Good Friends, Bad Coffee
Some people are coffee snobs. I am not one of them. So when my friend Bonnie called to ask what kind of coffee I wanted for my visit to her mountain house, I gave my stock answer: “You cannot make it any way that I won’t like it.”
I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
Bonnie and her husband, Bob, had forgotten to pack the coffee from their home in Florida when they set out for the mountains. Intrepid world travelers, they coped with this catastrophic oversight as best they could: They bought the most interesting coffee they could find in Murphy, N.C.
On Saturday morning, a metallic, burnt industrial smell awakened me. Worried, I rushed to the staircase next to my loft bedroom and looked down. No smoke, no flames – just Bob sitting at the table and gravely sipping coffee.
“Put some sweetener in it,” Bonnie urged. “That should help. And some creamer.”
Bob responded with a mumble I couldn’t hear.
She poured some for me in a Fiestaware mug. I took a sip. It tasted as I imagined gasoline might – but without the pleasant bouquet one enjoys while filling up at the self-serve pump.
“What is this?”
She showed me the package: It claimed to be Vietnamese hazelnut coffee and boasted it would make “up to 50 cups.” The price: 79 cents.
“I don’t understand it. The coffee in Vietnam is always so good,” she replied. “Try it with some creamer.” I knew nothing would improve it – and certainly not a slosh of white-chocolate-macadamia-nut-flavored corn-syrup infused with sodium caseinate and carrageenan. I declined and tried another sip, straight up.
My parents raised me right, so I knew I could not insult my hosts. But there was no way I could choke down that sludge in my cup.
Bonnie saw the pained look on my face and said, “How about some tea?” I accepted.
When you’re a thirty-minute drive down wildly switch-backed roads to the nearest store, you need a pretty good reason to make the trip. We won’t debate here whether or not coffee is a valid excuse – because in any case, it would have been rude to ask. I was mostly confident I could maintain a therapeutic blood-level of caffeine by drinking tea instead.
We joked about the bad coffee and I promised to revise my catch-phrase. I thought that would be the end of it.
But I awoke on Sunday morning to the same smell, to Bob sitting in the same chair and holding the same mug, while Bonnie coaxed her husband to add the same enhancements to the coffee that hadn’t helped one bit the morning before.
“Do you want to try it again?” she asked me.
And that’s when I realized something: What I love most about Bonnie and Bob isn’t their serene mountain retreat, their hospitality, or even their affection for me. It’s their sheer belief in hope, their willingness to “try, try again,” even when there’s not much chance of a better result.
That wellspring of expansive generosity is a rare and wonderful thing to behold. It’s a joy to partake of. It surprises me any time I encounter it. And it’s always worth that long and bumpy drive – especially when at the end of the journey, I’m lucky enough to be welcomed and offered a long, deep, and restorative drink.