I Believe in the Bean

John - Clinton Township, Michigan
Entered on October 10, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: pleasure

“No one can understand the truth until he drinks of coffee’s frothy goodness.”

—Sheik Abd-al-Kadir

It’s more precious than blood. In fact, some days, my blood just won’t flow without coffee, and I can’t navigate my way through my world without its life-giving aroma, that deep earthiness that pours in through my nostrils and wakens my brain until my mouth and tongue scream out, “Hey, what the hell are you waiting for? We want in on the game, too!” And there it is, my motivation to drag myself out of bed, hit the showers, brush my teeth, and dash off to the drive-through at the local Dunkin’ Donuts and face the daylight.

T.S Eliot’s famously pathetic character J. Alfred Prufrock lamented, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” (847), and I, too, can chart out the arc of my life by tracing my relationship with the sacred bean. As a child, we all remember going to grandma’s and craving her wonderland of baked goods, but more than melty chocolate chip cookies or glazed cinnamon rolls I most vividly recall the greatest cup of coffee ever made. It was brewed, percolated in those old coffee makers with the little glass turret on top that burbled and belched as the elixir shot to life. I’d watch in fascination until it was finally time to pour the goods, the exquisite aroma taking over the entire house, and what goods they were. Grandma mixed in the perfect amount of sugar and sweet whole cream—nectar of the gods! Coupled with a chocolate covered donut from Suchyta’s Bakery, my life was complete.

Later, self-conscious and preoccupied with my image, black coffee grabbed center stage. I’d hang out at the Big Boy after getting off work as a bartender at 3 a.m. and, restless, still wound from manning the taps, I’d stake my place at the counter and order my cup of machismo. “Black coffee” sounded so damn cool, so fiercely philosophical, that just uttering the phrase seemed to crease my face with battle-worn age lines and crow’s feet of hard-won wisdom. There at the counter or off in a back booth, I’d write or sit and BS with other night owls, slurping the bitter bean and exuding Brando-esque, Kerouac-ian cool. The stronger the brew the better, just grab a good handful of beans and squeeze the java from them, mainline the uncut motor oil into my cup and let me light a cigarette to complete the image. Coffee was the world, and, with that stained cup of tar in front of me, the world was mine.

And now? Sure, I still like that morning cup to kickstart my brain and metabolism. No sugar—old age makes every extra calorie expendable. And black? No way, the stomach lining is wearing thin in too many spots and a bit of milk is necessary to soften the ride. But the rich smell is still invigorating, life-confirming, and earthy good. Grandma is gone, and some other self-important poser is probably manning the 3 a.m. stool at the Big Boy, but I believe that coffee, that frothy, pulse-quickening gift, is as bitter, sweet, and true as it’s ever been.