Monday, December 12, 2011

Caffeinated Dreams

I had promised myself I'd never write anything as cliche as an 'ode to coffee.' But last week while walking on the beach with Zooey into a sub-zero wind off Lake Michigan clutching my Starbucks the phrase caffeinated dreams popped into my head. "What a great name for an album," I thought to myself. As I'm not a rock-star, this is the only outlet I have to utilize such a phrase. At that point I started rehashing my relationship with coffee to find it holds a prominent place in some of my fondest memories. I'm not a coffee aficionado by any means. I don't have a bumper sticker that says, 'friends don't let friends drink Starbucks.' I don't sniff, swirl, and spit like a wine snob. I just like what I like. I appreciate good coffee. There are certain coffee houses I will only go to when I have time to embrace the whole of the atmosphere. At the same time, I'm not above driving through for a McMocha when that's what my lifestyle demands. I even like cooking with coffee. In fact, I am currently working on developing a coffee related.... Well, that's a story for another time.
I grew up around coffee during a time when coffee came ground in a can and was made in curious vessels called percolators. It was all very strange. Coffee smelled delicious, but tasted awful! Neither of my parents drank coffee. My mom always said, "if coffee tasted as good as it smelled, I'd drink it." My best friend Jim drank it before and after swim meets. My girlfriend in college drank it. All four of my grandparents drank it morning, noon, and night. But not me. It wasn't until my 20s that someone actually peer-pressured me into drinking it. It was during my time cooking at Christie's that I first discovered real coffee. Christie's was one of the finest (in the top three according to AAA) restaurants in Wisconsin and I was lucky to be working there right out of culinary school. At the time, I was working two jobs. I worked as a lifeguard at the YMCA from 5:00a.m. to 10:00a.m, then I'd go home, have a bowl of cereal, and sleep until it was time to work at the restaurant from 2:00p.m. until 10:00p.m. (or midnight if I had to close the hotel's room service kitchen). After work I again would go home, have some cereal, (and if I was really ambitious, an English muffin), and catch a few hours sleep before doing it all again. At Christie's, I worked alongside some characters who drank more and slept less than I did. One in particular, Jesse, would come staggering in twenty minutes after me, throw down his knives and make a pot of coffee. Every day he'd offer me a cup and every day I'd say, 'no thanks.' Finally one day he asked why I didn't drink coffee. I just shrugged. At this, he grinned and insisted he'd make a cup that I'd love. The reason I pointed out that Christie's was a fine-dining establishment was not to brag so much as it was meant for you to realize we served good coffee. Kona, in fact. One of the finest coffees in the world. To this fresh brew, Jesse added heavy whipping cream and natural sugar. That was it. Once it hit my lips, there was no turning back. I liked coffee. In retrospect, I believe Jesse's true motivation to get me drinking coffee, was so that I'd have a pot brewed by the time he made it in. Eventually my chef had to start limiting my intake based on my nightly level of obnoxiousness. I also learned quickly that if I wanted any sleep before going to the Y the next morning, I had to quit the coffee by 6:30p.m. From Christie's, I moved to Oregon. Right about the time a little shop called Starbucks began a growth spurt that hasn't stopped to this day. Coffee places were everywhere out west much like bars are everywhere here in the Midwest. There my drug of choice came in designer varieties and flavors like lattes, cappuccino, and my personal favorite: mocha (chocolate & coffee. Seriously.... What could be better?). But it wasn't really until I moved back to the Midwest that coffee starting being pared with my lifestyle. The earliest memory where I can match a good time and coffee was when I lived in Door County. On my day off, I'd put my mountain bike on my Jeep and head north to Peninsula State Park for an afternoon of trail riding. On my way home, I'd always stop at Door County Coffee Roasters for a mocha in a hand-made ceramic mug (and a bowl of soup in the spring and fall). That theme transferred over to my moving to Sheboygan where a trip to the kettles to ride always warranted the phrase, 'daddy's riding for a mocha,' as I'd leave the house. Last year when we got Zooey, an Australian Blue Heeler herding dog, brisk morning walks often called for a detour to Starbucks en route to the beach. If memory serves, I even mentioned my Sunday morning mocha a few blogs back where I pay homage to our weekly morning ritual.
Coffee has evolved along with my life. Where it used to wire me for long nights cooking on the line, now its matured into a treat to be savoured during my quieter moments. Sometimes its the treat of an iced mocha after an exhilarating afternoon tearing through the woods. Sometimes its a steaming latte on the couch of a coffee house next to my wife. Sometimes its waking up to fresh-brewed coffee on a winter morning before heading out for the dog's morning walk. All-in-all, its easy to say that my life goes better with coffee.