The taste of coffee

I have never particularly liked coffee. I know this is a contrary opinion. Coffee has ascended to near nectar-of-the-gods status in certain quarters, its cost reflecting that reputation, not to mention the enormous diversity of choice currently available. Somehow, the eminence of this delicacy escapes me. Coffee for me is an abomination. It goes through my system like some infernal drain cleaner, flushing me quite thoroughly.

When I was a boy, coffee drinking was strictly for adults. In order to imbibe, one had to attain the ripe age of fourteen before being permitted to taste the proscribed elixir. One thing, coffee always fascinated me, probably due to its illicit nature, forbidden fruit and all that. Moreover, it had a wonderfully savory aroma brewing in the mornings. What with bacon in the skillet and coffee on the boil, breakfast was one of the highlights of culinary experience in my house.

I would come to my abhorrence of coffee a bit later in life. When I went to sea, coffee was a time-honored ritual. With lots of time to spend between watches, seamen have a natural affinity for the restorative qualities of a good hot cup of coffee. Shipboard coffee runs the gamut of quality, reputedly made quite well on a number of voyages on which I participated. That said, the quality was lost on me, as it typically tasted quite foul.

My mum’s coffee reportedly was not half bad. I remember clatches at our house in which the guests were exceedingly complimentary and given the tenor of their remarks, this was not some idle prattle but genuine appreciation. Whatever my mother’s gastronomic shortcomings as an Irish-American, she didn’t exactly have a long tradition of culinary excellence from which to draw, she could at least make a good cup-of-Joe.

Tea, for me, has always served as a reliable stand-in. I enjoy many kinds of tea but I have a particular preference for Earl Grey tea. I do not countenance brewed beverages that simulate tea. Tea should be made from leaves of the tea plant and I mean the leaves not twigs (e.g., Koukicha, for all its so-called medicinal attributes, it still tastes like its name i.e., twig tea). Although the choice of tea over coffee may not address the caffeine issue, it still is highly preferable in my world. I know I am sure to hear opinions to the contrary on this matter.

I digress; let us return to our story. On the morning of my fourteenth birthday, I awoke to the familiar fragrance of breakfast. Knowing what awaited me I hurriedly dressed and sat at the table assured of my entry to the world of adults. The coffee was poured; the scent rose to my nostrils; the die was cast. I sipped and blech was my immediate reaction. Surely, this foul tasting muck couldn’t be the long-awaited panacea of my dreams. I was not prepared for this ill-tasting nostrum.

Coffee had let me down. Not unlike many of the so-called rites of passage that would come later in life, the proof was not in the pudding; disappointment ruled the day. To this day, whenever a server comes around with a round of coffee and orange juice (I have a similar aversion to OJ, preferring apple juice), I defer and think of that fateful morning.

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