It is George’s idea. I go along with his suggestion and feel like I’m crossing a threshold into adulthood.
After clearing away the lunch dishes, our server places two white ceramic saucers on the crisp, starched table cloth and crowns each one with a matching cup. He presents a silver pot and pours the coffee before leaving our table. I reach for the cream and sugar, but George stops me. “You should drink it black,” he says.
We have been friends for six years and are about to go our separate ways for college. He has taught me about music—primarily R.E.M. and Bob Dylan, with a mix tape of various jazz musicians thrown in there. He introduced me to sushi and sake. He took me to my first independent film at the Capri Theatre. And now he’s heading off to Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. I’ll be at a small liberal arts school an hour and a half from our hometown. So I drink it black.
Except for the few curious sips out of my parents’ mugs as a child, this is my first coffee experience. I don’t particularly like the taste. It’s little more than colored, caffeinated water, but I finish it and allow our server to give me a refill.
During the fall of my sophomore year, one of my suite mates mentions how much she loves studying at O’Henry’s Coffee Shop. The next day I’m restless and need a change of scenery (or an excuse to put off my Organic Chemistry homework), so I look it up in the phone book, call for directions and make my way there. It’s situated in the quaint downtown area of Homewood, a city in the Birmingham metro area about 15 minutes from Birmingham-Southern College. It is on a street lined with boutiques, an upscale salon and restaurants. There is a record store next door. I’m immediately captivated with the atmosphere and vibe of the area.
The bell on the door jingles when I open it, and I step out of the early afternoon sunshine into a whole new world. There is wall dedicated to rows and rows of glass cases filled with coffee beans from all over the world. Vibrant art is hung in prominent spots along the other walls and Van Morrison is coming out of the speakers overhead. Students are studying with mugs beside their textbooks, children are drinking hot chocolate while their moms chat over more sophisticated beverages and a couple of businessmen seem to be discussing something very important.
They have several types of brewed coffee, espresso drinks (I’ve never heard of espresso.) and a wide variety of decadent desserts, muffins and scones available for purchase. I order a medium cup of the bold blend—African Classic—and find a place at a small round table. I drink it black.
This is not anything like my first cup of coffee with George or the hundreds of others I’ve had during late night study sessions with classmates at the Denny’s a few blocks from campus. This is much more than colored, caffeinated water. I have discovered real coffee—coffee full of flavor and “floral overtones and citrus acidity.” Before leaving O’Henry’s and the neighborhood that seems to be pulling me into its magnetic field, I fill out an application to work there.
During every shift, I drink coffee, espresso and Americanos. At first I stay away from the flavored coffees and chocolate-y mochas, but I eventually try them only to discover I really do prefer the black options without sugar, milk or whipped cream. Whenever I leave, my hair and clothes reek of coffee. My car even smells like coffee. When I’m not working, I go there often to study or have coffee dates with friends. My love affair with coffee has begun.
…to be continued
This is the result of a writing prompt from Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. It’s a first-ish draft, and there is a lot more to the story which I will most likely work on in the near future. I struggle here with the details about the first visit to O’Henry’s. I don’t remember what types of people were sitting at the tables or what kind of music was playing. I did order African Classic and drank it black. So is this piece truthful? Mostly. I might take those questionable tidbits out and try to reach for more that I really do remember. But now I need to go clean my house and do some laundry.