Let Them Drink Coffee

“Give strong drink to him who is perishing.” (Proverbs 31:6)

Barista
Barista (photo: Geoff Gill / Pixabay / CC0)

“The average American is physically, biologically, psychologically, and neurologically unable to do anything worthwhile before he has a cup of coffee. And that goes for prayer, too. Even sisters in convents whose rules were written before electric percolators were developed would do well to update their procedures. Let them have coffee before meditation.” —Ven. Fulton J. Sheen

Ah, espresso!

My mom relished her twice-daily shot, which she’d drink with two demitasse spoonfuls of sugar and a lot of gusto. This was in spite of my dad’s oft-expressed conviction that espresso was una droga — an addictive drug — and that my mom was setting a bad example by indulging in front of her kids. Protective father that he was, Dad made every effort to shield my brothers and me from the siren song of Lavazza Crema e Gusto Classico, Fine Grind. And yet, I managed to acquire a taste for espresso right under my dad’s nose.

The culprit was a homemade confection called “coffee ice.” My mom’s coffee ice contained a little water, some sugar, and a reckless amount of high-test espresso. The stuff had enough kick to power a small-lift launch vehicle. Thankfully, my dad never realized that the brown slush stored in an old ricotta container in the freezer was actually la droga, only in a different state of matter. 

The years passed, and as I grew older, I began to flout my parents’ rules.

I would spend hours on the phone. I would play The Clash at top volume. 

And I started drinking. 

Not beer. Not hard liquor. 

Just espresso. 

I would make a point of enjoying my espresso when my dad wasn’t looking. Not because I cared what my dad thought, but because I didn’t want my espresso experience spoiled by a “dad lecture.”

More time passed. I married and became pregnant. My ob-gyn told me what I should and shouldn’t do as an expectant mother. On the list of things to be avoided was caffeine.

That meant no espresso. For eight months.

My mom knew how much I chafed under the “no caffeine” order. So, when those eight months were up and my daughter Grace was born, Mom walked into my hospital room holding the best “new mother” gift anyone could have given me: a dented metal freezer tray filled with mud-brown ice. 

Now, my mother-in-law had told me that newborns sleep 22 hours per day. And maybe they do ... on Pluto, where a day lasts 153 hours. But my earthling newborn barely slept 22 hours in her first week. 

So I hatched a plan.

Every day, I dropped in on my parents to “show them the baby.” After some grandparental fussing over Grace, my mom would invent an errand for my dad and then, once dad was out of the room, slip me an energizing espresso.

But the once-daily caffeine boosts weren’t enough to sustain this sleep-deprived mom. Soon I was dropping in on my parents several times a day, ostensibly to “show them the baby.” Dad began to wonder about my mental state. So, Mom and I hatched Plan B: She would pour a full day’s ration of espresso into a jar and hide the jar on her front porch. Each morning I’d slog over to my folks’ door like a desert nomad to an oasis, seize the brew and skulk off.

Extreme? Not really. 

Once called “Satan’s drink” because of its mysterious power to sharpen the wits, coffee — like alcohol and tobacco — was thought to promote vice. When the advisers of Pope Clement VIII asked the pontiff to denounce coffee, the pope insisted on drinking some first. His verdict? “This Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.”

Indeed, it would be a pity not to appreciate God’s gift of brew. Enjoy!

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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