The Aroma of Coffee and the Memory of it…

Has Coffee Ever Lived up to it’s Promise?

Has the taste of coffee ever lived up to the seducing aroma of its first whiff? For me it has not. From the time I was allowed coffee as a child, I spent many, many years trying to find or make a cup of coffee that TASTED as good as that first whiff when I broke open a vacuum sealed can or experienced the aroma, at a distance, of the morning’s first brewing pot of coffee. It never has.

To happily acquire a taste for coffee you have to first abandon that reasonable but child-like expectation that it will taste as good in the same way as it smells. And it does not. It is different.

Accepting that gulf between what we first expect from coffee and what we’ll actually experience AS a cup of coffee is one of life’s totem adjustments — at least for those of us that end up living our lives out as coffee drinkers. Once we do, the rewards can be many and varied…the taste of coffee is one of the most complex, delicious phenomena on the gastronomic/culinary landscape…but it is a puzzle: why can’t that first scent of coffee be what shows up in the cup?

Some people go too far, they somehow inure themselves to accepting almost any level of bitterness, harshness, or, worst of all, dishwater wimpiness, in lieu of that initial impression, presumably for the sake of a little caffeine and for the ritual of sipping something hot with a degree of nominal savor.

Even from a bad cup of coffee some warmth may be drawn; the steam may be inhaled and blown from its surface, the cup (paper or otherwise) may be; like a smoker cherishes not only the actual inhalation of the smoke, but comes to find comfort and centering in all the gestures and patterns of movement that the act of smoking requires and then affords (I have been told by some smokers trying to quit that these habits are almost missed as much as the smoke itself and are a reason that nicotine patches sometimes don’t work for some folks.)

A cup of coffee no matter what it tastes like, offers the expectation that the mind will soon awaken and engage — that THAT coffee cup will bestow upon the holder/drinker warmth, good spirits, alacrity of mind and courage to face the day  with it’s own heart-kindling glow, promising aroma and energizing familiarity. The rituals, memories, and the moral (or otherwise) support a cup of coffee provides are sometimes, sadly, ironically, more satisfying than the savoring of it.

In a way there is actually a reassurance and comfort that a bad cup of coffee can provide….as we sip it we might be tempted to think that only a very serious person, one of formidable courage and prowess (both intellectual and physical) could consume something so horribly wrong in its taste and aroma. Bad Coffee, in and of itself, becomes a daily rite of passage…a gauntlet that, once passed, indicates to the drinker that nothing today will be unendurable.

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NOW, here, I recognize, I’m (once again) in the weeds. I started this off thinking that I was writing about one thing and now I realize that I am writing about three:

1)   One is about the dissonance between the primal smell of fresh ground coffee and the taste of brewed (liquid) coffee on our palates; they’re different, those two things.

2)   The next is the whole issue about the actual taste of coffee, once we abandon the idea that coffee is ever going to TASTE like what we imagined it might when we first inhaled it’s aroma. Is that taste actually one we all LIKE, much less agree on.

3)   And now there’s something I had not thought of: The Ritual of Drinking Coffee. This ritual may be conducted in the absence of a beverage that tastes GOOD… in fact the worse the taste, the more we seem to emphasize the ritual…the more it abuses us the more we love it…Let’s call this the Stockholm Coffee Syndrome (no offense to Stockholm, I’ve actually heard you can hunt down a good cup of coffee there).

So I guess I have at least a couple more posts…if some other shiny object of a subject doesn’t distract me first…

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