of an overconfident coffee virgin
I just discovered coffee a few weeks ago. Sure, I'd had various 'candy bar in a cup' style drinks occasionally, like when I had an early flight lesson, but I had never really gotten into coffee. A few weeks ago, I had a particularly brutal night of kids keeping me awake, so I tried some straight coffee and figured out that while the taste wasn't great, it sure was nice to be conscious before 10AM.
At my office, there are three air pots available. One is labeled simply 'Decaf'. The second one is named 'Normal people's coffee', and the third one is labeled 'Tar - 1+ pulls' (referring to the ground coffee dispenser).
I now drink the tar straight up, and am loving it. The only time I regretted it was a few days ago when, as luck has it on a statistically aberrant regular basis, the coffee was again empty when I got there, so I started the brew process. I put in the 1+ pulls of grinds into a new filter, etc etc, and told it to start. Not having time to wait for it to finish, I diverted a cup full from the initial few seconds of the run.
The stuff that filled my little cardboard mug wasn't so much a liquid as it was a viscous black semi-solid. It became clear after brief inspection that the only thing keeping it fully mobile was the tremendous heat of the boiling water that had made the first careful drips through the fresh grounds. Any colder, I suspected, and the mass would congeal into a cement like mass.
Unfortunately for me, I wasn't quite aware of it at the time. My mind recorded the visuals, sure, and my body went through the motions, but the night before had been tricky ("It's 3AM. Do you know where your kids are?" "Well, I know that ONE of them just threw up on me. Does that count?") so all of this wasn't clear until my later dissection of my memories. If there were a food equivalent of the NTSB, the incident report might have included phrases like "THE VICTIM, HEREAFTER IDENTIFIED AS 'POOR BASTARD', THEN DRANK SOME OF THE PROTO-COFFEE.'
My first sign that something was wrong while I was sipping at it was when I felt my throat protectively squeeze shut, preventing any more of the 'coffee' (and, as a side effect, air) from passing through my neck region.
Still not quite cognizant of the specifics for WHY my body was rejecting the 'coffee', I overrode that part of my brain (using the same neurons, I suspect, that someone who purposely inhales water) and continued to drink.
It was only after a few more seconds of this that my taste buds resolved whatever argument they were having about who would break the news and delivered a message to my forebrain. The message was simple, it was: "STOP".
I slowly began to realize that was I was drinking was not so much coffee as it was a... well, a PARODY of coffee. All the basic taste ingredients were there, but in quantities that exceeded my taste thresholds. It was like a Koala bear crapped a rainbow in my brain. The bitterness of the bean, the heat of the liquid, the amount of caffeine, it all overran the banks of my mind and flooded the surrounding neighborhoods of my soul.
With the last of my control, I carefully stopped drinking and sat back for a moment to examine the magnitude of my mistake. A number of things became immediately clear in flashes of lucidity.
FACT: I was a novice coffee drinker.
FACT: I assumed better familiarity with the properties of coffee then is proper.
FACT: I was out of my league.
FACT: The stuff that comes out of the filter in the beginning is very strong, and it isn't until the sub-strength dregs of water pass through at the end that the 'tar' reaches drinkable levels for someone with my tolerances.
FACT: I had defeated that last mechanism and ingested the equivalent of a critical mass coffee torpedo.
As these became clear, I began to notice twinges of rejection from my stomach, who was just now getting invited into the game as the first turgid drips penetrated. It objected.
My mouth, which usually adopts the typical American half frown (the result of an upbringing that instills the standard issue US Protestant work ethic and leaves every citizen thinking at the back of their head 'isn't there something productive I should be doing?' at all times) had collapsed in itself in response to the bitter brew. My lips curled inward as my skin attempted to grab onto and pull out whatever it was that was causing such taste trauma inside my mouth. My breathing quickened, and my stomach rumbled again.
I set down the 'coffee', spun about, and walked casually to the cafeteria. I managed to force my mouth to uncurl somewhat, but the bitterness of the tar kept creeping back. I thought that I was beginning to experience a form of synesthesia when I thought for a moment that I could actually HEAR the bitterness as I walked, but it turned out to just be a co-worker with an annoying voice.
I walked into the cafeteria, grabbed a plate, ladled some gravy ("Sir, your biscuits!" "No thanks, I take mine straight.") and checked out at the register. $.80 later, I was sitting at a table sucking down the soothing gelatinous flour/fat/sausage mix. In my mind, I could actually see a situational display of the gravy interacting with and defusing the chemical assault on my alimentary canal as it crept downwards. I was briefly impressed with my imagination before realizing that my mind was just taking a Pepto Bismol commercial and coloring the pink parts to look like gravy.
Within a few minutes, I felt immeasurably better.
I wandered back to the machine (which had finished brewing) and considered it carefully. I put the air pot back on its stand and pumped some into a cup. I looked at it carefully, contemplating. What had happened? I asked myself. Will this be the same as the stuff I had before? No, of course not. Intellectually I knew this was true, but a part of my brain continued to whimper at the memory of the bitterness I had tasted. Not being one to pay too close heed to that organ, I decided to try it again.
Of course, it tasted normal. It was true, the dilution that takes place at the end of the brewing process had turned it into something that tasted fine.
Happily, I took my cup and headed back to my desk. I now reflect on the parallels between this and the 'Killing Zone' that new pilots get into. There's a point after you get your certificate where pilots are at high statistical risk of crashing because they get overconfident and before they get the skills/experience to be cautious again. I had entered a sort of miniature version of that, except it was coffee instead of flying. Oh, and instead of dying, I got a tummy ache.
Cliff Notes version:
I drank some strong coffee once, and didn't really like it.