Robert Cox

Writing on the Wall

Robert Cox is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is RCox@cherryroad.com.


Coffee smells like home

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

I don’t speak coffee. In fact, I hardly ever drank coffee until a few years ago.

Coffee was reserved for emergencies, and when it was necessary, it was the strong, nuclear brew favored by the photo department at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, whose industrial-sized coffee pot was located conveniently next door to the sports desk.

Based on my experience with law enforcement — reinforced by every movie and TV show about the boys in blue — it was the same thick, black tar served in most police stations, hot enough to melt your face and strong enough to power a space station.

Even with copious amounts of creamer — actual cream was never an option — and whatever sweetener was on hand, it never tasted good. Then again, it wasn’t supposed to. It had one job, and it did it well.

I’m no stranger to caffeine. I often feel like I’d be in a continuous fog without it. I prefer it sweet, chilled, carbonated and in smaller doses that can often last me for hours. But the caffeine in that noxious, possibly toxic and decidedly unappetizing concoction served up in the newsroom was far from moderate. It was enough to make your heart race, your eyes vibrate and shave at least a few seconds off your life with every sip.

It would also keep you awake through a long shift, alert enough to wade through mounds of statistical data or miles of copy, looking for typos, misplaced punctuation, or dreaded grammatical errors.

Growing up, the only member of my household that drank coffee was my grandmother. Every morning, she’d prepare her electric percolator with the kind of care generally reserved for open-heart surgery. First, she’d carefully rinse out the pot, which might have a smidge of dust from the day before, then the center pipe, and finally the basket and lid.

Then the pieces were assembled with the care of a master watchmaker. Once everything was in place, she’d reach for her can of Folgers — it was always Folgers — and carefully measure and scoop out the exact amount, determined through some arcane process involving a scoop that may or may not have been older than I was.

Filling the pot with water only took a minute — it was a small one, probably four cups worth — and soon that familiar bubbling sound, combined with that wonderful aroma, would fill the kitchen.

It was the best part of waking up, even if I didn’t drink any of it. That smell meant home.

On Sundays, it also meant that the sizzle of bacon wasn’t far behind, along with the promise of bacon and egg sandwiches before church.

I can still see my grandmother sitting at the kitchen table with her coffee cup, a bowl of grapefruit or cantaloupe close at hand, taking a few moments to enjoy herself before the day officially began.

On those Sunday mornings, my mother would often be bustling around behind her, working to prepare finish breakfast in hopes of getting me fed and dressed in time to make it to Sunday School.

Even with all those memories attached to the smell, I didn’t have my first cup of coffee until sometime after college.

Not being used to drinking it, I doctored it up as best I could. Initially, I wasn’t a fan, but I discovered a trick that made it more pleasing to my palate. Instead of cream(er) and sugar, I’d add a little Swiss Miss or whatever hot chocolate mix was handy.

Years later, I found out this was called a “mocha.” Well, sort of, in the same way that creamer is sort of the same as cream.

Since then, I’ve learned to love coffee in a new way, or at least appreciate it. I still don’t speak coffee, but I have learned a few new words, like “latte,” “cold brew,” and, in my latest adventure, “frappe.” That last one may be my new favorite. I like it with ice cream and chocolate in addition to the espresso, making it sort of a revved-up milkshake.

Coffee is still not my favorite beverage, even doctored up, but thanks to folks who know what they’re doing, it plays more of role in my daily routine.

That wonderful aroma still smells like home.