I’ve re-introduced coffee into my life, and it’s decisions like these that put me in my office chair at three in the morning with a bloody nose, stark naked and trying to order the owner’s manual for a 1973 Dodge Dart, an automobile I’ve never owned. I’ve fallen off the caffeine wagon, hard, and I have few regrets. The damned wagon wasn’t taking me anywhere, other than to a few burnt cups of espresso just for the memory, and a sneaking suspicion that the general “awake-ness” my fellow humans have been enjoying for the last several years was not only attainable, but entirely legal, and to get the stuff wouldn’t require spending forty minutes in the five-points teaching impoverished drag queens how to properly walk in heels and not sing Cher with so much goddamn baritone. Long story. Either way, I’ve jumped ship, thrown myself overboard and landed in a big watery analogy that somehow explains that I’ve gone fruity for the real McCoy: fully leaded coffee. Not only does it taste good, it keeps me lucid during those long days in front of the computer, and if I time it just right, I can peg walnut shells at the little toe-heads across the street with startling accuracy.
I originally gave up on the bean several years ago for an undiagnosed health issue. It wasn’t anything heart-related (that I know of), but when bicep curls in the local gym made my brain feel like someone just took a bite out of it, I figured I’d start by questioning the three pots of coffee I was drinking each day. My plight, recapped: First, put on your most buff-looking shirt. Next, head to the gym, and get that pump, bro. Finally, feel a short but intense pain on the left side of your head, and describe it to your wife as, “It felt like someone fucked an electric knife into my brain.” Finally, realize that caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, and that has something to do with the pipes in your head that carry blood, or something, and after a little popsicle-stick math you decide to lock yourself in a meat freezer with Donna Summer’s “Lady of the Night,” and detox out those poisons.
It seemed to do the trick, and for several years I remained bean-free. It wasn’t a blind thing to do, some vapid transition into life as a recovering mocha addict—no poker chip on my keychain or a new haircut for the efforts. My office at the time had a proper shrine to the stuff, a little filing cabinet that held no actual files, just keeping my creamer and my big silver needles aloft. The machine I preferred would brew two of those travel-sized cups of coffee at a time, big double-fisters, enough coffee to finish a term paper in an hour, or in 24, invade Poland. I’d run the machine at least three times a day, six big gulpers of legal speed, my heart doing double time for about six minutes before comfortably resting at a smooth fifteen palpitations per minute. My body became adept, as one does, to the drug of caffeine, and if I didn’t dose up on my medicine, as one does, the headaches would come. They’d barrel over the nearest hill, barbarous savage things with pitchforks and arrows on their tails, and the only warning I’d receive was an annoyed index finger from their leader, the one with the horns. He’d furrow his molten brow, point to my coffee maker, and shout from across the way, “Take your medicine or I’m going to make it hurt to look at the daytime.” I’d nervously drink up the coffee while the beast grinned from ear to ear, feeling like I’d been backed into a corner and fondled.
For years I’d been using caffeine as the antidote for any serious allergy headache, but when it came to drinking the fully-leaded coffee stuffs, I’d wave my hand and explain my abstinence like I’d recently started wearing windbreakers and had joined a twelve step program. The variable states of my stomach had trouble with coffee for a while there too, all the acid and what have you, but once I got it all manageable and justified a daily pick me up—I dove scalp-first into the perverted world of the coffee bean and its various Old World machinations. The first order of business was the coffee bar, and it’s been reinstated with an obnoxious amount of my desktop real estate claimed for the mechanics therein. We’ve got the different jars for different beans, creamer, the french press-pot, and the Chemex, with their demonstrably “hipster-ish” filters that require a double black belt in origami and spacial reasoning just to configure. Don’t forget the grinder either. How else will my office neighbors know that I’m drinking coffee that’s been freshly ground, unless I use a fifteen dollar discount coffee grinder that sounds like a Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon? That’s right, they will hear my coffee grinder and will know that I am their better.
My beans must be of the highest quality, and by highest quality, I mean they must first be spilled on the floor before brewing. Back in my more mid-midwestern days, I spent a portion of my early twenties living with three individuals consisting of both sexes. One of these men was a long bearded granola fanatic who worked across the street at the hippy grocery store, spending his days flirting with the staff, beta testing powerful lotions, and stealing as much “spoiled” merchandise as his weak ankles could shuffle back to our dwelling. One of these items was coffee beans, some sort of dark and oily roast, and in order to get the pricy-for-a-twenty-something brew back home and in our mugs, he’d “accidentally” knock over the dispenser, spilling a pound or two of glorious dark caffeine all over the grimy fluorescent linoleum. The idea was to scoop the top layer of the coffee off of the floor so we weren’t privy to whatever communicable hippy diseases that fell out of someone’s dreadlocks, but I can’t be certain we weren’t brewing up coffee beans that had been seasoned with roll-your-own tobacco and granules of hemp-based deodorant. Our roommate would “accidentally spill” this coffee on the floor for us once or twice a week, and on reflection, there’s no question that he got away with it, as the general manager likely spent his day tripping on acid and trying to typeset his own newspaper with parts he stole from a garage sale.
That coffee made a remarkable impact though, as the stuff was good. Damned good. Remember the flavor after ten years without it, good. I was chatting with an acquaintance via the internet computer machine about my newly embraced addictions, when we started mulling over the thought of those delicious, delicious floor beans. We never knew the name of the coffee, something about nighttime or the dark. The word “midnight” had just swept across my addled brainpan, when my friend typed, “got it,” and linked me to the bean-originator’s website. It appeared that the dirty hippy grocery store was supplied with these beans, freshly roasted, from an outfit right there in town, a joint called Cultiva Coffee, because, well, why not.
I consumed their internet webpages, and discovered a blend called “midnight,” and I could smell the oils and coffee miscellany right through the screen. It was there, that was the stuff, “midnight.” “Midnight” turned out to be the super-dark version of one of Cultiva’s flagship blends, “Saratoga,” the coffee I believe they man their battle-station with for regular patrons. Having canvassed the town many times over when I lived there, I’d never heard of Cultiva, but unknowingly, their magic roast was likely keeping me an unspecified number of steps away from a depression fueled by 90% humidity and a town seized by the balls with college football. Saratoga, there you are, all oily, fit for my new stomach and calling out my name. I immediately ordered two pounds, and contemplated a message for the “notes” field on the order form. “Roast it, then pour the beans on your dirty counter-culture floor.” I abandoned the message though, choosing to remain free from whatever forms of jungle illness and errant granules of MDMA that live at the base of a roasting room.
I’d never frequented Cultiva Coffee, but I can imagine the place. Late thirty-somethings in white tank-top shirts, flip flops, and all manner of tattoo painted on their forearms, sweating into large metal cauldrons, Wicked Witch kinds of things, people approaching middle age and slaving boat-oars through pounds and pounds of magic beans. The spirit of Portland wafts through the rafters, just enough for a cork-board full of local bands with nonsense names like “Mahatma Ganji,” and “Ten Pigs for Fat Dan.” They’re doing it though, they’re making it happen, coffee snobs and espresso freaks stopping in for an argument, the kind of place where a weak stomach is a sign of failure. Silver tables and an immediate lack of air conditioning probably hit you first thing, but you’ll take it—because if you live in this place, you know the “famous” coffee joint downtown is just full of old school desks, flies, and makes watery shit for coffee. They do god’s work, spelled in lowercase, and when I finally tasted their flagship roast right out of my Chemex, I moaned, overwhelmed with the urge to take off my pants, or listen to Brian Eno music while I lose consciousness in a bathtub.