I first learned about coffee from my father, who explained to me, in a diner booth — as I played with the jukebox — that there were two kinds of coffee in the world: hot and cold.
Hot was good. Cold was bad.
I understood this, because whenever the coffee was cold — i.e. bad — my father would get this annoyed look on his face, as if he had stepped in something, and immediately began searching for the waitress. “What kind of place is this?” he would grumble, poking his head left and right, “I can’t believe they serve cold coffee. Where is she? . . .”
Eventually, he would find the waitress, and he would get a fresh cup, steaming hot, and he would sip it, and a smile would cross his face and his eyes would actually close and he would go, “Ahhh . . .”
And I, being an intelligent little creature, would say: “Yuck. Coffee. Gross.”
Life was simple then. So was coffee. Hot or cold. No one asked what flavor. No one said “regular or decaf?” No one offered cappuccino, cafe au lait, espresso, Mexican coffee, Irish coffee, or — and this would really floor my dad — iced coffee.
Alas, coffee has gone nuts, like baseball, it has swelled beyond logic. It is now a college course. It is now as complex as a Jeopardy category:
“The answer is . . . sweet, yet bitter, with a mild aftertaste, originally from a European nation —
“What is Swiss Mocha Almond?”
“Coffee for 400. . . .” Not your average cup of joe
Have you tried to buy coffee lately? It is no longer Nescafe or Maxwell House. The big can or the little can. In fact, if you ask a stock-boy where the coffee cans are he will no doubt react this way: “Coffee in a can? Ha! You psycho!”
No one buys coffee in a can anymore. You go instead to a special “coffee aisle” that is 19 miles long, with little plastic cubicles containing everything from New York Oven- Roasted Walnut to Pre-Communist Russian Chocolate Decaf.
Here, you can easily spend five or six months making a selection. And once you do, guess what? You get to GRIND IT YOURSELF! Wow! What fun! This is like the butcher saying “Look pal, here’s the knife, there’s the side of beef. . .
And yet we dutifully pour the beans, select a grind variation — fine, very fine, super fine, ultra-fine, she’s so fine — and grind away.
And this is a supermarket!
But wait. After you leave, having passed your 41st birthday, you are ready for a nice cup of coffee. So you go to one of these specialty coffee shops
“Large cup,” you say.
“What flavor?” they say.
And they point to a wall the size of, approximately, Tiger Stadium. And there are “today’s flavors”, which include: Irish Cream, Swiss Chocolate Mud, French Obnoxious Almond, Italian Snobby Vanilla and Cafe Con Leche, which, translated from Spanish, means “coffee with leeches.”
And you go: “Um. What flavor leeches?”
Remember that commercial, with the Brazilian farmer who walks through his coffee crop, smelling the leaves until they are just right? Can you imagine him closing his eyes, taking a sniff, and sighing “Si, water-washed raspberry cream? . . .” And it gets worse
Still, no matter what coffee experience you have in the Midwest, there is nothing that compares to the Coffee Insanity Capital of The World: San Francisco.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe all those earthquakes. But San Franciscans not only want a coffee shop every 20 feet, they must also have at least 2,007 things to put in it.
So after you select a nice San Francisco flavor — Mt. Vesuvius Coconut, Nicaraguan Fudge, Gorbachev Vodka Almond — then you get to the FUN TABLE, also known as “condiments.” Here you can choose:
Skim milk, 2 percent milk, regular milk, regular cream, whipping cream, powder or half-and-half.
Sugar, brown sugar, unrefined sugar, Sweet-n-low, Equal, honey or Ovaltine.
Sprinkles, cinnamon sticks, cinnamon powder, chocolate powder, carob powder, vanilla powder or, get this, more GROUND COFFEE BEANS!
Unfortunately, by the time you decide, your coffee is cold.
And then my father comes out and says “Where’s the waitress?”
I don’t know how we got so crazy. I don’t know who came up with carob powder, and what institution he is locked inside now. I do know this. It is time for action. It is time to take a stand. From here on in, I am giving up coffee. I am switching to tea.
Let’s see. Apple-spice, pear, Earl Grey. . . .