It all began in the summer of 1986. I was home after my first year at Georgetown, working as a waitress at Cracker Barrel, a thankless job if ever there was one. Each evening, around 9:30, my exhausted fellow waitresses would retreat to a smoky cubicle equipped with a table and two chairs for their “coffee break.” I didn’t care for coffee, so I abstained. I’d tried it, of course. A couple of times when I was a pre-teen my mother and I stayed up all night for a treat, and she made me a weak mixture that was mostly sugar and milk. My little sister had always loved coffee, was always trying to steal sips of Mima’s instant. At Granny’s house, people drank pots and pots, always black. It was a mystery to me, this stuff the grownups seemed to love so much that tasted so bad.
But that summer, I was serving it constantly, despite the heat, and I felt I was excluded from some big secret that I just couldn’t comprehend. When I wasn’t running from table to kitchen and back, I stood by the coffee station keeping an eye on my customers, and when I would get in the car at the end of the day my mother would breathe in the coffee aroma that clung to my hair and my uniform and exclaim about how wonderful I smelled. Finally, wanting to try again to understand what it was that I was missing, and wanting to join in on some level with the camaraderie amongst the mostly much-older and somewhat streetwise staff, I poured myself a cup with a lot of cream and sugar, and I was lost.
Throughout the rest of my college career, I was a morning and sometimes (if a paper was due) evening visitor to Wisemiller’s, the local convenience store/deli within a short walk of most of the places I lived. I consumed countless medium styrofoam cups of coffee with double cream double sugar–the Wisemillers’ girls stopped asking me how I wanted it before long.
After college, coffee was a required morning stop at the 7-11 on my way to work, even if it made me late! Back in Knoxville and expecting baby #1, there were of course no 7-11s–but it didn’t matter as at that point I gave up caffeine for the duration of my pregnancy, a feat I have never even attempted again. But post-baby I looked forward to my afternoon coffee break, reading Time magazine or watching Bob Ross and relaxing while she napped. Later, with three kids under five, Weigel’s cappuccino became an evening treat for my husband and me.
I was in graduate school when the coffee shops started popping up. I grew to love The Golden Roast on campus, and went there for my regular Monday Mommy’s Night Out for years, learning to love the more exotic varieties like Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Blue Nile. I also enjoy the Mexican roast at Java on the rare occasions I go there.
I have been informed that the coffee at Starbucks is an acquired taste, and I can’t seem to acquire it. Nor do I have any interest in learning to love frou frou coffee drinks like lattes and frappuccinos and whatever else. When I have no alternative to Starbucks, I cannot even bring myself to ask for a Venti or a Grande. I just say, “Whatever you call medium around here.”
These days my go-to coffee hangout is the Panera Bread in Fountain City, and honestly I don’t like their coffee. Except the hazelnut. I know exactly how much cream and sugar I need per cup, and I was annoyed when they got new cups and I had to figure the whole thing out again. So you see, I am not a coffee snob. I enjoy the coffee at Shoney’s more than just about anywhere else, and for home drinking a prefer JFG Bonus Blend, or perhaps JFG Special Coffee. Because for me, it really is “The best part of the meal.”
Update: Coffee is still the best part of any meal (best part of the DAY, if you ask me!), but these days I take it with plenty of cream but no sugar at all.