My grandfather would be proud of me because I loovvvveee coffee. One of my most vivid memories of George Dandridge, who lost a leg to a train at twelve, is hearing him thump, thump down the back stairs of the Victorian home we shared, headed for his first cup of the day. He started with the cold dregs in the bottom of last night’s last cup from his ancient, glass-top percolator. Wearing, worn grey pants with suspenders hanging around his hips and a white “beater” T-shirt, his hands shook as he fired up a new pot of java. I have no idea what made his hands shake, but I always believed it was his need for that first hot cup of coffee. He’d already lit the first of a pack of cigarettes he’d finish before sundown.
Here’s one of our favorite songs of that era. I think of him whenever I hear it on Pandora’s oldies station:
Gran would be so tickled to know that coffee is now good for us. Tara Clark-Pope tells us in The New York Times that, according to The New England Journal of Medicine coffee may reduce our risk of disease, and WebMD agrees that there may be more benefits than risks in our coffee drinking.
This is good news for me because, like Gran, I love my coffee and have the nerve to be a coffee snob. I rarely order coffee in restaurants because it is usually so bad, and I turn it down at friends’ homes because it takes so much trouble to make and it rarely is as good as our home-brewed.
Here’s the bad news: I make terrible coffee. In every marriage there is a complex balance of power, and over the years it can shift back and forth depending on circumstances. The consistency in my marriage is that I’ve always made mediocre coffee and husband Lee consistently makes fabulous coffee. So, of a morning, if coffee isn’t offered early on I respectfully ask – “Are we having coffee this morning?” It is a rare act of near-timidity for me, but I worry about offending the brewer by asking too soon or too often. He’s very gracious about it; and I’m very, very grateful.
And, boy, does he have high coffee standards. Over the years he’s tried about every brand made – from grocery stores (Remember A&P’s Eight O’Clock store brand?), by mail (He liked J. Martinez & Company from Atlanta for a hot, pricey minute), and even a brand suggested by a stranger in the post office (He can’t remember the name but it was Swedish). He always comes back to Starbucks. Our current favorites are Verona, Sumatra and Kenya, and always Espresso Roast and French.
He’s never considered a coffee pot that requires electricity, preferring the French press. We have them in every size ever made. And he rarely makes a bad cup of coffee. When he thinks he has, he simply takes the cup back from me and I hear him pouring it out, and then he puts the water back on to boil.
Lee may be the King of Hot, but I am the Princess of Iced. My recommendation for iced coffee is simple: figure out a combination of tastes that you like, starting with a base of four cups of good hot coffee. Try adding three or four ounces of sweet condensed milk while it’s hot and, when cooled, you have Thai coffee. I add a little fresh-grated nutmeg. If you want it sweeter, drizzle some condensed milk into individual glasses over the ice and watch it elegantly float to the bottom. Instead of the condensed milk try a little caramel syrup and/or chocolate syrup and you’ve given that expensive Starbucks cup a good run for the money.
Many of us, as we age – and especially in these challenging financial times – begin giving serious thought to what matters most to us, if we can still afford it, and the meaning and role our choices play in our lives now. I have lovely memories of sitting at my grandfather’s small, enamel kitchen table with its designed edges and faded but real leather chairs, sipping chocolate milk, and watching his face when he inhaled that first steaming cup of the morning. I remember loving him and feeling happy. Now, older than he was then, I have the same sense of pleasure and satisfaction when Lee and I sit together and greet the day with a lovingly made cuppa. Through the simple joy of a good cup of coffee, my life is bracketed by two extraordinary men.