Savoring memories, one cup at a time

Ted Streuli, The Daily Record Newswire

Coffee.

Dark and delicious, quintessential complement to comfort food of every variety, warm mug in hand on a chilled autumn morning, awakening aroma.

Ahhh.

In the 15th century, someone in Yemen took the seed from the berry, roasted it, ground it and poured hot water over it for the first time. God bless him.

The drink spread to Italy, then on through Europe and to America with the colonists. I can see George Washington putting off crossing the Delaware until he'd had his morning joe, but the stains must have been tough on those wooden teeth.

In Oxford, United Kingdom, the Queen's Lane Coffee House opened in 1654; it's still serving in spite of the Starbucks across the road a block up High Street.

Percolated on the galley's alcohol stove, consumed in the sailboat's dewy cockpit, anchored in a cove, watching the fog lift slowly; nothing hurries.

But for coffee, our conversations would be shorter, our people watching stunted, our leisure reading abbreviated a chapter at a time. In my house, it was a can of Yuban, even if Maxwell House was good to the last drop and the best part of waking up was Folgers in your cup. There was a pot on the stove until 1972, when Mr. Coffee came into our lives. Then there was a pot on the counter. No matter, mug, cup or demitasse, it was on the table at breakfast and after dinner, the center of every gin rummy game and the fuel for planning baptisms and burials.

Malt shops were 20 years gone, so high school scheming and flirting and pondering aloud was conducted at a coffee shop, where the never-ending cup was a 25-cent permit to occupy a booth until you were expected somewhere else. We talked baseball and proms, Shakespeare and black holes and the Grateful Dead, and what else I could do to win the heart of my crush du jour.

Then along came Peet's and the Red Cup. My favorite was a tiny Starbucks attached to a Barnes & Noble, where the cup wasn't endless and cost a lot more than a quarter, but there were tables outside and no one hustled you through your venti while you read the newest John B. Parker novel. There were just three of those round green wire tables, so it was customary for singles to share. Like a middle seat in coach, it was a conversational crapshoot, the place I met the man who couldn't wait to go back to Las Vegas, though he went every month, sometimes every weekend. And Sunny Day, who despite the brightness of her name sobbed to a stranger about the man she loved who didn't love her back.

I'll guess I have averaged four cups per day since age 12, which means I'm now sipping cup number 59,496. Or thereabouts. I have a clear memory of only a few. One that stands out was a Turkish coffee sipped from a tall, narrow glass set in an ornate metal base on a hot August day in Urfa, near Abraham's birthplace in southeast Turkey. We were at the Golbasi Gardens, which surround the courtyard of an 800-year-old mosque where thousands of sacred carp remind the faithful of an Abrahamic miracle. It was strong, hot and spectacular. Maybe before I die I can have an Irish coffee in Dublin, too.

Monday was National Coffee Day, a scheme no doubt conjured by a faceless marketing committee seated around a faux mahogany conference table. The day may not have found a place in our hearts yet, but the coffee surely has.

Published: Thu, Oct 02, 2014

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