My father always drank his coffee black, so when I started drinking coffee it never occurred to me that I should adulterate it with anything like milk or sugar.
I can’t remember exactly when I drank my first cup, but it was sometime during my freshman year in college. I poured my coffee for purely practical reasons: as a freshman, I’d made the remarkably naive choice to take an Italian class that met at 8 AM, five days a week. Although the smell of coffee evoked pleasant memories of childhood breakfasts, I had no particular affection for the taste — at least, not for the weak, generic stuff mass-produced by the college dining hall. My interest in coffee was utilitarian: I needed it to stay awake.
The affection came later, around junior or senior year. It happened the day I met my friend Dahna at the cafe in our little college town (yes, THE cafe — there was only one), and she said, “Why don’t you try a skim hazelnut latte?” When I tried a skim hazelnut latte, a love affair began: I discovered that if I added enough milk and flavoring to coffee then I loved it, I craved it.
This youthful love affair with skim hazelnut lattes lasted through much of my twenties. For the better part of a decade, I drank at least one skim hazelnut latte per day. Like most youthful love affairs, it was somewhat superficial — based on covering up coffee with a sweet exterior. It also wasn’t particularly healthy: there were the dark days when I discovered that a large enough skim hazelnut latte could serve as a meal replacement. And it was a costly habit; at this time, I was either single or newly married with a postcard-sized kitchen, and the idea of brewing my own coffee simply didn’t occur to me. I BOUGHT every single one of those skim hazelnut lattes, and I bought most of them at upwards of $3 each. When I think back to how many wells I could have built in Africa, how many third world families I could have supplied with livestock, or how many children I could have supported through school with that money, I’m a little ashamed.
The turning point came when Erick and I moved to Berkeley, California. The kitchens in the three rentals we lived in during our stay in the Bay Area were somewhat larger than postcard-sized. We were living off of the combined salaries of a graduate student and a part-time nonprofit employee. And we started having kids. The sensible thing to do was clearly to start brewing our own coffee.
Berkeley, California is a stressful place to drink coffee. To give you an idea of the Berkeley food and drink culture: the church we attended during our time there (and LOVE to this day) had a wine tasting in order to select the best wine for communion. You can only imagine how far people took their quest for the best cup of coffee; if you weren’t drinking a cup of individually-brewed, organic, fair trade, shade-grown, slow-roasted coffee, you might as well be drinking Maxwell House. (Believe me, in certain circles this was a major topic of discussion, and you would be judged).
But Erick and I were too distracted by babies and PhDs to keep up with the ever-changing Bay Area coffee trends. Each morning, we’d use our auto-drip coffeemaker to brew a pot of Peet’s Coffee, which we’d drink black with breakfast. I consider this the point at which I entered my coffee adulthood; when good, strong, black coffee stole my heart away from the expensive, frou-frou alternatives. Now, on the rare occasion that I find myself in a cafe, I’ll order a skim hazelnut latte as a dessert drink — I find them too cloyingly sweet to be anything else.
That would be my happy ending, except that, like most love stories, this one features a period of separation followed by renewed, increased love and appreciation.
You see, less than a year after I fell in love with home-brewed black coffee, I got pregnant. Like most first-time pregnant women, I wanted to do everything right, and all of the pregnancy books will tell you to take it easy on the coffee. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it increases the mother’s blood pressure and heart rate, and has also been found to increase the fetal heart rate. And I don’t do decaf — I can’t explain it, I just don’t. In my opinion, drinking decaf is about as pointless as eating white chocolate (apologies to any white chocolate lovers out there).
So I gave up coffee for nine months. And that was okay, since I’d only been drinking one or two cups a day prior to pregnancy. I had no withdrawal, no headaches or shakes. But did I miss it? You bet. Was I right back on it shortly after giving birth? OH, YES!
And it was during that first year of motherhood, when I was reunited with coffee, that I discovered another facet to love: not only did I enjoy the taste and appreciate the wakefulness provided by coffee, but COFFEE MADE ME A BETTER MOTHER. A better person, actually. Prior to my morning cup of coffee I wasn’t just sleepy — I was numb. The day stretched before me like one long, joyless, impossible task. But add one cup of coffee and I was Carol Brady. Coffee made everything okay — at least for thirty minutes following breakfast.
When I became pregnant for a second time, I decided: I’m not giving up coffee ever again. I care about blood pressure and heart rate — really I do — but the happiness of my little family was more important. Did they deserve nine months of Carol Brady, or nine months of Lurch? (Interesting, completely unscientific side note: Guess which pregnancy ended with an emergency delivery due to high blood pressure? My first, coffee-free one. Hmmmm….)
And so it goes. These days, I put a filter and six scoops of Green Mountain Coffee’s Vermont Country Blend into our coffeemaker before bed. First thing in the morning. when I come downstairs for some solitary reading/writing time, I add the water and let it drip. The smell alone is enough to start my day off right; drinking my morning cup is like lifting a veil between despair and hope. And SOMETIMES, as a guilty pleasure, I’ll reheat what’s left in the pot and have a second cup during the girls’ naptime.
I love you, coffee. And if you’re reading this and you don’t drink coffee, or don’t like coffee, that’s okay. But I hope you have a little coffee-something in your life!