I never understood people’s contentions about which kinds of alcohol do what to you, until coffee, as nasty and nationally appealing as my country’s home-brewed religions, gave me a revelation.

Trained to be a skeptic of the vulgar, scientific variety--the kind who criticize movies for their apparent misunderstandings of basic physics and feel very clever for it--I didn't get it. While I was too self-conscious to say so, I always thought "alcohol is alcohol." It seemed ridiculous to think that minor differences in flavor compounds (oh lord) make wine, whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum put you in profoundly different moods and give you variously painful or mild hangovers. It was all, I assumed, superstition.

Then I had a cup of coffee that had a faint but unmistakeable odor of feces, and not only zealously emptied my lower intestine of that substance, but gave me the light-headed sensation that I might fall over walking around the supermarket. In other words, it had all the usual effects of coffee, but worse. It was the most destructively vile coffee I've ever had. What is particularly troubling about it is that the coffee shop that served it to me arrived at this new blend after a rigorous series of taste tests. There were six varieties, and a two-page taste-testing form. What they have carefully blended is something wonderful: a substance so offensive you can blame your mood on it.

With coffee, what is awful (or even, faddishly, offal) can be best. Or quite possibly it’s just me. Whenever I make coffee my father’s eyes bulge out of their sockets and he says, in a vast understatement, “do you think you made it a little strong?" His horror is completely justified. This morning, after tasting the stuff I had brewed, I warned him without exaggerating much that “it’s motor oil.” It was black and searingly bitter, as if the soap hadn’t been rinsed out of the pot. After a few gulps, such things become secretly sweet in the mouth. The bitterness, meanwhile, moves into the blood stream. The body shakes. The mind tears the bearable dullness of the world into a sharp-edged collage. The soul burns. No wonder America loves Jesus and coffee equally: one reportedly saves from the other.

26 February 2012