My grandfather once told me that drinking coffee would stunt my growth and put hair on my chest. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I could believe him. He often played jokes on me and my cousins, dangling plastic spiders into sight while we intently watched cartoons. Eliciting our reactions and hearing our shrieks entertained him endlessly.
Both of my grandparents drank a lot of coffee. In particular, my grandfather rarely went anywhere without a mug in hand. At restaurants, he ordered coffee. At home, each visit to the kitchen saw him topping off a hearty mugful with a splash of cream. I never saw him take sugar. Then he’d be gone, zipping away to answer the phone, change the TV channel, or visit the saw mill behind his house. He owned the mill and oversaw its day-to-day operations.
When the time came for my initiation, I was in the kitchen at my grandparents’ house. I wondered if stunting my growth was necessarily a bad thing—I figured my childhood growth spurt was over. As for putting hair on my chest, my grandfather had plenty on his, so perhaps he was telling the truth.
l don’t remember how old I was when I had my first fateful cup. The ratio was likely 50% coffee, 30% cream, and 20% sugar. Did I like the taste of coffee? It’s doubtful, but after dumping in more sugar, I managed to down the rest. Coffee tasted like a grown-up beverage for grown-up folks. I desperately wanted to be treated like an adult.
If coffee was an acquired taste, I was determined to acquire it.
Comedian George Burns once remarked that his cigar was simply a prop to keep his hand busy while he told jokes. Like Burns’ cigar, I found that coffee had some practical uses outside of staining your teeth.
At church, for instance, coffee worked like a social lubricant. The fellowship hall across from the sanctuary offered cookies and coffee after service, so I made a point of getting there before the rush. The coffee tasted like it had been strained over lit charcoal. I scalded myself more than once while filling my styrofoam cup with those volcanic dregs. Two artificial creamers and two sugar packets were usually sufficient to mask the flavor.
Coffee in hand, I would sip and nod as conversations happened all around me. My friends would eventually migrate from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall, but during the interim, I shot the breeze with grownups. I took this as proof positive that drinking coffee was an adult activity.
In retrospect, those Sunday morning cups served as my warm-up routine. By the time my friends arrived, my brain was firing on all cylinders. The jokes came fast and furious—coffee gave me a platform to be witty and well-liked! It also gave me the shakes when I overindulged. Four cups in an hour proved three too many for this hombre.
As I grew older, coffee became a comfort beverage. The copious amounts of caffeine that would have kept my poor mother awake had a different effect on me. It became a boost of inspiration when I wrote stories in my free time. Drinking coffee turned an essential cog in my creative machinations.
All through college, coffee kept me lucid while I wrote papers into the early morning hours. It also suppressed my appetite. Less eating meant more money retained on my dining account. I worked to stretch the balance across the school quarters, piling on the calories at lunch so I wouldn’t be hungry for dinner. At the end of the year, I could spend my leftover credit on beef jerky and—you guessed it—coffee.
After college, my classmate Andrew and I continued our ritual of meeting for breakfast. We patronized IHOP or Denny’s Saturday mornings and shot the breeze over cups of joe. Andrew was never without his beloved French vanilla creamer; at one point, he carried several single-serve pods in his jacket pocket.
I was more stingy with my cash, throwing myself at the mercy of the restaurant. Whatever flavors they had available were what I drank. If they couldn’t meet my requirements of two sugars and two creamers, I would abstain from ordering coffee altogether. Talk about particular!
Many such mornings, I lamented that my coffee addiction was dependent on sugary creamers. I reasoned that if I could forgo flavored creamers altogether, using half and half instead, then perhaps I could avoid future disappointments. This notion would need to percolate a few months before I took action.
When I moved out of my folks’ place, saving money became a big priority. The creamers I liked were expensive; worse, they often expired before I could use them. My frugal mind determined that now was the time to make the switch.
In a single day, I went cold-turkey. Half and half supplanted sugar and creamer for good! Money was saved, and I learned that coffee doesn’t always need sweetener. This seems ridiculous in hindsight, but it was a big decision at the time.
On the rare occasion that I backpedaled, I discovered a curious fact: sugar in my coffee made me feel sick. Had my tastebuds matured? Who knows, but sugar was dead to me—unless it came in the shape of a donut. Despite this paradigm shift, my coffee odyssey was far from over.
In the last six years, my body’s tolerance for dairy products has become limited. At first, I quit eating yogurt because it affected my bowels. Next I switched to coconut milk for my cereal because Erica can’t handle dairy milk of any kind. We subsequently tried almond milk, oat milk, and cashew milk, all of which had their strengths and weaknesses.
Mixing up our milk options encouraged me to experiment with what I put in my coffee. For a few months, I bounced between those same almond creamers, coconut creamers, and cashew creamers; I even tried a powdered seaweed creamer! Gross.
Ultimately, none of them was a viable replacement for half and half. I continued my usual practices despite intestinal upset and sinus irritation.
Today, I’m 37 years old. I’m also a first-time father. Coffee keeps me kicking more now than ever. That said, I cannot stomach dairy milk without feeling gut-wrenching discomfort later. Often, my carton of half and half goes sour before I can use it all.
Rather than skipping coffee due to spoiled creamer, I’ve made a bold decision. A strong decision. A dark decision! Yes, I drink my coffee black.
Finally, I have kicked half and half to the curb—where it belongs! Now my coffee is the purest it has ever been. Ah, but do I like it? Without cream, without sugar, do I actually find coffee desirable? Have I finally acquired a taste for the bean itself?
Truth be told, it’s too soon to tell. I’ll admit my excitement for that first cup in the morning has waned. Half and half once afforded me the perfect balance of flavor, acidity, and fat. Oh, that glorious fat! Alas, these are the kinds of sacrifices that separate the children from the grownups.
For so long, I’ve wanted to be an adult. I’ve become a husband, a father, a writer, and a graphic designer over the last three decades. Now that I’m drinking my coffee black, without cream or sugar, I feel like I’ve finally arrived.
As for my chest hair, I’m proud to report that it’s looking good. Thanks, grandpa.
The title of this post was inspired by a rhyme my grandmother Marie taught me:
Beans, beans, the musical fruit!
The more you eat, the more you toot.
The more you toot, the better you feel,
So let’s have beans for every meal!