penchant for coffee is one of the few bad habits that remains with my husband. As he has matured, my husband has eliminated a number of other poor lifestyle habits in addition to smoking cigarettes. He’s embraced the responsibilities of his life as a husband, father, and employee and immersed himself in all of it.
While I, on the other hand, still pitter patter my way around the edges of life. Any sign of an uncomfortable situation within my responsibilities cause me to scrunch my face much like that first sip of coffee did. And while I’ve been able to reduce my consumption of Diet Coke and increase my cups of daily coffee, my coffee still comes with a side of cream and sugar.