When I was 6, I made a promise to my older self that I would never smoke, drink alcohol, do drugs, or drink coffee. This came about as my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Charlwood, told me her teeth were yellow from drinking too much coffee. Well, I kept the first three promises.
My first taste of the bitter beans came when I was working sci-fi conventions. I drank coffee the same way I drank cough syrup; it tasted nasty and horrific, but it did the job when I needed it to. This was about age 18 or so, and for the next half a dozen years, I drank about six cups of coffee a year. Usually to stay awake at a con. Well, that all changed in the winter of 1994.
Blame it on Scandinavian Air Service, or SAS. I remember it well, it was December the 13th, the day of St. Lucia to us Swedes. St. Lucia is a celebration of the "Lady of Light," and happenstance put me on a flight to see my dying grandmother on that night in 1994 (she got better, and lived for another 5 years). I had never been out of the country since I was maybe 2, and I was traveling alone. I don't do well in airplanes, not because of the fear, no, because I am large and the seats are so damn uncomfortable. I can be on a plane for about 2 hours before I am sick of it. After 5 hours, I want off. Trips from the US to Stockholm are at least 8 hours, possibly as long as 9-12, depending on weather. I was not a happy camper. Only the distraction of "what the heck will I do in Stockholm? I barely speak Swedish? What if they are all like Martians or something?" kept me from going nuts in that seat. I got to Stockholm, no Martians, and got on a commuter flight which took me to Kallix in Luleaa. On that flight, I was offered coffee.
I was pretty stressed out and tired, and felt I needed a cup of Jo. The stewardess was going through the isles, "Kaffe eller te? Kaffe eller te?" Ah, I knew that one. "Kaffe, tak," I said. "Skulle vilja ha ni socker eller gradde med din kaffe?" she answered. I felt like Steve Martin in France, "'Ha ha,' I said! 'What is that you are saying??'" Luckily, she immediately said, in a PERFECT British accent, "I asked if you'd like sugar or cream with your coffee?" "Both, please." I said. I mixed my sugar and cream (which came in an odd pyramid shape) in the brown liquid. I put the concoction to my lips, fully expecting the harsh bitter water burn my lips, and assault my tongue with hot pain... and found something totally different in my mouth.
"Fan, det haer kafe aer fantastik!" I would have said, had I known Swedish better. I was stunned. It was like some flash in time where you remember where you were, the ambiance, the smells, the sounds. I was in a large commuter plane, with a fat man in a tweed coat next to me, smelling sweet coffee, and the roar of twin overhead props droning out everything with its aggressively dampening white noise.
I had a lot of coffee in Sweden. Probably too much. But it was so good! I heard, while I was there, when my grandmother moved back to Sweden in 1991, she made coffee for her great niece Carin, and Carin said, "Edit! How can you make such bad coffee?" "That was the way John liked it," she replied, referring to her late husband. "No wonder he used so much sugar," she added.
Americans make bad, weak, and bitter coffee. Now, since that winter of 1994, Starbucks has taken hold on the East coast, and a lot of coffee shops became popular. Why? Because we had terrible, weak, Columbia roasts to drink, and once we had a choice, boy! What a difference. Coffee is more than just something to drink with ham and eggs, it's something you can drink by itself! I always laugh at the people who go, "How can you pay $4.99 for a vente frozen Mocha Frappachio when McDonalds costs only 99 cents?" and think they are the most clever and enlightened person in the world for asking. Same reason I'd rather go for a filet mignon rather than "Salisbury steak," dude. It tastes a LOT better, and if I can afford it, it's my choice! Plus, I drink these maybe once a month, and free office coffee about twice a week, so price is a lot lower than you pay for bitter bean water served by the clown at 7-11 every morning.
Me? I like Gevalia Dark Stockholm Roast the best, but have also enjoyed some other blends at Starbucks, Gloria Jean, and even, of all places Duncan Donuts, which has pretty good coffee as well.
Of course, when I was doing the shift from hell a few years ago (1998-99, midnight-noon, Wed-Sat), I drank coffee and Mountain Dew like nothing else. It drove my blood pressure through the roof, played with my head, and almost ate a hole in my belly. Now I drink those recreationally, because caffeine really doesn't do it for me anymore. Orange Juice does.
The first time I tried Orange Juice, I was... okay... another story, another time. :)
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000017.html