Coffee. It’s What’s for Breakfast.

25 Oct

My functional work space at home. Luckily a cup of coffee tastes just as good here as in a lavish study.

I am sitting at my favorite coffee shop, at my favorite table, drinking my favorite beverage: Orange Juice. Ha ha! Just kidding. That struck me as funny. (Maybe if they added caffeine to orange juice…who knows? The direction of the entire world could turn on such a thing!) Coffee, actually, is what I’m drinking. With lots of cream. Even better if it’s in a cute mug.

I began to drink coffee in 8th grade at my neighbor Tish’s house. Tish is from Mississippi – which, on Orcas Island, WA, automatically makes a person unique. She is one of those people who loves everybody as if they deserved it, and makes you feel special simply for being you. She drank her coffee with brown sugar and served it in heavy pottery mugs. Whenever I see mugs like that I immediately “see” her tall kitchen stools at her heavy butcher-block table and smell sea-scented air, log cabin and lolloping Black Lab. I felt infinitely grown-up sitting there, chatting away with Tish, holding that huge mug of cozy goodness – which, inexplicably, I drank black.

When I left the island I left coffee behind for a few years and when I picked the habit up again in college my tastes had changed. No longer could I take it straight and bitter, now I wanted it mixed with hot chocolate or cream. LOTS of cream. (But never hazelnut creamer anymore, thank you very much, because somewhere in there I OD’d on it and I haven’t touched the stuff since. I am a fan of Nutella, though – who isn’t?)

So many cute mugs! (These are all my favorites) How does a girl choose?! Each one has a story. The Peter Rabbit I bought for myself because I needed it. (Ha!) And the bird one I bought as a gift but couldn't bear to part with it. The handle-less one is from Berlin - The KaDeWe. The black polka-dot I got at a antique/junk store for one dollar. The Norse one Colin bought for me for Christmas a few months early, then forgot where he hid it for two years. The last bird one I bought on our honeymoon.

I actually did have one coffee moment in high school, from whence cometh my need for so much cream. I was with my mom in Paris, on a Spring Break trip from Berlin, and we ordered espresso and it came in those adorable little demitasse cups that no girl who ever played house as a child could resist. I took one sip from that tiny cup – feeling sophisticated in my pink Nikes and green Benetton sweatshirt – and I think I refrained from spitting it all over my mother, but I’m not entirely certain.

It was vile. I was scarred for life by that tiny cup of French coffee.

But my favorite coffee moment came after college. I met my husband at Covenant Park Bible Camp, in northern(ish) Minnesota. I was the Program Director and he was the Maintenance Director. (That pretty much sums up our marriage duties today as well.) One morning at breakfast in the Dining Hall, my mother (who was the speaker that week) saw Colin drinking coffee. Mom knew – though I think she was still in denial as to the real reason – that I talked about Colin inordinately more than the other staff members I worked with. She had never met this young man, however, so when we found ourselves right beside him (“How did that happen? Huh.”) I casually said, “Mom, this is Colin.” And my mother – bless her heart – said to Colin, “Oh, I see you drink coffee, too.” And she held up her mug, indicating that they were in the same coffee-drinking club together. “Joe-drinkers Anonymous” perhaps, as if this was an exclusive club, a rare and wonderful thing to find a fellow coffee drinker.

I don’t mean to poke fun. I’m sure she was feeling nervous about meeting this, her last daughter’s first real beau, but it just was so funny. So Mom.

My dear college roommate, Rose, gave me this mug when I complained once that I didn't have any cute mugs. Obviously, this need for cute drinking vessels has been an on-going concern of mine. Though the mug is 20ish years old, the chocolate-covered coffee beans are far less elderly. The spoon is from Berlin...and I could not resist it. The coaster is made by our daughter Katie.


“I see you drink coffee, too,” Colin and I will say to each other from time to time over our steaming mugs and we smile and I get goose bumps, because that memory is part of what makes us a family. Coffee – black, sweet, or cream-colored – is intricately connected with the things that bring me joy.

Including writing, here in this coffee shop.

What’s your favorite coffee memory?

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13 Responses to “Coffee. It’s What’s for Breakfast.”

  1. Rose October 25, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    I love this history of how a sweet phrase exchanged between you and Colin came to be. Wow- you have kept that mug for a long time, dear friend! Love you.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 25, 2011 at 10:14 am #

      I considered giving you a “heads up” Rose – but I forgot. I hope you don’t mind me naming you! Yes, I’ve kept it for a long time and it has a tiny chip but I still love it! 🙂

      • Rose October 25, 2011 at 10:57 am #

        I feel privileged. So fun to be mentioned in your blog. :o)

  2. Just A Smidgen October 25, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    This is a lovely story.. coffee is my breakfast as well. Comfort food:)

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

      Thanks! I do add cereal or toast or oatmeal, usualy – because it’s the most important meal of the day, right?!!

  3. Minnesota Prairie Roots October 25, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Oh, dear, I’m not a coffee drinker, so I cannot give you a favorite coffee memory. But I love yours. So sweet.

    However, I wanted to comment on that coaster made by your daughter Katie. I have coasters like that, too, made years ago by my now-grown daughters. As a child, I wove those coasters also, although I called them potholders. I gave them to my aunts on their birthdays. So for me, your post today evoked wonderful memories of weaving on a handheld loom and gifting my aunts with unusable potholders.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 25, 2011 at 9:17 pm #

      Ok, definitely laughing out loud at that! Yes, we’ve taken to calling them coasters because as potholders they are, indeed, pretty unusable! But Katie LOVES making them so it’s all good. I’m so glad that you found a good memory despite the coffee topic!!

    • Robert Topal February 19, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

      I know what you mean I think about family members on there birthdays in the morning over a hot cup of coffee Robert

      • Gretchen O'Donnell February 20, 2014 at 8:02 am #

        Nice to have good images arise from common topics! Thanks for your comment!

  4. Roxanne October 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Gretchen,
    This blog so reminds me of my Grandpa Hayenga. He always drank his coffee with cream, not half and half. In desparartion he would use milk as “poor man’s cream”. In the last decade of his life he always told me that coffee was his favorite food and the only thing that tasted good to him. I had a college roommate that used to entice me to get up early to study or finish a project with a cup expensive coffee she had made for us (this was the days before Starbuck’s).
    …and finally, I can relate to your Paris experience. When I went to NY City on my first buying trip we stoppped to get coffee and the person I was with wanted to know how I drank my coffee…naively I said black…long story short, I added cream and since then I have understand my grandfather’s passion for really great coffee with real cream!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell October 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

      I’m so glad to have inspired good memories! Thanks for telling me about your Grandpa – “poor man’s cream” – that’s funny. I’m sure he’d be proud of your cream-filled coffee!

  5. Just Add Attitude November 1, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    I too like coffee, although I was late convert as until about eight years ago my preference was for tea. I don’t have a favourite coffee memory but when I am in Paris I love to find a cafe that serves a decent grand creme and to sit at a table, by the window, sipping my beverage and watching the world go by.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell November 1, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

      There is probably no better place on earth to drink a cup of coffee (even if the espresso did make my eyes cross!) than in Paris sitting at a sidewalk cafe or near a window if it’s too cold! And, I believe, if you sit there long enough, almost the entire world will, indeed, pass by!

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