Thursday, May 14, 2009

Off the Wagon

I first became addicted to coffee at age 17, when I went away to Lewis and Clark College. I had had some prior experiences in high school--my father had created a recipe (following the tinned "General Foods International Coffees" trend) for instant, jitter-inducing mint mochas (instant coffee, non-dairy creamer, sugar, cocoa powder, and pulverized-in-the-blender Starlite mints), which I would drink when I had a paper to write, and I did come prepared to college with a recycled plastic Costco nut jar full of the stuff, and we all did drink it. We were in college, though, and more sophisticated than Maple Valley farmers, so we went primarily for real beans and the personal grinder (thanks, Anne!). I had received a black mug with a white piano keyboard printed on it as a graduation present, and for the first quarter of school, late August to just before Thanksgiving, I never once washed it. I used it a lot, so I'm guessing there wasn't too much time for bacteria to grow, and the inside of the mug was likewise black, so it hid a lot of grossness, but I was also young and stupid. At any rate, I had coffee in it every morning, and hot chocolate or, more frequently as the term went on and I eased out of the home fold, hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps (young drinkers don't usually start out with Gibsons, in my experience).

The coffee we bought was trendy flavored beans from the local (rather grotty) Fred Meyer--Irish Cream, Hazelnut, French Vanilla--and was prepared in the shared floor kitchen in a little 4-cup Mr Coffee. My sophomore year, when I became a Resident Assistant on my own floor, I obtained my own small Mr Coffee. Every morning I would drink half of my carafe hot, and put the rest in the fridge. When I came back to my room in the afternoon and needed a pick-me-up, the rest of my morning coffee was icy-cold and ready for enjoyment.

Somewhere during my late-sophomore/early junior year the latte, and maybe more specifically for me the mocha, took off. While I was in Kenya my junior year, I actually had a dream about being back in Oregon and ordering a raspberry mocha. I had never had one before, and when I got back to the States, I tried it. Sweet, but very good.

Sometime my senior year I believe, I acquired my first espresso machine--a simple Krups one that would make one latte using just steam power--enough to drip through the coffee grounds for a shot, and enough to steam a small amount of milk. I also decided that chocolate morning and evening wasn't the healthiest way to live my life, and started drinking plain lattes.

Ah, the homemade latte.

I updated my espresso machines a couple times (wore one out) and purchased a stove-top maker to fill in blanks between actual machines (it's also great for camping).

Then, when I was going through my 3rd cancer bout, in fall/winter 2006/2007, I decided I didn't want to be addicted to anything anymore, and so I began the process of cutting coffee out of my life completely. After a few fits and starts (coffee in our Scottish B&Bs in June of 2007 was shockingly good--French roast French presses and cream every morning), I got over the physical addiction, and stayed pretty much caffeine-free for about 18 months.

I have been drinking decaf lattes most mornings for the last year or so, and enjoying both the ritual of the stovetop maker and the taste of the milky bitterness, but something was missing. And then I saw Taya to get some bodywork done soon after recovering from a nasty cold, and she said I felt spongy--like I needed to drink a lot of water and take a diuretic for a couple days--and I thought "Well, regular coffee is the best diuretic I know," and so Ian and I agreed it was time for the next chapter in our espresso-drinking lives: the La Pavoni hand-lever espresso and cappucino machine. Not only does it look like a diving bell; it also makes excellent espresso. Ian has taken to have a decaf in the evenings; we're both having caffs in the mornings.

I argued with myself for awhile about whether or not coffee was something I wanted to drink again--if this was a physical habit I wanted to encourage again. After all, I do believe there are important physical and psychological benefits to be found in not being addicted to anything, and I did, on the couple mornings over the last 18 months when I was too sick to want to get up, appreciate not having a withdrawal headache when I didn't get my fix. Nevertheless, like all good addicts, I was able to make the arguments necessary to get what I craved: i.e. a return to the nipple of the dark goddess. Coffee is pretty much the single most available drug on the planet. I shouldn't have any trouble feeding my habit.

And isn't the La Pavoni a beauty?
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1 comment:

Ian said...

This post inspired me to read more about diving bells, and it turns out that I've been a bit wrong to have been describing our wonderful new espresso machine as looking like a diving bell. I had no idea that a true diving bell was just a big bell that you would squat under.

Whereas the classic copper and brass helmet worn by Tintin in Red Rackham's Treasure is really a diving helmet.

But the phrase "diving bell" has such a better ring to it.