There’s nothing quite like a cup of coffee at four in the morning. Unlike a simple glass of water that quenches thirst or a mug of hot chocolate that satisfies a longing for sweetness and decadence, a hot cup of coffee in the predawn hours is not something separate from my self.
That cup and its contents become part of who I am at that hour. What I enjoy most about that part of me is what someone who doesn’t drink coffee would call bitter. It is not bitter to me; it is a friendly slap on the back, urging me to relax and be calm and watch the world skim by.
The flavor ascribed to coffee that one finds in ice cream and candy and cake and so forth is not coffee flavor, it is the flavor combination of coffee and cream and sugar. There is nothing wrong with that flavor, reminiscent of coffee; it’s just not really coffee flavor.
Predawn coffee, rich and strong and black with nothing added to distract from its core flavor, is the closest thing to honesty I can find early in the morning, before the birds begin to chirp. Its slap on the back is reassuring, but not dissembling; it hides nothing of the day from me as it coaxes me into understanding the day ahead will be what it is. No more, no less.
When that first cup is almost gone and the coffee at the bottom of the cup has gone cold, I debate whether I deserve another slap on the back. Today, I do.