Savoring my coffee memories

Published 11:30 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2011

There’s something magical about the moment when something you eat or drink triggers a memory. Give me a taste of sugar-free strawberry wafers and canned peaches, and I am instantly transported to my late great-grandmother’s home in North Carolina. The taste and smell of those particular items are all that is needed to conjure an almost complete picture of her, sitting at her favorite chair while I sit near her, simultaneously awed by her slight resemblance to my father and by the number of wrinkles on her face when she smiled. It’s a memory I cherish since she is no longer with us.

Drinking a mug of coffee brings similar memories to mind. With the exception of my father, I grew up in a family of coffee drinkers. Over the years, my tastes in this exceptional drink have changed, along with the memories they trigger.

A white-chocolate mocha never fails to bring my mother to mind. Mochas could be called my gateway drink, and since first tasting it, I have never looked back to my pre-caffeinated years.

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I am saddened to admit that through many of my teenage years, my mom and I did not see eye-to-eye. But even when our relationship was tense at home, we could always put our differences aside and enjoy a cup of white-chocolate mocha with extra whipped cream at the local bookstore.

Eventually I switched to plain old coffee, drinking it with cream and sugar the way I did when I visited one of my grandfathers. Whenever I visited home, I always managed a moment to stop in at their house, drink a cup of a coffee and enjoy a slice of whatever baked treat they had on hand.

When I make my coffee this way, I can close my eyes and see him sharing a bit of whipped cream with his beloved dog and know that I won’t forget them, either.

Despite my dad never drinking coffee, his dad did, and my current coffee tastes fall in line with his more than any other. Without cream or sugar, coffee takes on a simplicity that reminds me of my grandfather.

Since he died before I could share my love of coffee with him, I imagine that his philosophy went something like this: “If you can’t drink coffee plain, then maybe you don’t really like coffee.” I admit it’s a hard-line view, but with the amount of black coffee I drink, I don’t think anyone could say that I don’t truly love coffee. And by drinking my coffee the way he did, I feel a connection with him that might be hard to have otherwise.

Is it too much to say that coffee has a touch of magic in it? Probably. But the popular drink is popular for a reason. And despite its primary function of giving us that burst of energy, it’s obvious that coffee in all its forms is so much more than a pick-me-up.

It brings otherwise quarrelling family members together. It reminds us to take a moment to spend with people we might otherwise be too busy for. And, for me anyway, it reminds me of the people I never want to forget.