Sunday morning coffee reflections

Yesterday was lovely.  We took PalKid to her soccer game, and in usual Midwest fashion, a cold rain pelted and soaked us while the little ones ran around chasing the ball.  This gave us an excellent excuse to find a warm coffee shop and get some hot chocolate.  After verifying the nut-free status of the chocolate syrup, I ordered up a hot chocolate for her, and iced tea for Mrs. Pal, who really needed a palatable caffeine-delivery device rather than a warm-up, and then treated myself to something I hadn’t had in years.

My usual coffee drink are black espresso or black coffee.  I’m not terribly interested in sugary, milky concoctions that come with more calories and GI distress than a simple doppio. But I was cold, wet, and wanted something I hadn’t had in years: a mocha, which in the usual cafe parlance is steamed milk with chocolate syrup (hot chocolate) with a shot of espresso.  It’s not overly sweet, allowing some of the more subtle chocolate and coffee flavors to emerge.  I expected a flashback to a cool, foggy day in the Richmond district of San Francisco, studying organic chemistry and enjoying a shot of strong Peet’s coffee in a cup of minimally sweetened hot chocolate.

Instead, it took me further back.  When I was just out of college, I was living in Arizona, looking for a job in the last big recession before this one.  I applied for teaching jobs, but the substitute pool was overloaded with the recently laid-off.  There was a Greek deli across the street form my apartment, and I asked the old guy there if he’d hire me, but he wasn’t interested.   I figured I’d better clean up a bit.  I went to a local barber and asked him to cut my hair, which at the time was impressively voluminous.  We were chatting, he heard I was looking for a job, and refused to take any money for the cut—he told me to just come back for more hair cuts once I had a job (which I did).   I put out more applications for university jobs and retail jobs, and finally wandered back into the deli one day for a sandwich.  The old guy, who I usually chatted with, said, “hey, kid, you want a job?”  I said, “Sure, but you already turned me down once.”

“Impossible. Been lookin’ for someone for a while.”

“I had a lot more hair back then,” I reminded him.

“That was you? It’s a good thing you got a goddamn haircut.  When can you start?”

He and his wife (both in their 80’s) taught me how to cook a variety of popular Greek dishes, and it wasn’t a bad job as these things go.  The deli was at a corner where four postal routes met, so at lunch time four postal carriers would stop in and have iced tea and sandwiches, along side tar-stained roofers escaping the heat of the Arizona mid-day sun.

For lunch, I would usually throw a slice of feta and some olives on a plate, drizzle them with some olive oil, and enjoy with a piece of bread, maybe with skorthalia.  But during the day I would snack on chocolate-covered coffee beans, something I’d never tried before.  I felt like the apocryphal Ethiopian goat, nibbling on an odd-tasting fruit, getting a nice buzz, and going back for more.  I hadn’t thought of that for years, until I finished my mocha yesterday.  Left in my mouth was a nutty, chocolaty taste near the back of my tongue, identical to the chocolate-covered beans of decades ago.

The surprises that a taste-memory can bring are remarkable, even more so for being unexpected.

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9 Comments

  1. Thanks for feeding the addiction! I love coffee porn!

  2. Melissa (aka DrSnit)

     /  October 3, 2010

    OMG- I got my name – Snit- from an awkward cute med student. She would bring me mochas and come to me for comfort and sweetness and nurturing during hard times in school. I’d guzzle them during our talks and get all hopped up and then go GONZO on my fellow colleagues and write crazy notes and sign them all Love, SNIT.

    I now think fondly of cute awkward med students and mochas. 🙂 *swoon*

  3. JJM

     /  October 3, 2010

    I thought you were off caffeine.

    Joe

  4. Claudia

     /  October 3, 2010

    Labor Day weekend I had a full cup of coffee (a large half decaf) for the first time in several years, before breakfast. I also ended up with a migraine for the first time in several years.

    • Lynda M O

       /  October 4, 2010

      Coffee does me the migraine way too. Bummer, coffee from Key West Cuban shops will hold a fork upright and I miss it so.

    • Mary P

       /  October 4, 2010

      Interesting. Both my daughter and I use coffee to cure mild migraines. Works better if I haven’t been drinking coffee for a while.

  5. Tsu Dho Nimh

     /  October 4, 2010

    What deli?

    Phoenix?

  6. Montesquieu

     /  October 5, 2010

    “The surprises that a taste-memory can bring are remarkable, even more so for being unexpected.” –PalMD, 2010

    Marcel Proust is another person who had something to say about involuntary memory, about a hundred years ago. (Quotes below are from various non-controversial Wikipedia articles.)

    Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; earlier translated as Remembrance of Things Past). It was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. It is popularly known for … the notion of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the “episode of the madeleine”.

    Madeleines are perhaps most famous outside France for their association with involuntary memory in the Marcel Proust novel In Search of Lost Time, in which the narrator experiences an awakening upon tasting a madeleine dipped in tea:

    “She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…”
    — Remembrance of Things Past, Volume 1: Swann’s Way

  7. A few (or twenty) years ago when my joints could handle it, I used chocolate covered coffee beans on drives over 1000 miles. I got the caffeine boost without the liquid which reduced the frequency of bathroom stops.

    I loved them, but never allowed myself to have them regularly.

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