…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Sunday, March 12, 2006

coffee achiever

I was feeling sad Thursday afternoon, sad enough that I broke a hard and fast personal rule by going out for a post-lunch coffee. I avoid p.m. caffeine and sugar during the week since both substances wreak havoc with my sleep rhythms—so much as a scoop of ice cream will have me staring at the ceiling and drumming my fingers on the headboard hours after lights-out. So the Thursday afternoon coffee was a devil-may-care treat.

I’ve heard about decaffeinated coffee, but here’s the thing: If I could drink coffee all the damn day long—say, if it didn’t keep me up all night—I would, and I don’t think the increased acid intake would do my stomach any favors. Since my stomach still bears the scars of ibuprofen abuse from my dark days as a waiter with plantar fasciitis—chronic inflammation of the tendon that traverses the bottom of the foot that causes excruciating pain with every step—having taken 2400 milligrams per shift for more than two years, I probably shouldn’t push my luck.

Besides, a November 2005 article in New Scientist reported a study wherein decaffeinated-coffee drinkers showed elevated bad-cholesterol levels, compared with control groups of caffeinated-coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers showing no appreciable difference in cholesterol. It would appear that the robusta beans found in decaffeinated coffee, used because they retain more flavor through the decaffeination process, also produce more fatty acids than arabica beans, your standard source for regular coffee. In other words, real coffee is healthier, dammit. *smirk*

Fascinating facts about decaffeinated coffee:
The decaffeination process was originated in Germany in 1903. When the inventor had his business confiscated during World War I by the Alien Property Custodian, he lost the rights to the name Kaffee HAG, under which he had been marketing his successful product. He reestablished his invention under the name Sanka, combining the French words “sans caffeine.” And it is from Sanka’s packaging that orange became the international color of decaf.

I was an impressionable 16-year-old when the “coffee achievers” commercial hit the air in 1984. Who were the coffee achievers? David Bowie, Heart, Kurt Vonnegut, the Cinncinati Bengals, and Cicely Tyson. At least those were the folks who appeared in montage, while a confident male and a tranquil female held forth:

Male: “You are the new American society: the movers, and the shakers. You are the new coffee generation.”
Female: “Because coffee is the calm moment that lets you think, coffee gives you the time to dream it, then you’re ready to do it. No other drink does that like coffee.”
Male: “Join the coffee achievers!”

Oh, and Electric Light Orchestra’s “Hold on Tight (to Your Dreams)” served as the soundtrack. This PSA was sponsored by the National Coffee Association. But don’t take my word for it—check it out for yourself.

American coffee was a pretty weak brew in the pre-Starbucks era. We’ve since moved on to become espresso achievers.

It was at Starbucks that I sought solace Thursday. The coffee supplied at my workplace is watery and unsatisfying—just like our accountants like it—so us editorial staffers tend to buy coffee on the boulevard. (Most mornings I bring a thermos of extra-strong from home, but it was long since gone.) And I was mighty glad to have been beckoned from my office to Starbucks that afternoon; otherwise I wouldn’t have heard a suited businessman ask, after having waited for his sissy beverage, by his estimate, a full five minutes, “Has the mocha gone on break?”

Though I’ve left my retail and waiting days behind, I reflexively sigh on behalf of service workers dealing with asswipes. I remember their pain. I remember laughing disingenuously when asked by diners whether the kitchen had caught their chicken yet. I remember customers exclaiming upon my approach, “Oh, we thought you’d gone home!” a passive-aggressive way of saying, You’re a crap waiter. I’ve been called worse, like when I was walking down a boulevard in West Hollywood and a guy yelled from a passing convertible, “Oh, my God, you’re our favorite waitress!” In that moment I willed my heart to stop beating.

My friend J—to whom I apologize for this entry since she’s given up the elixir of the gods (among other beverages) for Lent—used to be a Starbucks barista. I asked her if she ever took revenge on unpleasant customers and she replied that when people were mean to her she made their drinks decaf. Having read a harrowing scene in “Trainspotting” in which a pub waitress manages to sneak urine, excrement, and menstrual blood into the food and drink of a particularly disagreeable patron, I found J’s payback positively innocent, even charitable: Assholes don’t need stimulants.

Coffee is one of the few things I can experience daily and still look forward to every time, probably because it was an acquired taste. I like to theorize that the longer it takes to love something, the longer the love will remain. It’s possible that I’m especially fond of this theory because few people like me the first time we meet, but for my part the maxim especially holds true for music: An album I respond to instantly is likely to peak and fade quickly; a slow-grower stands a far greater chance of becoming a lifelong favorite.

My first taste of coffee came at the age of four, in my grandmother’s kitchen. I wanted some of what all the adults were having, so she poured a little bit into a juice glass with an equal amount of milk and plenty of sugar. I took a sip and promptly made a face, or so I’m told.

I wonder how we ever get past our first cup of coffee or shot of bourbon or taste of tofu to discover their peculiar pleasures. How do relationships that begin badly gain the experience and traction necessary to engender love? Whatever magic happens there, my everlasting gratitude, as both a consumer of peculiar pleasures and as a bit of an acquired taste myself—or so I’m told.


Blogger sporksforall said...

I believe that is Ms. Tyson herself in the commercial. People are into coffee earlier now because of Sbucks, a company I love, despite the $5 a pop it costs me to walk in there. Still, I have a certain nostalgia for my Gran's instant Sanka. I am reminded of that every time we visit your folks where instant crystals still rule the day. You've come a long way from crystals to peaberry and like any good acquisition of good tatse, it was totally worth it...

8:02 PM  
Blogger treecup said...

OH MY GAWSH -- I can't believe you found that commercial. People never believe me when I tell them about it. My favorite line is from another version that said "Coffee, it picks you up and slows you down."

11:18 AM  
Anonymous jkt said...

i miss coffee soooooooo much! i almost lost it the other day (twice), i wanted it so bad. do you know how completely unsatisfying it is to wake up in the morning and have a big glass of water? (but great for my skin and hair!). 35 more days...and what are these commercials you speak of? i must go watch it now.

5:57 PM  
Blogger bryduck said...

Sandra's remembered line is fantastic. It reminds me of a line UK music mags used to use in the early '80s: "Heroin screws you up". Nothing like a little understatement to carry your message, eh? (I still have a couple of the ads, which usually featured a picture of some vibrant young lass with a needle in her arm nodding off sickeningly. Great fun!)

3:03 PM  
Blogger alice, uptown said...

I remember the "coffee achievers." The phrase made for a lovely shorthand when I was describing someone too in love with her/his job. I suspect it was coined by an ad exec on cocaine -- this was the 1980s, after all.

As for the acquired taste, my dad started me off with a teaspoon of coffee in my milk at Sunday brunch when I was a kid. (He did not, however, start me off on coke, nor was it ever my drug of choice.)

Tofu, on the other hand, will never hold any appeal. And love? That will always remain magical.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who finds Kurt Vonnegut, of all people, a ironic cameo? I mean, this is a man who often have the theme of marketing being dehumanizing in his books.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow...I'm a coffee acheiever and a smoking achiever...Thanks 1980s!

11:04 AM  

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