Win Otto - how coffee changed my life - #6

My childhood was spent in a home where everything had a price tag on it. My parents boasted how little they spent on each item. Long before product expiration dates became the norm, my mother would wait until the stores back then would decide to let old product go for a song, then swoop down and buy cases of elderly boxed mac & cheese, canned veggies, powdered milk, and instant coffee. I knew something was missing.

During trips to the homes of friends and family,I marveled at the explosion of flavors, aromas, and the beauty of thoughtful presentation. Restaurant trips were few and far between, usually McDonalds.

On the rare occasion when we'd go out for breakfast, my parents would always marvel at the coffee. "Restaurant coffee," they'd exclaim, as if there was some fantastic secret hidden from ordinary mortals.

In a desperate bid to break out of this dreary existence, I joined the military in 1978, where I traded one type of monotony for another. Fortune smiled upon me, and I had the great good luck to go to Italy on a training mission.

My instructor was a much older woman named Myra, who set about teaching me from my first moment in Italy. On my way to the appropriately named mess hall for breakfast, she steered me off base to a small coffee house. I argued that I didn't like coffee.

Myra informed me that I'd never had coffee and owed to to myself to try the real thing. I had my first cappuccino and my first espresso that morning.

The delicious scent of roasting coffee teased me while we stood at the bar drinking our coffee. It was love at first sip. Myra had to drag me away. That trip I drank more coffee than water.

Visits to trattorias, gelaterias, and other culinary attractions further changed everything I'd thought about food and drink. Then we went back home. I mournfully told Myra it was like being introduced to color, then going back to black and white.

She patiently explained that I could enjoy Italian style coffee and other varied delights, but it would take searching. And I wouldn't find them at McDonalds. I sought out coffee houses, looking for that elusive cup that would bring back the magic of that first experience in Italy.

There were so many different roasts! And beans from every part of the globe to taste. After many disappointments, I learned that there wasn't just one coffee I loved, there were many. And the highest priced coffee wasn't necessarily the best. Since then, my gustatory adventures expanded to single malt whiskies, wine, a bewildering array of cuisines, and an appreciation for the people all over the world who grow my food and produce the tools that make eating and drinking not just a necessity, but art appreciation.

And it all started with that first magical steaming cup in Italy. Thank you Myra!

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