Just a Cup of Coffee

Just made myself a cup of coffee. It’s a reward for cleaning the house today. Less dust mites. Nowadays I only have a cup of black coffee in the morning, so an extra one in the afternoon is always a reward. I asked my husband if he also wanted one, but he said you know I don’t drink coffee, I just have espresso. Hmm. He always says that and I kind of enjoy hearing it because it’s so funny. So here I am enjoying my black coffee that is not espresso. I associate coffee with many experiences I’ve had, most of them pleasant. So let me take the first sip.

When I was little, coffee always signified a festive situation. Someone came to visit, we went some place nice or it was a family event, like a wedding or a big birthday. I would play with my cousins and other kids, there was good food, and the adults would have coffee. The coffee itself remained a mystery to me for a long time. Does it taste good, like soda or ice cream, do you have it with sugar or salt? I always saw sugar on the table, but my grandma had it with salt. She was born 1892 and had her coffee with salt. She often drank it from the saucer. When I asked why she didn’t have coffee with sugar and drink it from a cup, she said that it would last longer taken her way. When she was younger coffee was an expensive luxury item, one could only drink it a few times a year and it had to last long. That made sense. So for the first time I tasted coffee, it was with salt as I took a sip of this mysterious hot drink from my grandma’s saucer. But I always wondered why almost everyone seemed to like it. I would find out.

When I went to attend college in the big city, I soon became a coffee drinker. My room-mate made at least three big pots a day, so I tried it too. It was not too bad with loads of sugar and cream. And it woke me up in the morning and kept me up late at night. My favorite time for study was starting just before midnight. I used to study until the wee hours of morning sitting in the small (half) bathtub in our tiny studio apartment, with tons of pillows for comfort and a cup of creamy coffee on the ledge. I was convinced coffee helped me through college.

A bit later on, when life got really busy and the working hours got longer and longer, coffee was my steady companion. Coffee breaks represented the only time in a work day when it was possible to think, calm down and have a pleasant, informal conversation with colleagues. That brings me to the time I learned to manage stress and pressure. The association with coffee is not obvious, but hear me out. I was in my early 30s and in my first management job. The job was extremely stressful, there was never time to get everything done properly, I was needed in too many places at once, or so it seemed. One such crazy afternoon, I went to see one of my teams located on a different floor to discuss the next Board report. I was running down the stairs when I suddenly felt I might faint, the pressure was about to take over. I managed to get downstairs and, as usual, my team handed me a mug of coffee. It was a brown Arabia stoneware mug and I was about to drop it in my lap. My hands were shaking and I felt I could not hold the cup, I couldn’t breathe. I can still see that situation clearly. That cup of coffee kicked off an important change in the way I managed myself, my life, my stress and my coffee. I realized that if I didn’t learn to manage my stress, I might not see my 35th birthday. So I changed my relationship to work and stress – and also had less coffee. Learned to let the pressure pass over my head, not get into it, and not let it into my core. I gradually learned to stay calm in the eye of the storm, take one thing at the time. That was my most remarkable cup of coffee, and the learning from that incident has helped me until today.

A couple of years after this significant brown mug of coffee, we started our journeys in the world, and I got familiar with so many different types of coffee, grown in various parts of the world. From the weak coffee in the US (unless you have espresso) to the very strong in Ethiopia and Turkey. In Ethiopia, coffee is enjoyed in an elaborate coffee ceremony,  a strong social and cultural ritual and tradition. It’s an honor to be invited to attend one, and it can last for hours. Everything is beautifully prepared right there in front of the guests – the roasting of coffee beans, the grinding by mortar and the cooking. It is an art, and it is believed that the spirit transforms in the course of completing three rounds of servings, the Abol,  the Tona and the Baraka. Mine was transformed many times in different homes, and I am happy to say these were my most beautiful cups of coffee.

I had my most striking cup of coffee quite recently in Paris. After a nice dinner with two friends, I said no to the desert offerings, as I usually do. My Parisian friend, however, did not want to hear about that so I agreed to have a cup of cappuccino, house style. And style it was. The cappuccino came in a nicely designed cup – of dark chocolate! With all bells and whistles, like a tiny chocolate spoon,  ice cream topper, etcetera.  A high note at the end of a cool spring day.

Now I have enjoyed my reward. My cup is empty, but pleasant thoughts of the coffees I have enjoyed still linger in my mind. But after dinner tonight, I’ll probably just have a cup of green tea…