Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Frank and Joe Introduce Me To Joe

I did not learn to love coffee until I was 47. I had gone on a 10 1/2 mile practice hike carrying a backpack fully loaded with my tent and sleeping bag and other gear. I hiked for 5 hours in the pouring rain to a forest preserve where I was supposed to meet the biking Boy Scouts for a Friday night campout. The bikers postponed until Saturday morning, so I camped in the cold rain alone. Early Saturday morning, Frank dropped off the troop gear trailer then went back to ride with the bikers. I was out on a walk to photograph wet nature, so he left me a coffee and a breakfast pastry in a bag on the picnic table by my lone tent. He did not know I was not a coffee drinker. The last coffee I remembered having was as a toddler when I would make the rounds about the coffee table, emptying the grounds from the cups of coffee left there while my parents were on the front steps seeing off the evening visitors. But that morning, I was cold and wet and had been so for about 18 hours so I drank the coffee anyway. It was warm. Steaming. Black. Aromatic. Warm. And warm. Another night of camping in the cold followed, this time at least in the company of my sons and the rest of the Boy Scout Troop. When Joe made his Sunday morning coffee in the troop's beat up tin percolator, I welcomed another cup. Joe made it strong and I drank it black and it was very very warm. I was in love. No, not with Frank or Joe, but with coffee.
Now I drink it when I am driving alone and it is cold outside and in the winter when I need a break from the chill of the snow or wet. I make it one cup at a time in a French press, of the darkest roasted beans that the local store carries. I make it about half again as strong as the directions say, and I drink it black. I enjoy the fragrance and the tactile experience of cradling the steaming mug in my hands as much as I enjoy the flavor. And more often than not, during the few minutes it takes for the coffee to steep in the press, I think fondly of my coffee mentors, Frank and Joe, and the warmth of the campfire and the camaraderie of my sons and the boys in the troop who let me join them on campouts and high adventure trips. Coffee is not just a beverage to me but the sum total of all those experiences: Coffee warms me on a cold day in such a wealth of ways.

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