This happened one day just last week. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep that night. Okay…maybe that was because I didn’t know enough to order decaf. At any rate, in my middle age, after a lifetime of hating even the smell of coffee, I ordered a latte with a friend and I completely enjoyed it. I get it now! How did this happen?
I was raised by parents who were devout coffee drinkers. As a little kid, I assumed coffee drinking was a grown-up thing that I would someday grow into. But it never made sense to me on any level. The smell was horrible, the grounds looked like dirt and smelled nasty, my parent’s coffee cups were all stained brown, and then, I once asked for a taste just to see if I was missing out on something. I think that little sip probably did it for me for the next couple of decades. ( Now, as a new coffee-lover I realize that this was because my parents were drinking percolated Folgers and Maxwell House coffee – not true coffee according to my coffee mentors.)
So all my life I’ve had to live with people going on about how great coffee is, and how they can’t live without it, and, “Ooo…Don’t you love that aroma?” No, I did not.
And what is up with people taking delicious things and trying to make them taste like coffee? Ice cream, for example. What was the point of that? Why couldn’t people just have their coffee with their ice cream instead of ruining perfectly good ice cream for the rest of us?
Plus, I knew that a lot of people used coffee as a crutch. Plus, I was aware that a lot of horrible things had been done in the name of coffee. I could see right through TV spokespeople like Mrs. Folgers and Juan Valdez, with their fake accents and bad acting. Obviously they were selling something, and I would bet my Celestial Seasonings herbal infusions that the coffee industry had a sinister side to it.
However, in my quieter moments I think I knew that the history of oppression in the name of coffee wasn’t the fault of coffee beans, it was the fault of human beings. I knew of the more recent development of organic and fair trade coffee practices, because my wife and friends never stop talking about this stuff.
The turning point for me came after we moved to Loveland. There is a coffee shop here called Coffee Tree that supposedly has the best coffee in the known universe, or whatever. Really. You’d think it was the cure for cancer the way people go on about it. For years I’ve had friends come down from Ft. Collins to “get together with me,” when really I knew they just wanted an excuse to go to Coffee Tree.
I’d go in there and order a smoothie, or get a can of tea from the case. They’d get their coffee-thingy and their eyes would water and sparkle. Then they’d sip and close their eyes. After coming out of it, they’d always say, “This is really good coffee,” even though I already kinda figured that. And then they would always ask me how my smoothie was.
Fine. My smoothie was fine.
They were always polite about it, and never actually laughed at me or judged me. These were otherwise normal people whom I respected, and I began to wonder if I might be missing something.
Then I’d go to Coffee Tree with my wife, a coffee connoisseur and lover of all things awesome. She was the worst, because she didn’t have to hide her feelings from me. “Ooooooh….that’s SOOOO gooooooood…I’m sorry, what were you saying?” Give me a break. How good can it be? So I started asking if I could have a taste. She would always chuckle and say, “You’re not gonna like it.” She was right, but at Coffee Tree, for the first time, I didn’t hate it.
This was the turning point, as I think it is for all conversions. I reached a point where I wanted to like coffee. Now all that remained was for me to actually like it. There is no such thing, and there never has been such a thing, as a forced conversion. True conversion is always a matter of the heart.
The last time I went to Coffee Tree with my wife, I ordered a smoothie, and she ordered her coffee-thingy, cradling it under her cute little nose so she could feel the warmth and smell the aroma, blah, blah, blah. But this time when she gave me a sip, I thought that maybe I wished I hadn’t ordered a smoothie, for second. Plus my smoothie was cold, and it was winter, and I was sitting by the door because Coffee Tree is always so freaking crowded.
Anyway, I wondered if it might be time for me to surrender, and turn my life around. I could almost feel the molecules rearranging themselves in my heart and brain. My remaining doubts and intellectual questions had already been answered, for I’d once had a brief conversation over the counter with owner of Coffee Tree about why his coffee was so good. I guess I expected some sort of mystical answer, or maybe that he had some secret ingredient. But he explained that there’s only one way to make really great espresso. You have to follow the book, so to speak. It had mostly to do with the temperature, I think, and not burning the beans. It was kind of over my head.
A week or so later, a friend from Ft. Collins wanted to “get together with me.” I asked if he would mind if we went to Coffee Tree. He just laughed. My mind was made up. I was determined to voluntarily purchase a cup of coffee, for pleasure, for the first time in my life. I had decided to enter the grown-up world. This particular friend happened to be a pastor, which was good, ‘cause I figured he could help me through the process if I needed support. The Coffee Tree owner was there and I told him what I was about to do. He grinned and said it wasn’t the first time he’d heard of such a conversion.
Wow. And I thought I was the only one. I kind of wanted to turn and address everyone in the coffee shop, and tell them what I was about to do. But I decided not to make a big deal over it. After all, it’s only coffee.