The Power of Coffee

Last year, sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I was standing in a long line at a grocery store when I smelled a fantastic, delicious smell. It was warm and inviting and lovely and I breathed deeply, trying to figure out what it was.

I turned to the woman behind me—because in the Midwest, standing in the same line for more than five minutes will encourage you to form bonds with complete strangers, even if the new People  is right there on the rack to the left—and said, “Do you smell that wonderful smell? What is that?”

Highlander Grogg“Oh,” she said, smiling. “That’s my coffee.” And—because in the Midwest, this is what people do—she reached into her cart and handed me a shiny bag.

I tried not to get my noseprints on it, but it was tough going. It smelled like butterscotch and hazelnut* and caramel and good mercy it was good.

Except under conditions of severe caffeine deprivation, I’m not a coffee drinker, but I thought I might at least offer it to the other adults in the family so I could stand over the pot and breathe while it was brewing.

Unfortunately, the nice lady made me give it back. There were too many people in line to beg the cashier to find me some—I hate doing that, anyway, unless there’s a price dispute, which may or may not be a Midwest thing—and I didn’t want to wait in line any more, so I let it go and made a mental note to buy some when next the opportunity arose.

Unfortunately, that was the only store around here that carries it, and by the time I discovered this and returned to the scene, I was informed that this particular flavor is seasonal and I was out of luck.


Fast-forward to this morning.

Due to circumstances that were technically-but-who-are-we-kidding-here under my control—a late-night writing frenzy and early morning child wrangling—I was barely awake and running late. So after dropping the Slow-Motion Sloth Sisters off at school, I zipped around the same grocery, trying to find goodies for the short story group I lead at the library branch on the second Monday of the month.

Some of our members like chocolate, some hate it, some are on diets, the library has a budget, and it was suggested to me that store-bought cookies were losing their appeal.  So I’d thrown a half-gallon of cider and some white-chocolate-covered pretzels in my cart, found a brownie assortment and some lovely grapes, and figured I was done.

And then I smelled a happy, lovely, warm smell.

My mental notes usually come unstuck five seconds after I slap ’em into place, but there’s nothing wrong with my olfactory memory.

“Highlander Grogg!” I said, to the confusion of the man next to me, and headed for the coffee aisle.

I found it in decaf first, which is dangerous to give to a group who will be discussing a lesser work of Charles Dickens, and then a bag of beans, which wasn’t the safest idea in my current state.** The only regular bags, as it turns out, were for individual cups.

After doing some mental math—and finger math, too, I won’t lie—I bought eight little sweet-smelling bags of the stuff and called it quits.

Back at the library, I filled the filter of the industrial percolator a quarter-cup at a time,*** added a little roast to make up the difference, and plugged in the machine.

Ten minutes later, two staff offered to clean the kitchen for me, if I’d leave the leftover coffee for them.  It smelled that good.

So good that when it was done, I tried half a cup myself, liberally sweetened.

It’s not bad.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it almost tastes like it smells, my highest level of java praise, since—to paraphrase Garrison Keillor—the best coffee I’ve ever had wasn’t that much better than the worst I’ve ever had.

But the group loved it^ and more than half of them wrote down the brand and the flavor.^^ There were four cups left out of a 24-cup batch, so the branch staff was able to sample it, and I was able to sneak out without swilling the pot.^^^

Plus, I got a blog post out of it, which is a nice bonus.

So while I’m still not a coffee-lover, I’ll admit that it did make my Monday a little brighter.

I wonder if the Berres Brothers make tea?

*Have you noticed that hazelnuts don’t smell or taste like much even when they’re roasting, but mix them with hot coffee and they’re magic?

**Plus, I love this group, but I draw the line at trying to smash coffee beans for them with my giant Have You Given Your Librarian Chocolate Today? mug, which I don’t have and don’t actually know exists, but would adore and use every day, in case anyone with google-fu skillz and a generous nature was wondering what might be the perfect gift to give, say, a librarian and diet Pepsi addict who blogs about Highlander Grogg and HobNobs.

***Note to self: scissors, next time, and ask the dentist to check your bite around the right incisor.

^We digressed from a discussion of the chronology of Dickens’ Four Sisters to one about that $50-a-cup elephant-poop coffee that one of our members had read about last week in the papers.  No one minded much.

^^I did avoid giving them the name of the grocery store—I’d feel guilty, but I still have to find a gift for my MIL, and this just may do.

^^^I did dump the grounds and clean the kitchen first, in case any of my co-workers have found this blog.


25 thoughts on “The Power of Coffee

  1. You lost me at ‘I’m not a coffee drinker,’ but I kept reading because I love you so. (Though a less adoring friend might consider revoking your writer card for such heresy, so you should really keep that bit of information under wraps.)

    Now I see that I should have pulled out while I had the chance. Because of you, I’m off on my own mad search for Highlander Grogg.

  2. The sloth sisters are Tasmanian devils this afternoon. My vaunted patience is – literally – at it’s end. Help a sistah (in law) out with the sweet nectar of the gods…

    • I do get the appeal, but the stuff just doesn’t do it for me. Tea, on the other hand . . .

      The Sisters make me laugh, too, but not at the time (pun totally intended). 🙂

  3. Is there anything like the smell of coffee brewing? When I first moved to Chicago, I lived with four other people, all of whom were actors which as you know means that three out of four worked at Starbucks. They got a free pound of coffee (or was it two?) a month (best job ever!)but moaned endlessly (it was a rather melodramatic group, especially my ex-boyfriend) about the smell, how it got in their pores, how it revolted them, how they couldn’t stand the smell at all.
    Me? I followed them around like a puppy, big stupid smile on my face at their lovely parfum de java. Mmmmmm.

    • Parfum de java . . . I’m sure someone’s thought of this. Now, all we have to do is find it.

      What was that movie with John Travolta playing an angel who, despite his general sleeziness, attracts all these women because he smells so good? A female reporter following him around for a scoop finally figures it out: “That’s what it is—he smells like sugar cookies!”

  4. This post is prescient, in ways not fit for public consumption. Not only do I not drink the stuff, my husband won’t allow me to make it, as, no matter how carefully I follow instructions, apparently my touch renders it undrinkable!

  5. How you could have grown up in our home and not become a coffee addict is beyond me. I can almost taste it form your description, but your dad doesn’t like the flavored stuff. Hence the two coffee pots in the kitchen.

  6. As a coffee purist (no flavored stuff for me, thank you) I read this post with mixed emotions. Still, I suppose flavored coffee is better than none at all, so I’ll give you a thumbs up with an asterisk. (You seem to like those asterisks.)

    But I’ll never get used to the idea of chatting with strangers in the grocery store. This is why God put me on the East Coast, I think.

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