IN THESE caffeinated times, a café is not just about the coffee. Going to a reunion with an old friend, I asked my son to write down the instructions for the fruit and herbal infusions I consider to be healthier and less confusing than the labyrinthine complexities one has to hurdle to get a cup of coffee these days.
When I was an AM radio intern in the 1990s, Danny, the reporter mentoring me on shoe-leather field reporting, always started our street-roving by parking our rattletrap “mobile” on the gutter so we could hop out and slide into a bench always kept free for Danny, radio man, local celebrity and sweet bear with a sweet tooth for sweet coffee.
That summer was hell. Writing in Cebuano was hell. Reporting on air was hell. What redeemed that time was the coffee-and-fried egg Danny and I shared in his favorite sidewalk café: a tiny table covered with a flower-patterned plastic sheet, topped by a flower-patterned “thermos” and cut-glass containers of instant coffee grains reused to hold instant coffee, the poison of choice for early risers, security guards, office workers, reporters and ulcer-prone interns trawling to meet the day’s quota of stories.
While the vendor’s children and grandchildren shrieked bathing on the sidewalk and skinny cats with interrogator eyes unblinkingly followed our every move, Danny made our coffee, first putting a spoon in the glass so the steaming water from the flowered flask wouldn’t crack the glass (a Danny trick) and dumping sinful amounts of coffee grains and then condensed milk as an afterthought or atonement.
He left the swirling to me because, being Danny, he was in the thick of things: monitoring the news blaring from the parked radio “mobile,” talking to other regulars, pulling the shirt over his gut (we were a tight fit in that tiny bench), hollering to the kids about not missing the flag ceremony, pulling down the shirt again, and drowning his sunny side ups in his Danny signature coffee, “black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love” (an old Turkish proverb used by essayist Matthew Green to describe eighteenth-century coffee served in London coffeehouses). And, yeah, coaching me without stinting on the coffee.
In the mall café, I got out my phone to show the barista the instructions my older son typed for a healthy fruit-infused drink: “no water, no syrup, just pulp, less ice.”
My tongue, picking up a phantom sweetish-queasy taste of egg yolk and coffee lodged behind a tooth, betrayed me. When I gave the order, I asked for extra pumps of syrup and cream in remembrance of a mentor who spared nothing to shore up a young person’s lack of faith.
June 01, 2019
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