What's in a Cup of Coffee?

“There’s a whole world in a cup of coffee,” according to Natalie Goldberg in Old Friend From Far Away.   I’m working my way through some writing exercises in the aforementioned book, and a few days ago I was supposed to write for ten minutes on the topic of coffee.  Being a coffee lover I didn’t think it would be difficult, but neither did I believe Goldberg’s promise of discovering a world. 

I stand corrected. 

Coffee is ritual and I am a person who loves ritual.  I drink coffee every morning in a certain chair. I light a candle, pray, read the Daily Office, write in my journal, trace my finger labyrinth, read a devotional book or some combination of the above rituals, but coffee is the headliner. 

I’m not a high-maintenance girl. I grew up camping  and I love the outdoors, but my comfort level of ‘roughing it’ on an overnight trip includes a coffee pot and a flushing toilet.  Both represent civilization and human progress - call it “luxury” -  but I refuse to be without those two things.  

Perhaps the greatest luxury coffee represents is time. Coffee, like wine, cannot be gulped.  One has to sip and savor coffee,  either contemplating or conversing, depending on whether you are alone or in company.  Coffee forces slowness and attention. It requires us to be still. You can’t drink coffee and bouncing around like a toddler. (Of course, most of us adults need a cup of morning coffee to consider any kind of movement in the first place.) Coffee says “I am not in a hurry.” 

John Ortberg in The Life You've Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People  says, “Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible. Love always takes time, and time is the one thing hurried people don't have.”   If love and hurry are incompatible and coffee and hurry are incompatible, then coffee = love.  Ok, maybe the math doesn’t work quite like that but they’re on the same side of the equation. 

 My first coffee memory is seeing and smelling it in a wide-brimmed cup and saucer, milky and sweet, next to my mother’s elbow on the dining room table.  My eyes were just level with the cup and she paused from her Canasta game with my father and friends to let me taste it. There was a world in that cup of coffee. I wanted to be in that grown-up world of connection, of laughter and card games and friends around a table.

My grandfather’s coffee cup is my second coffee memory. He drank his coffee in a Jade-ite green Fire King mug.  My grandmother served it to him  with a block of red rind hoop cheese. He’d cut a slice of the cheese, dip it into the milky brown coffee for a quick melt and spoon it out and eat it.  I was mesmerized by the tiny grease bubbles left floating on top of the coffee. He let me dip my spoon in his cup, tasting the melted cheese and the sweet warm coffee. Sitting there at the round kitchen table, the tomatoes he grew in the windowsill above the sink, I lingered next to him those few minutes in the morning while my grandmother, who never seems to sit down in the kitchen in my memory, scrambled eggs she gathered and fried bacon at the stove.  She was feeding him before he went to the fields and pastures which would feed us. 

My husband isn’t a coffee drinker. Wonder of wonders, even after six years in the Navy.  Once in our early years of marriage while traveling from Amarillo to El Paso, Texas, before hotels had coffee pots in every room, he wanted to ‘get a few miles under our belts’ before we stopped for breakfast. Somewhere in central New Mexico, he learned what the Bible means when it says ‘live with your wife in an understanding way’.  HIs wife can go miles, hours, maybe a day without food, but she cannot and will not go without morning coffee.  All these years later, though he still laughs at what folks will pay for a latte, he’s accepted my coffee ritual.  He moves quietly around me in the mornings while I’m in my chair with my coffee.  He surprised me one Mother’s Day morning with pound of fine coffee. Perhaps coffee does equal love. And there’s a whole world in that cup of love.