Come on in, and we'll put on a pot of coffee
By Ken Root
"Come on in, and we'll put on a pot of coffee." In our rural and agrarian society, those words offer comfort and solidarity to the visitor. They may be uttered in pure friendship, as a neighbor arrives at your home, or the greeting may mean: "Come on in, you are not alone." No matter the intent, the custom of sitting down and visiting is one of the strongest in our society.
The beverage of choice, coffee, is interesting in its prevalence in our homes. Foreign and expensive for our ancestors, they still found a way to buy and share a liquid that is an acquired taste. My parents had few vices, but coffee was one of them. Marie perked a pot every morning at 6 a.m. with saucers and cups ready for Oren to come into the kitchen, barefoot with only one overall strap fastened, and sit down to "saucer and blow" the hot liquid. She would do the same but a little more delicately and even add some cream and sugar. About five minutes later they would begin talking and the conversation would carry on, sometimes in heated fashion, until he left for chores or his off farm job. The coffee that remained wasn't wasted as they would reheat it that night and drink the strong, stinky black liquid to the last drop.
I didn't know you could become addicted to coffee until she ran out one day and the morning ritual was turned on its head. Neither one knew what was happening but it wasn't good. She apologized for failing to restock and Dad just sat there waiting for his caffeine fix that didn't happen. We had only one car so she took him to work and came back for me. We went to the grocery store and were sitting there when Melvin opened at 8 a.m. A pound of Folgers was all she bought and we headed home where a pot was immediately brewed, one cup consumed and the tin percolator with glass top was loaded into the floorboard of the car as we headed to the Hereford ranch where Dad was employed. As she drove in and he saw her, he walked straight over and she handed him a cup and poured his coffee. He drank it, in gratitude, handed the cup back and we headed home.
There are many cases where "neighboring" is facilitated by a pot of coffee. In the middle of the day it is usually friendly and light but in the middle of the night, it is often due to a stressful situation. Personal loss, emotional upheaval or livestock that need emergency care are often the source of the problem that brings people together at a table where the beverage is coffee and the talk is serious.
There were a lot of Baptists in my home community, so people didn't drink alcohol in front of each other. The value of coffee is that you can jack up the level of interaction without the effects of drunkenness that let dumb statements come out of your mouth and make bad ideas sound good. Everyone is fully aware of themselves and their surroundings and the meeting can end without fear that someone will run off into the ditch on the way home.
Today, kitchen conversation remains the same but coffee has evolved. The days of Folgers or Maxwell House in a percolator have been replaced by new brews in devices that look good, cost more but may not do any better job than that dollar pot you've had since 1950. We had one given to us that was all glass. It started with water in the bottom and coffee in the top and it pulled the water up into the carafe as it boiled. At that time you were to shut it off and the liquid coffee would drain down into the lower pot for service. It was fun to watch but not your everyday device. We used it for night time coffee when we had company. Next up was Mr. Coffee, popularized by Joe DiMaggio on TV. It was faster than perking because it heated the water and dripped it through the grounds into the pot. Still, it didn't taste any better than what came out of the percolator. Now, we are at the far edge of sanity with small coffee packs that pop into an elaborate Keurig coffee machine and come out as a single cup that costs 10 times more than what you'd make yourself. The lowest price for a patented single serving "K Cup" is about 46 cents. Marie would not have that in her house! Even if given to her, she'd have made the number cups contained in the box and then put it out in the shed.
I really hate to say that I am addicted to Starbucks coffee. It is to coffee what "prime" is to beef. The taste is rich and strong to give satisfaction and plenty of "caffeine-crank" to my morning. I just want one a day, but I want it bad. However, what I find most enjoyable is to sit down at the coffee shop with friends and visit. It is repetition of the same scenario as my heritage, good times or bad, the moments at a table, in face to face conversation, while being fully sober and totally awake, are the best of my day.
I see the yuppies at Starbucks, sipping a "moca-choka" latte, sitting alone and checking email on their wireless computer. I wonder if it can be as fulfilling for a new generation to do coffee and Facebook as it was for generations past to do coffee and face time?
Editor's note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.