I was never destined to be a coffee snob. Growing up, Pops made a pot of Folger’s in a drip machine every morning before work and I’d drink whatever didn’t fit in his thermos. To make it palatable, I would add cream and sugar in amounts most aptly described as, “copious.” I slowly weaned myself off the add-ins, though, and by the time I graduated high school, I was drinking my coffee black. Good thing, too, because in the Navy of my early twenties, there was a certain machismo in drinking coffee, and those that took theirs “light and sweet” were mocked relentlessly. The courage needed to drink that stuff straight cannot be overstated. After all, it was common practice to also use geedunk coffee to clean bugs off our planes’ windshields as part of the preflight checks.
Once out of the service and pursuing my bachelor’s degree in English, my coffee habit continued to evolve. Starbucks wasn’t yet as ubiquitous as they are today, but there was one near campus, and I could often be found there, drinking a double espresso while writing yet another overwrought, angst-laden short-story that nobody in my workshop class would get. I mean really GET, like they weren’t even self-aware enough to understand how silly it was for literary lightweights to be critiquing my work. My very SERIOUS work. Unlike the persona I was cultivating for the baristas, my coffee drinking at home was as pedestrian as a John Grisham novel.
I’d never been able to master the home espresso machine. Like every other married couple in the late twentieth century, my wife and I had received a cheap, plastic one as a wedding gift. It was an odd choice, really, considering she didn’t drink coffee at all, but I couldn’t wait to be enjoying my pretentious coffee at home. I even fantasized that it might spur me to write more, rekindle the compositional fire, as it were. I used it a half-dozen times at most before selling it at a yard sale for five bucks. The process was too involved when all I ever wanted was something warm and caffeinated to drink while snuggling on the couch with my bride and watching ‘The Sopranos’. We replaced it with a Mr. Coffee drip machine.
Even that didn’t solve my problem, though. While I loved drinking coffee, I was never very good at making coffee. I’d tried everything, following the instructions on the back of the coffee can, adjusting the amount of grounds up or down, grinding my own beans in the grocery store, making them finer or more coarse, and even spending an absurd amount of money on a home grinder. I tried tap water, bottled water, water from a spring near our house, and bottled water flown all the way from Fiji. I was never able to consistently make a pot of coffee that was worth drinking. Even on those rare instances when the stars aligned and I was able to make some that tasted as good as I wanted it to, I’d drink at most a cup or two and the rest would go to waste, sitting there overnight, becoming a cold, condensed mess. I resigned myself to the idea that I’d never be able to enjoy good coffee at home, that it was just too darn complicated. I dropped out of school to work full-time, and the reality of real life took over. I couldn’t even afford to go to Starbucks anymore for my fix.
I’m sure it’s unrelated, but my writing slacked off around this time, too. I no longer felt creative in the way I had in my youth. Sure, it was probably the realization that I wasn’t going to write that novel I’d always had kicking around in my head. The fifty and sixty-hour weeks I was spending at work took most of my energy, but who can say for certain it wasn’t the result of some sort of existential coffee malaise? It was a dark time for me, and I confess I would even get coffee at the McDonald’s drive-through on occasion. I’m not proud of that, but let me reiterate, it was a BAD time.
And then it happened. One day while looking through kitchen gadgets at Bed Bath & Beyond, I spied the beautiful silver and blue piece of art (Cuisin-art, even) that would change my life, or at least my coffee drinking habits, forever. It was a single-serve coffee machine that used little plastic cups by Keurig to make a perfect cup of coffee every time. Just one cup. It was almost too good to believe, and right there next to the machine was a wall of multicolored boxes that made me swoon. There were dark roasts, light roasts, extra-bold roasts, hints of chocolate, hazelnut, and even hot cocoa and tea. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Finally, all my coffee drinking needs would be fully realized. When I arrived at home and showed my purchase to my wife, she understood my need for it completely. She even showed her approval by telling me I’d just used up my birthday AND Christmas presents for the next two years, but in my mind, it had the potential to be well worth it.
I plugged the machine in, filled the reservoir with water, popped a cup into its maw, and closed the lid with a satisfying pop. When I pushed the START button, it felt like a new door had opened in my world. No longer would I be saddled with mediocre coffee. No, things were going to be different now. I was no longer going to have to settle. A minute later, I was enjoying the first sips of a perfectly brewed cup o’ joe, scalding hot, rich, aromatic, and I’ve never looked back. My soul had reawakened. You might think it’s a coincidence, but since getting this new coffee maker, I’ve been writing more, too. Not as much as when I was in school, but there to the right of my keyboard is a mug of coffee fresh out of the machine. The steam rises off the black surface, carrying the bitter aroma to my nose, setting my brain alight. As Colonel Bill Kilgore said, it “smells like victory,” and my fingers tap at the keyboard with a little more purpose.
I’ve lived a few years now with my single-serve coffee maker, and it’s been great. I try out new flavors every now and then, especially around the holidays. My wife has even started making her own coffee. She adds a healthy dose of Italian sweet cream to every cup and part of me wants to chide her for it. I give in to that urge on occasion, but truth be told, it warms my heart to feel her next to me on the sofa, each of us with a mug in our hands, as we watch ‘The Walking Dead’. Even my youngest son has gotten into the single serve game, often opting for a cup of Earl Grey tea in the evening. We each have our own preferences, and this miracle of modern technology makes it possible for us all to be happy, at least for a few minutes, until the coffee gets cold.