Do you remember life before Starbucks?

Published 2012-04-02

Do you remember life before Starbucks? I do and I never want to go back.

When I lived in North Dakota (1993–94) I sometimes got my coffee at the gas station at the edge of town. It was OK in the morning, right after they made the pot of coffee. Uno. Singular. The ONE giant tureen of Swedish gasoline that sat on the warmer until after midnight. God bless the truckers who needed a cup at two a.m. Those fellas were really taking one in the gut for America.

In central Nebraska, where my father was reared and where I spent many years of my life, coffee was often measured in tablespoons per pot. I looked like tea and tasted like the bitter tears of disappointment.

In large swatches of America and through most of American history coffee was a substance to be endured, as a means of receiving life-sustaining caffeine. Starbucks changed all that. Starbucks made passable coffee a commodity.

Nowadays you can get an acceptable cup of coffee at McDonald’s. They had to catch up to Starbucks (because Starbucks is everywhere and this is why we hate them right?) Well Starbucks let North Dakotans know what they were missing and now every civilized person in America is less than two hours away from a cup of coffee less than two hours old. This is called “progress” my friends. There ain’t yet a Stumptown on every corner but Science Marches On. We’ll get there.

I had my first cup of coffee when I was three or four years old. My mom will chime in here to set the record straight. My family was fishing in early spring in Wyoming and I fell in the river. It was cold. My parents put me in the front seat of our ’67 Barracuda with the heat on Full Detroit V8 and gave me the only warm thing to drink: coffee. With a lot of sugar and cream.

I started regularly drinking coffee when I was sixteen years old. My friends and I hung out at the Coffee House in Lincoln Nebraska — this was where AlternaTeens hung out in Lincoln Nebraska in 1987 — and if you’re hanging out near coffee you might as well hang out with coffee.

I’ve had coffee in fifteen countries. I used to live four blocks from the first-ever Stumptown when it was the only Stumptown. There was a time in my life where I could distinguish by smell what country a coffee bean came from. These sentences establish my bona fides so I can confidently assert: Coffee House coffee in Lincoln, Nebraska might be the best coffee I ever drank.

I have drunk between one and four pots of coffee a day since then. I’m down to just one now and I’m calling a truce. Every five or ten years some evil spirit will impel me to think I should cut back or Heaven forfend cease altogether drinking coffee. This never takes. I’ve had times in my life when I went without alcohol — eight weeks on Nunivak Island, the year of my divorce, twenty-one years before I turned twenty-one years old. Not drinking alcohol is easy. But since 1987 I haven’t had, to my recollection, two consecutive days without coffee.

I like coffee, just coffee. Manual drip, no paper, if possible, or French Press (my usual method), or percolator (drank that just fine all through college and then some), or cowboy coffee, or failing all that, an Americano or doppio. But Swedish Gasoline is just fine too. I love it too. When you love someone you love don’t just love them when they’re in a thousand dollar dress and hair that took all morning to do just right, you love them at three a.m. when they have the stomach flu and you have to hold their hair out of their puke. If you can’t love coffee black you don’t love coffee, you’re just dating coffee.

If you don’t like the flavor of coffee drink tea. With your goddamn pinkie sticking out. Like the Redcoats, before we dumped their precious tea into Boston Harbor. Which we did in the middle of the night, all hopped up on coffee.