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Coffee Jones

Hooked on one seriously powerful drug

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I just woke up and need a fix bad. Can't think straight, flesh nagging, can't hardly move until my addiction is sated, till the stuff gets in and makes me OK for a couple hours. I begin by boiling water. Find the bag of dope and spoon some of the fine, pungent grains into a paper filter. Run water through the machine until I get dark-brown liquid. Now the drug is ready. I take mine with one sugar and a splash of half-and-half.

So it's past time to wring out the following confessional, to catch up the unhip on the hap and describe my habit. Spring brings motivation, the brilliant weather colored by a luminescent sun, melodious chirps blending with sweet, mysterious fragrances. But instead of enjoying these natural pleasures I spend the morning balled up on our green couch, stuck to CNN, listening to President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and other guys tell me what a great nation I live in.

Then I take some pills and a hot shower to get some minor relief from my chronic back pain, let the early hours wear on and, though I've had two hits of a viable alternative (Coca-Cola) I begin feeling dope sick, nauseated, pukey, eyes burning, head uncomfortably numb, a malaise that makes me want to pump everything out, like regular people do with herbal detoxes, enemas, self-induced regurgitation.

Nothing brings relief, so I go for the Sumatran. Filter up 25 grams of number-four grind (ultra fine) and pour into the machine 12 ounces of fresh water. Heavy dose of heavy stuff. Got it from my primo connection, 30 years in the biz and probably the hottest source in the world, though I haven't actually compared its size to that of the Cali Cartel or the Medellin gang. But the hottest connect, for sure, and everyone knows it.

Maybe a bolus of this coffee will fix me up. The cup that cheers.

Perfect. Four doses of Sumatran with additives gets me right. We stick with artificial sweeteners (blue bags, aka "NutraSweet" and "boy," or pink bags, aka "Sweet'n Low" or "girl"). Refined sugar is damn unhealthy and deeply tied to slavery and environmental immoralities. I mix in about half a bag of blue and an extra splash of dairy juice, figuring the foreign brown will be stronger than standard American.

Habit Forming

It wasn't until I was an adult that I picked up the habit. Within weeks I was up to downing two pots of brew every day, gourmandizing for reasons I didn't understand or care to. Soon, that would lead to the hard C, the exotics that became popular about that time, in the early 90s.

Coffee shares all the best aspects of the other drugs that rule lives. The delivery system is important and varied. I like to draw out a bolus, make it build and last, slow until unsteady. Others hit hard and fast ... a one-ounce jolt of cafe cubano or espresso ... then ride the internal waves.

As for me, I enjoy placing the grounds into the filter, filling the pot, pouring the water through, placing the full mugs on saucers, plattering sweetener and dairy and maybe some scones or shortbread, placing the wood stir-sticks on a napkin aside each serving of dope.

Procedure had less meaning a generation ago when coffee was coffee. Christ, I even drank instant on occasion. But coffee, as we all know, has enjoyed a remarkable upgrade, a complete transformation from lowlife get-by to connoisseur high. Just recently the advertising spokescharacter "Juan Valdez" (played by one-trick actor Carlos Sanchez) has disappeared after nearly three decades of pitching South American product. Sanchez said the pink slip was "like losing a limb." But the era of muddy speed in metal cans has given way to the days of double mocha latte grandes, and someone's gotta pay.

I recall the whole exotic rage exploding about a decade ago. . .Barney's in gas stations, Millstone at the grocery stores, even flavored coffees and creams at the 7-Eleven. Mistos, lattes, ventis, chais, machiattos, americanos oiled with hazelnut and French vanilla and Irish creme. The other day, Honey copped some French dope, Cafe Du Monde, from New Orleans. It's cut with chicory. It doesn't taste so good, but at least it generates a sense of nostalgia.

It wasn't long before I drifted into the scene of Starbucks and the big-chain bookstores that feature coffeebars with all kinds of coffee-based concoctions, plus scones, cake, cookies and other go-alongs. All of it pricey, but that was the haps and I fell hard. Now, even Maxwell House sells gourmet grounds, including vanilla and a fair house blend.

Pretty soon I learned that Starbucks was headquartered in Seattle and hopped a plane to that far-away city, where I immediately hit the streets, tongue a-tingle.

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