i learned how to take my coffee from mom, who adds equal parts coffeemate and sugar. the inside of her mug is a light tan that might pass for a dark shade of beige. sweet and “creamy,” it’s no wonder i became a fan of coffee.
i’ll confess though i’ve taken a liking to tea lately. maybe my preference for this brewed beverage grew as i jumped on the bbc bandwagon: downton abbey, call the midwife, and sherlock. i was struck by two archenemies sitting down to tea. how powerful and staunch the tradition of tea, that even the most heightened enmity fails to prevent sherlock from civilly serving and sharing a pot with moriarty.
maybe it was being outside of dublin, the cuppa irish breakfast tea, with, of course, milk and sugar, was just the thing for those hearty irish breakfasts. maybe it’s because it reminds me of meeting jill m., from northern ireland, at the potter’s house in timisoara. she was generous with the milk, so much so that i wondered if she really just wanted her milk to taste like tea.
and maybe it’s because tea bags are easier to clean up post-brewing/drinking than french press coffee. maybe.
for someone who does enjoy eating, it’s a shame my palate isn’t refined enough to even pretend to be a wine, coffee, or beer connoisseur/sommelier. i think of jeremiah, who taught me that an air popcorn popper can double as a coffee bean roaster. i remember when the little loud red machine puttered its last and not long after, the giant stainless steel toaster-oven doppelganger roaster arrived.
when jeremiah had finished a round of roasting, the following mornings, he’d request that i taste the coffee fresh off the press as is, sans sweetner and unsullied by any kind of lightening agent. sometimes i could differentiate between the guatemalan finca and the ethiopian… yirga cheffe? sidamo? and most times, i couldn’t.
a few times, however, i’d wait a little longer to top off my cup and add the liquid and powdered white substances. i take some extra sips and savor the ephemeral but inherent sweetness in the black.
during my first few months back home, i learned that mom preferred nonliquid nondairy creamer to milk or even liquid nondairy creamer because the latter stuff cools down the coffee. she likes it hot, as it were; the fact that powdered coffeemate is lactose-free and that it doesn’t need to be refrigerated are not the only appealing qualities.
it’s quite brilliant, actually. and because of this simple yet profound observation, i follow a certain procedure when i prepare and serve myself tea: spoon a bit of sugar into cup, place tea bag in cup, pour hot water into cup, stir, pour milk, let brew, drink. for coffee, it’s a similar regimen, but minus the tea bag, switch coffee for the hot water, and nix the brewing step.
when it comes to tea, i like to add the milk soon after i’ve added the hot water; the water’s just come off of a gently rolling boil, and the milk takes a bit of that edge off–but not before the heat has dissolved the sugar. i’d like to think, too, that the tea is being infused to the milk and not just the water. if i happen to add a tad bit much of the milk, i just let the tea steep for a little longer and voila, the tea retains that nice ruddy caramel color.
but if i wait until after i’ve brewed the tea to add milk, i risk letting my tea go tepid. then i’m left with what looks like sugary dirty milk. and as long as winter keeps its tight grip on the next few weeks, i continue to prefer hot drinks to cold.
but really, why am i waxing on about coffee and mostly tea anyway?
after the ash wednesday liturgy, i had a chance to catch up with a dear, sweet friend over some mint hot chocolate. i lay in bed, with ashes still on my forehead, mulling over our conversation, dripping with truth and grace. just like Jesus.
once again, i was reminded of the value and necessity of declaring over myself God’s promises and his track record for keeping said promises. why does the truth, especially if it’s about me, sound so different when it comes from someone else? the truth value of the statement is unaffected by the speaker, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way.
anyway. there’s something in this cup of dark roast coffee mellowed out by dissipated sugar crystals. i can’t tell if i can’t see this thing–a lesson, a metaphor, an epiphany–because it’s opaque. and i can’t tell leaving room for milk obscures or rounds out the revelation that’s waiting at the bottom.
maybe this cup is someone’s heart. the coffee by itself tastes acerbic, the bitterness confused with strength. but the reality is that the coffee’s not strong, it’s been burnt from all the hovering over the fire for too long. the sugar can only do so much. the heart needs soothing, a salve to ease the pain and draw out the nectar masked by the dregs. there needs to be space to cool down and soften up.