Coffee

Three times a day I ‘did’ coffee for the residents of an independent retirement community my wife and I managed. All managers were required to make the coffee because the company wanted it made right. They also wanted us to serve it to stay in contact with our residents. And as any waitress will tell you: “There are a million ways to order coffee.” Maybe two million.

First, there is the Caffeine Dimension. As a coffee consumer, you are familiar only with Decaf and Regular. At the community, regular coffee is also known as real, the real stuff, leaded, fully leaded, high octane, high powered, straight, strong, and similar adjectives…or simply brown pot, right hand or the right stuff because that pot was normally in my right hand. Decaf is also known as fake, artificial, wimpy, and dishwater…or orange pot or left-handed coffee because that pot was normally in my left hand.

I took to calling them wisdom and tranquility.

While most coffee drinkers are very opinionated about the amount of caffeine in their coffee, some will mix it up and order the closest pot, the most full pot, the hottest pot, or surprise me. The surprise is usually a mix of both, poured at the same time with some flair. This mixture is also known as a mixed drink, half-and-half, a combo, or a decaf with a kicker.

For many residents, there is the Caffeine/Time Dimension. A restaurant sees only one side of the caf/decaf issue. Even a regular customer usually appears for one meal a day during their shift. Over three meals, caffeine requirements change from sun-up to bedtime. During any given day, some take only decaf. Others want caffeine well into the evening hours. Some want caffeine only at breakfast. Others want it at breakfast and at the noon meal but not supper. Some switch to decaffeinated precisely at noon, some at one o’clock, four o’clock, dark, after the first cup, after the first two cups, or at dessert.

There is the Meal/Time Dimension. When they want coffee during a meal varies as well – immediately on sitting down, with the salad, with the main course, once the main course has progressed, with dessert. When they want coffee to end varies – start to finish, after the first cup, after two cups, etc. Of course, this all varies according to the meal. Breakfast is big for the brown pot and multiple cups. Supper favors the orange pot and a single cup.

Beyond the Caffeine Dimension and the Time Dimension, there is the Amount Dimension.

Beyond the Caffeine Dimension and the Time Dimension, there is the Amount Dimension. The amount of coffee in the cup may seem fixed at a cup – what else? What else indeed! There are the fractions: half a cup, a third of a cup, two-thirds of a cup, one-quarter cup, three-quarters cup. Then there are the whiskey measures: one finger, two fingers and three fingers. Even a full cup may be room for cream or to the brim or simply a FULL! cup.

When adding coffee to a cup there are some creative descriptions for a small amount more: a dab, a dash, a drip, a dribble, a drop, a bit, a splash, a skosh, a slosh, a soupcon, a warm-up, a bit of heat, I could go on…and on.

This brings me to the Heat Dimension. The heat of the coffee is critical to some drinkers. Some want their cup constantly topped off and others wait until it cools. Some dump their coffee into any available glass or switch cups to get an empty cup so they can have hot coffee. Some game the system, taking a partial cup and drinking it immediately. By drinking just a third of a cup, they get hot coffee every time and get three hot thirds without exceeding that one-cup limit they set for themselves.

When you serve coffee every day, you get to know a person and their habits. When you serve them three times a day, you can judge their health and mood by the changes you see. Do they suddenly go off coffee or make a switch to decaf? Ask what the doctor said, because they have probably returned from an appointment at which they were scolded over high blood pressure or diet or whatever.

Maybe they have a sour stomach or they are gassy or some other complaint blamed on coffee. Threats to health are always blamed on coffee. Then you see them backsliding – one half cup at breakfast, just at breakfast, just one cup per meal, and then they’re back to their old habits. The hold of caffeine is strong.

I confess! Sometimes I switched decaf for regular, especially at night when a fresh urn holding three pots of regular coffee would be wasted. No one ever noticed. I don’t go the other way. Some people shouldn’t have the stress caffeine puts on their bodies. But cutting out the caffeine is never noticed. In fact, the flavor of the coffee improves. The taste is richer and mellower. I got compliments!

For myself, I always drink fully leaded, a full cup, warmed as often as I can get it. But that’s just me.

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