Hello Readers: This is the first section of Chapter 2 of my ongoing novel-project. I thought it would be nice to put it into the world and see what happened. I hope many of you can relate and enjoy. This is a DRAFT and will therefore need lots and lots more EDITING, so nobody panic if it doesn’t read perfectly. As a poet, I plan to scower over every word. But for now just let it wash over you like a good hot cup of Joe.
A Cupful of Joy
I’m kicking my feet wildly. Small tufts of dirt are lifted from below my heels and brought to the air as offerings. The sun, my only deity, is pulsing from his perch in the white sky. I am kicking my feet with vigor, with the energy of ten thousands nights asleep and five thousand fields grazed. I am a dancing goat with a throat full of cherry red fruit I have never tried before.
There are many legends of the origin, or more so the discovery of coffee. The origin is the land, long before it was crushed into animal fat or brewed over a rolling boil; it was the sprout of a rainforest seed, weeded among the roots of taller trees. Coffee was fabled to be the discovery of goats, who danced so vigorously their shepherd, Kaldi, tried the hearty bulb himself. News of a god seed traveled quickly. It was monks who crushed it, roasted it, drank it before their daily prayers. It was a religious experience, first with the earth and then with a more formal god. But the seed, the blackened bean born of flames, was the true god. And his perch in history is prolific and permanent.
Tea totes a more delicate story. One of an emperor resting below a tree sipping piping hot water, the leaves of a breeze rustled branch mingle with his cup and he is enlightened. Better than Newton, whose falling apple locked us in a universe of perfect but rigid formulae; the falling faith of emperors opened the cosmic eye and turned it to the soul. Tea and Coffee came across with the sea on trade ships and with them chains and whips. They, among other exotic commodities of the freshly colonized world, wrapped the growing population in an unquenchable thirst.
It was neither the goats nor the king who bound us in these ropes. It was a misunderstanding. It was a misuse. It was a machine with a mouth eating away the land and wrapping the ankles of an eager age to a knotted and overgrown nest of twisting roots. We are knocking with our hooves at the door of knowledge but we get only sugar grains: the modern latte. Two decades after I was born my lips met the burning bitterness, the smooth consolidation, the frightful bite of an addiction built of love. It was real espresso. Not a latte, not a roast. It was the espresso blend Authentic Coffee Shop hid below layers of sweet and foam. It was a love/hate. It hurt to take it in. A short shot, piping hot and harsh. Flashing into my nostrils and corners of my mouth where my molars are most sensitive. Involuntary outbursts of a howling tongue are nearly necessary. It steals your breath, it tears your eyes, but it returns the favor in richness too hearty to deny.
Coffee. Tea. Chai. Mocha. Java. Latte. Café Au Let. Crème Brule. French Vanilla. Caramel. White Mocha. Matcha Green. These words are meaningless to the average consumer. They are tickets onto their favorite café ride, a far cry from the bean and the leaf ten thousand years in the making. It is a shame. In their naked state they taste crisp and honest. Coffee Black awakens the senses, sparks a furnace deep in the belly, churning a burning heated hearth. Jasmine tea, an ephemeral perfume steeped for a mere moment can drive away the weight of any reality. Suddenly alone, atop a grassy hill beside the first tea tree, twisted with the path of the passing day, and dusting the landscape with effortless fluttering leaves. The scent comes first. A powerful humbling whisper from a simpler time. So few experience that joy, for it is a joy and not a need.
People need coffee. A woman came wandering into the shop one afternoon when the rushes had died down and there was time to share a frivolous conversation. She was draped in hand woven cloth, worn as a shawl displaying the dancing figures of elephants, giraffes and goats sewn wildly with sequins and tinsel laden threads. She looked to me with a trail tired face and asked about the origin of the coffee. I began with my scripted explanation but she stopped me. Is it organic? She wondered, since she was vegan and only consumed foods that the earth sanctioned. I nodded. Yes, I told her, all coffee is organic, at least from Authentic Coffee Shop; we have our own fields and our own treatment facilities. She sighed and readjusted her shawl to absentmindedly flash a pointed shoulder. I will take a cup, please, large and hot. I began my second list of questions. Would she like room for cream or a flavor powder in her coffee? Her eyes widened then settled into squinted wisdom. No, no, just black. If you add anything to coffee it loses its medicinal properties. Too many people live to eat instead of eat to live. I had served one hundred caramel lattes that morning, fifty mocha blended lattes, two hundred coffees with cream and seventy-five chai lattes. And this woman wanted her coffee black, because she knew its secret truth.
I am no prophet—here is no great matter. Coffee is more when less. Most customers had never tried a shot. Never had black coffee, were afraid to sample even a sip. Saying it was too bitter, too burnt. But that was not the coffee, it was the roast they were tasting, smelling, hating. And again and again I would promise there were other options. We offered light roasts and dark roasts, espresso blends and medium roasts that were neither bitter nor burnt. There was no convincing them. They had tried coffee in college out of desperation. The discount barrel of coffee they over-brewed at work was awful and therefore so was ours. So much stigma. I could have never reasoned with them. Most people who drink coffee hate it, and that was just that.
So why do Americans alone spend billions on coffee? How can the industry of the bean span hundreds of nations and drive millions of lives? The answer is simpler than you would imagine. Addiction. First to caffeine, which is not even the main factor, affecting the victim with headaches, moodiness and inability to concentrate. Since coffee is sold on every street corner from coast to coast, in drive through burger joints and gas stations, in bistros and dive bars apart from the cliché café, the consumer need only pick their poison to keep the need at bay. Then there is sugar. Most drinks consist of liquid and some sugared flavoring, account for the main part of daily calorie intake, though few consider them meals. Sugar, arguably as addictive as heroine, requires the victim to consume more and more to quench the ache. Some customers, myself included, consume several coffee shop drinks in a day, racking up calories and fueling a need for more to feel like a treat. And then there is the final and, in my opinion, the most addictive drive. The experience. Walking into a coffee shop is thrilling. The warm hazelnut browns and the bakery-sweet smell of vanilla wrap the visitor in a comfortable cloud of homey belonging. Perfectly coordinated merchandise, menu configurations and crisply-dressed smiling baristas welcome them by name to create a fulfilling personal escape from their dull reality.
It’s not the caramel in their hand they crave, sac religiously sweet sauces mingling with toasty espresso and creamy frothed milk; it is the jolt they need to finish their chores and the escape they crave from their underwhelming jobs and love lives. The coffee shop is a pause in an otherwise fast paced and miserable existence. Whether that existence is university exams with no sleep to spare, or a bottom level job that has yet to pay off. It is a drink moment, a coffee run that America lines up for at 7 am. No matter the drive, the caffeine-sugar onslaught is just a small side effect of getting away. But they aren’t going to a field of frolicking goats dancing in the midday sun. They aren’t going to the solace of a shaded tree in the silent breeze if a quiet afternoon. They are falling back to the places they spurn, an over-sweetened often burnt out cup full of emptiness begetting another and another. An artificially induced commodity built to train addiction in a ginger-bread house of hearth and heart promising happiness if only just another drink can be downed. People need coffee, the faded flower-child told me. I knew it already. People need coffee; they just don’t enjoy it much anymore.