Coffees for Dads

Dad teaching me how to love life.

I am a coffee drinker because of my dad.

I started drinking coffee when I started high school; classes began at 7:30 every day, and I had to be ready and in my neighbor’s car (or, less cool, on the bus) by 7am to make it on time. Gone was the leisurely breakfast of middle school; mornings were now about efficiency.

My dad would make a pot of coffee every morning and pour his coffee in with a little milk and sugar to take in his to go cup. Now keeping such early hours myself, I finally understood the purpose of this routine and decided it was only logical for me to get my own to go cup and ask him to brew a double pot.

At 7am, Mornings in New Hampshire are pretty chilly through most of the school year, so I appreciated my to go cup for the warmth it provided as much as for the caffeine jolt it contained. I’m pretty sure the coffee was Folger’s from a can and I was confidently adding a healthy dose of milk and sugar in those days. I knew other friends who had to force themselves to drink coffee, so I considered myself lucky because I actually liked the taste. I wasn’t blown away by it, but I felt quite adult participating in this age old morning tradition.

Many years before high school, my dad and I had the weekend tradition (or cleverly disguised responsibility) of taking the trash to the town dump every Saturday morning. On our way back home we would always stop at Dunkin Donuts and sit at the counter, watching the highway traffic speed by. My order varied, but it  usually included some sort of donut with sprinkles or cream filling; preferably both. My dad’s standard order was a “chocolate cruller and a small hazelnut coffee with just cream please*.” For the first decade of my life the process of ordering coffee was indivisible from “hazelnut” and “just cream please.” I assumed that an inevitable part of becoming an adult was that at some magic point in time one replaced the excitement of a strawberry frosted sprinkle donut with the practicality of a small hazelnut coffee with just cream please.

That wasn’t quite how it happened.

I am a black coffee drinker because of my temporary dad.

I spent my junior year of high school living abroad in Spain with a host family. As luck would have it, that host family was French (and the experience of living in urban Spain with a French family and having German, Moroccan, Norwegian, and Argentine friends taught me definitively that this is a global world and the search for any “typical”–or archetypal–people is a misguided exercise that will end fruitlessly and totally miss the fascinating array of people who actually live in any given place).

My host parents were always in a flutter and mornings in Spain were a much more frantic dash than I those in New Hampshire had been. Gone were the moments in which I would mix milk, sugar, and coffee in a to go mug and sip and adjust until the balance of ingredients was perfect. Now, host mom Anne Marie would brew a triple dosed pot of coffee in the coffee maker (a drip model not unlike my dad’s), line up four small mugs on the counter, and fill each to the brim. Then she, Gerard, and my host sister would each down his/her mugful in a single gulp (like an espresso shot, but not), wash out the mug, and place it in the dish drainer, reducing the coffee experience from the hour long to-go-mug-sipping affair I was used to down to a 30 second obstacle in the course of making it out the door.

Not wanting to appear the slow, indulgent American, I also learned to down my black coffee in a single gulp and to not externally register the grimace I felt internally at the shock of bitter liquid to my system. Over the course of the year I lived with my French host family I became accustomed to this version of coffee drinking. After taking my coffee straight for so many months, any other version of coffee tasted like a liquid dessert. I grew to like the way black coffee stayed piping hot. On the weekends I would slow down and sip my coffee rather than knock it back in a single quaff, but I never felt the need to add any adulterants, even though the coffee was the Spanish equivalent of the grocery grade I had drunk with my dad on New Hampshire mornings.

My coffee tastes have changed, but my coffee drinker roots can be traced back to the polar opposites of my temporary and constant dads.

Gerard is a gregarious, wine loving French real estate mogul with mysterious international ties and lots of beach properties. My dad is an outdoorsy, Seinfeld loving New England Yankee who works for the state and volunteers as a search and rescuer.

After I spoke to my father on Fathers’ Day, I was on the phone with one of my best childhood friends. I asked if she had spoken to her dad, commenting, “We have good dads.” “I know,” she replied. “We’re lucky.” My day job involves working with people who have never really had any parent, so I am deeply aware of how right she is; both she and I are fortunate to have awesome dads, and to spend enough time with each other’s families to benefit from not just one great dad but two.

I have a great dad. For a year I also had Gerard. In the spirit of due credit, both were instrumental in giving me the coffee wherewithal and broader outlooks I have today. My dad showed me the patient values of constancy, routine, tradition, and responsibility. Gerard showed me how to handle a bitter cup of black coffee (and fried fish heads, pork gristle, and spiky artichoke leaves) like a Frenchmen. All are qualities I can’t imagine myself without.

*My dad read this and asked that I add an addendum noting that he has also learned a thing or two about coffee during the last few years of my odyssey; gone are the hazelnut, cream, and sugar. He now drinks his coffee black like a pro, uses a French Press, and has even been patient enough to accompany me to a few cuppings and play along with all the sniff, sip, and guess-the-fruit-notes hoopla.

Straight black coffee from Joe on the UWS after the Macy's Day Parade. Learning curve, owned!
Straight black coffee from Joe on the UWS after the Macy’s Day Parade. Learning curve, owned!

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