- Caffè Americano
1. Single Origin
I first tasted coffee while sitting with my brother in a 1984 Toyota Tercel. It was a dewy morning. The Tercel’s upholstery was quilted vinyl. Surrounding the car were endless cherry orchards, glistening in the sun, rolling lazily toward every horizon. Perhaps it was apples, but I recall cherries. My mother’d brought her sons for a morning of picking, and either we’d complained too miserably and been ordered back to the car, or else we’d been left in the car temporarily while Mom sought pails for us, gloves and ladders. In any event, we were waiting, picking nothing but our noses. Fragrant air wafted through the windows. Joe occupied the passenger seat, while I, in the back, crowded against the Toyota’s westernmost door, where the shaded vinyl wouldn’t poach my thighs.
Wedged between the hand brake and driver’s seat was the cup of tepid filling-station coffee our mother had acquired en route. It sat, brown, in its Styrofoam. Littered about the cup were napkins, packets, sticks. This memory isn’t fully trustworthy, as I’ve never known my mother in all her life to drink any coffee besides General Foods International French Vanilla Café, which she mixes from a tin, which tin is never far from her hand—indeed, it can be discovered in her luggage when she travels. But, there we have it. The memory, I mean. Perhaps Mom’s love for General Foods International French Vanilla Café Mix was the very reason the Texaco coffee was abandoned by the hand brake. Maybe she’d auditioned the Texaco, one morning only, before (wisely) dismissing it. [End Page 65]
Joe, face hovering over the coffee, thumped his fist against the console, then thumped it again, causing the surface of the beverage to tremble. Softly, then with boldness, he hummed the score from Jurassic Park. Less out of curiosity than aggravated boredom, I scrambled over the seat, over my brother, and claimed the coffee for my own inquiries and experiments. Tearing open packets, saturating the fluid with what powders streamed out of them. Swirling, stirring, sniffing. I was perhaps nine years old, and in clamoring toward the coffee had high-centered myself on my brother’s shoulder. He shoved at me, inspiring a somersault into the steering wheel. The horn blatted. Outside, the branches of a nearby cherry tree disclosed an irritated face. The man swatted at a bee, then continued filling his pail.
I tasted the potion. Before, in its undoctored state, it’d been watery and ugly. One could discern, deep in the cup, a drift of stray grounds. Now, the drink was milky and ugly. I sucked more of it, smacking my lips. I transferred the concoction to Joe so he could try it. He would’ve been eleven at the time.
I thought: Today, we enjoy coffee. We are men in this world.
2. Fair Trade (Part One)
Years later, in college, students could purchase coffee from the frowzy campus store at $1 a cup, or they could cross the building to Starbucks, where coffee ran $2 a cup. One day, a coed carrying her Starbucks cup noticed the generic cup I was holding.
“Blahg!” she shouted. “Blahg, blahg! How can you drink that?”
I folded my arms over the beverage, as if shielding a child.
“Go bash your mouth on a tree,” the girl said. “I mean, you might as well.”
“It’s coffee,” I protested.
“No, it isn’t. It’s that. You’re drinking that!”
If consuming a product out of one cup instead of another was supposed to be humiliating, it was news to me. “It’s all the same,” I mumbled.
“What? Excuse me? Excuse me, what did you say?”
My vascular system knitted up. My mouth tightened to a little pellet. “You know what?” I told this girl. “You know what I think? I think if you put this coffee,” I held up my off-brand roast, “into your cup, you’d never know the difference. You’re pretending to know. You’re . . .”—I’d acquired some...