I once asked my mother for a cup of Sanka with Sweet’n’Low and Cremora. A few minutes later, she handed me a mug of hot liquid and said, “Here’s your dirty water.”
That sludge I was holding was not, in her estimation, an authentic cup of coffee.
Of course, Mama didn’t think anyone in the United States knew how to make real coffee. The weak, watery stuff Americans drink looked to her like something wrung out of a mop.
Mama was Cuban, and in her domain, only two libations were worthy of the label “café:” a strong, sweet cup of espresso, and a thick, steaming cup of milk with Nescafé and sugar — our beloved café con leche. It could be made even richer by combining espresso and sweetened condensed milk, but that was only for moments when you needed a sybaritic experience.
I thought of Mama last week when a doctor told me to stop drinking coffee, and I heard her laugh right from the depths of my soul.
I’ve been enjoying good strong Cuban coffee since she put it in my baby bottle. This practice was not unusual, and I once read it may be the reason why Caribbean children are seldom diagnosed as hyperactive: we get our Ritalin right from the bean.
Growing up in the States, I horrified my friends’ parents by admitting my days always started with coffee, and I usually enjoyed a few cups a day. “It will stunt your growth!” they cried, and I’m glad it did. At my tallest I was five foot eight, which was enormous for anyone of my ethnic background. As a matter of fact, I once visited some relatives in Madrid, and was chased down a street by some rude, awestruck Spaniards yelling “Gigante!” Had coffee not limited my height, I might have ended up in a freak show.
Coffee coffee coffee coffee.
It powered me through high school and college, when all-nighters were de rigeur, and it fueled me through my crazy twenties, when I worked a nine-to-five job and spent most of my nights in the theater, sleeping no more than ten hours a week.
It was the only petrol in my tank while I was a working wife and mom; without it I could never have slogged in an office for eight to ten hours a day before going home to my real career as a nurturer. It enabled me to drive my kids to their nighttime activities and still rise at dawn to walk the dog. It encouraged me to say “yes” to my husband when I could have rolled over and snored.
Even now, coffee is the elixir that compels me to rise from my bed each morning, and keeps me happy and hydrated throughout these days of retirement.
And the doctor wants me to give it up.
“It’s a diuretic,” he said.
Good. People should pee more often; it clears the cooties from their bloodstreams.
“If you must have your coffee, then don’t sweeten it with sugar. Use a substitute.”
Listen to this bozo, Mama. He wants me to drink dirty water.
“Promise me you’ll try to cut down.”
Dear, sweet young doctor. I’ve promised you I’ll lose a hundred pounds. I’ve promised you I’ll walk a mile a day. I’ve promised you I’ll always sleep with a cpap mask, even though it will make my husband think he’s in bed with Darth Vader.
And now you want me to promise I’ll cut down on coffee?
“I will,” I said. In due course. Right after I see my barista.