Food & Wine Thursdays: Here’s Your Damn Coffee

The street is lined with coffee shops. Some bear terrible Oxford pun club names like Brewed Awakening or Sufficient Grounds. Others have names so painfully literal as to be impossibly hip: Coffee Bar, Coffee Table, Corner Coffee. While still others have those odd, oblique names which evoke mystical coffee worlds of the past (or perhaps future), where coffee shops doubled as dens of radicalism, literary agitation, and folksy wisdom: Intelligentsia, Handsome, Ritual, Blue Bottle.

But they all share a similar objective: to battle the corporate premium coffee juggernauts one cup of single-origin joe at a time; tilting at thoughtlessly large-batch roasted beans and sickeningly sweet frappes with jaw firmly set below whimsical moustache, wielding a fist full of perfectly tan coffee cherries hand selected from the shade-grown estate of a Mexican-Indonesian transsexual ex-soccer star. Their coffees have integrity, a sense of place, a proud commitment to sustainability and social responsibility, and a firm commitment to tattoos, asymmetrical haircuts and never, ever cracking a smile.

(How can you justify a $6 cup of of coffee if you look like you’re having fun making it, after all?)

But what’s that? Do you hear that strange call in the distance? That lilting bellow unheard since the days of town criers and gin alley pimps? A call colored with an accent both place-less and unmistakable?

“Here’s your damn coffee!”

It gets closer. He barely sounds his rs and pitches up with a heavy stress on coffee’s final syllable.

“Here’s your damn coffee!”

Soon you see him, tall and barrel-chested, with a shock of white hair and a clean-shaven face, dressed in dirty dungarees and a blue work shirt, sleeves rolled up to reveal a conspicuous absence of ink of any kind, let alone tattoos of tampers or inscrutable cursive of lyrics from songs from that band. You know, that one that came to The Bootleg that one time? No, wait, that’s a line from that Martin Amis novel I tried to read that one time. Sorry.

“Here’s your damn coffee!”

He pushes a jangling steel cart down the sidewalk. On the cart is a big air pot–not a damn samovar–flanked by sleeves of insulated paper cups, a carton of half and half and a jar of sugar (though he has almond milk and agave nectar available on request, for even our hero makes concessions for the 21st Century). Topping it all is a simple white sign and on it, neatly written in black marker, are the words “Fresh, Hot Coffee: $1.”

“Here’s your damn coffee!”

Your interest is piqued, even if it is in that ironic sense that makes you an smug asshole. Sure, you think, I’ll try this old man’s coffee. This’ll be fun. This’ll be old fashioned, like drinking a Pabst while being a misogynist.

“Here’s your damn coffee!”

He’s only a few feet away. You walk up, he stops, and you hand him a Sacagawea coin–because that’s how whimsical you are, you scamp you. You stare blankly at the man when he doesn’t hand you anything back. Without a word, he lifts his arm and with his tan, calloused-hand points at the pot. That’s right, you have to get it yourself.

You grab a paper cup and place it below the pot’s spigot. With a firm hand you press down on the large silver button and with a slurping gurgle that is not entirely un-erotic, steaming coffee cascades into your cup, its rich redolence surprising you with feelings it stirring in your viscera. What are those feelings? Why simple, unironic pleasure, of course.

“Here’s your damn coffee!”

The man shouts those words right into your ear as, with a clatter and clang, he starts his cart down the sidewalk again, his shouts echoing quieter and quieter as he turns the corner.

“Here’s your damn coffee!”

You take a sip. It’s hot, delicious, and brown. It unravels for you remembrances of Mr. Coffee brewed-pots that your parents poured from every morning, cup after cup of dark, strong coffee drunk with high school friends at terrible all-night diners, laughing over plates of cottage fries and bowls of melting ice cream, that perfect cup of truck-stop java desperately sought by your hungover-self, driving back from a weekend bender at the beach. It’s comforting, soul-refreshing, and life-affirming.  And while it might not have the fruity nuances of an Ethiopian light roast, it is hot, delicious, and brown.

Yes, there indeed is my damn coffee.

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About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
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