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Coffee

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Published on May 14, 2012

His first cup when he was four...

This is an original piece, written and read by Charles Elliott/Beautyseer. Debuted on The Beautyseer Channel, 2012.

Coffee

Kathleen, Eileen, caffeine --
amongst these three, just one great,
lifelong love for me.


I don't have to climb up
onto the kitchen table any more,
as when I was four, those mornings
in that Brooklyn third floor walkup
when my father stirred the first
clouds I ever espied in a cup, then
rushed out to an elevated train,
left behind a pale, sweet mix
cool enough for any child to savor.

Nor am I sidelined anymore to
a bedroom, a mere child sent
to do my homework while all
the stay-at-home mothers
in our new Long Island suburb
gather of an afternoon for what --
so soon after the Second World
War -- they delight in calling their
"coffee klatch."

Yet now I need not ditch school to sit
for hours in a Southern California
coffee shop, sip unlimited refills
with my high school friends and order
one English muffin so nobody
will suggest that we loiter too long
while we definitively debate,
delineate the Meaning of Life.

And I never carouse autumn nights
in Paris any more, nor wander
wee hours with my college friends
through arriving truckloads of flowers
and produce at the old Les Halles market,
nor linger late with a steaming, cheesy
French onion soup and then hours later
over breakfast at the pensione need
the bold bolstering of a bowl-sized
cup of java.

Now no newsroom vending machines
dispense tepid faux coffee into small
paper cups to prop my eyes open
when a phone call at dawn urgently
summons me to a local bombing
or a city council drones on into the night
and back at the office I still have to find
something in it for people to chew over
tomorrow morning over coffee.

I don't really know Britt Hume anymore,
either. Have no obligation to pour
Jameson into elegant Irish coffee
glasses -- his wedding gift when we both
worked for a nationally syndicated columnist
in Washington, D.C. But at our most recent
St. Patrick's Day celebration, nonetheless,
we -- despite his now dubious Fox News
fame -- raised one more toast to his name.

Gone are those days, too, after my
divorce. Lived alone, brewed freeze-dried
for instant gratification and floated
as weightless as a Tang-tongued astronaut,
for years adrift in the blackness of my cups
with no sugar, no real sweetness.

More than a decade gone -- like steam
off a hot cup -- since I first sat alone
at Café duMonde after Preservation Hall jazz,
delighted in chicory coffee and beignets.

And these days I can't stroll into that
Starbuck's in Ft. Collins, Colorado
with my father while everyone cheerfully
greets him by name, and a barista reconfirms
his usual order.

While I know our remaining days
are measured in coffee spoons, I am hazy
on the details. How are coffee berries
handpicked, sluiced, pulped, hulled, pealed
to bare beans? Shipped from the Americas,
Asia or Africa in 132-lb. burlap bags?
Roasted at a hellish 900 degrees for up
to seventeen minutes? Blended? Cooled?
Cleaned? Then packed?

And what of Ethiopia's ancient goatherds,
who guarded their flocks by night --
themselves no doubt wide-eyed and
endlessly counting goats -- who first
noticed on mountain slopes a wild bush
with glossy, evergreen leaves, the plant
their four-legged charges nibbled, then
remained agog all night?

My wife, offered the choice of coffee,
tea or me, prefers decaf tea. So I am
free to select a blend of mild Arabicas
to please myself. Buy whole beans
by the pound, for freshness keep them
in the freezer. Tuesdays, Thursdays
and Saturdays -- even some Sundays --
grind them as needed. Select water
from a two-and-one-half gallon container.
Then, when my old-school twelve-cup
Mr. Coffee drips dark liquid to the line
in the glass carafe, I pour. Add fresh,
local honey -- just the right sweetening.
Fire up my frother, fraught with whole
milk from a local dairy. Pour. Stir. Savor.

Coffee now the world's most
popular hot beverage. Despite
each sampling, every swallow
that leaves us wanting something
more. Although coffee remains
ever tantalizing in its steam,
in the heated ardor of its scent,
its wide-eyed waking dream,
in the sheer beguilement
of an over-promising aroma
that stirs remembrance, lures us
with a familiar, heady air.
In each cup, all those currents,
clouds and continents, everything
still churning.

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