Why I Drink Black Coffee

I haven’t always drank black coffee.

Then again, I haven’t always been old enough to vote either. Since I started drinking coffee before entering junior high, I thought taking a beautiful cup of black coffee and contaminating it with milk and sugar was normal. Although I had never actually tasted plain, black coffee, I knew it had to taste awful. It had to.

(To be fair, back in those days probably all black coffee did taste awful because this was the 1970’s and “good” coffee came in a red metal can).

Unlike some folks, I remember the exact spot where I first had black coffee. Well, kind of. I know it was a truck stop in Tremont, IL, during my second year of college.

Back in those days, I drove a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Classic. White on the outside, red on the inside. Although I grew up in Peoria, IL, I attended college about an hour east of Memphis, TN. All told, driving the speed limit, it was about an eight hour drive.

While driving from Tennessee to Illinois, the Oldsmobile began to smoke and quickly overheated. Then it just died. From my vantage point, I was in the middle of nowhere (which accurately describes much of central Illinois).  I pulled over to the side of the road, locked the car, and began to walk. These were the days before cell phones and there wasn’t a store or gas station in sight.

A truck driver pulled up alongside of me, asked if that was my smoking car, and offered me a ride into Tremont. So, I hopped up shotgun and got dropped off at a truck stop in Tremont. I found a pay phone and called my dad — collect. I told him what had happened and he said he would be out as quick as he could. Tremont wasn’t too far from Peoria but it wasn’t a 15 minute drive either.

I went into the truck stop and found a table. The place was packed with truckers, farmers, and one 19-year old college kid. The waitress found her way to my table and took my order: bacon and eggs, coffee with cream and sugar. After a decent wait, she brought the bacon and eggs and the coffee — with no cream or sugar. Before I could say something, she spun around and hurried off to help someone else.

After several unsuccessful attempts to get her attention, I had to make a decision. Do I keep trying and let the coffee get even colder? Or do I suck it up and drink the first cup without cream and sugar?

I’ve been drinking my coffee plain black ever since.

Many times over the last twenty something years, I’ve thought about tracking down that waitress and thanking her. Along with Jesus, mom and dad, my wife and kids, that anonymous waitress changed my life in a noticeable, lasting way. Unfortunately for her, I was a poor college kid and didn’t have much money to leave for a tip. I’ve tried to make up for that ever since.

So, why do I continue to drink black coffee?

  1. It tastes better. This is especially true with the rise of specialty coffee, where you know the farmer who grew and harvested your beans. Just like you wouldn’t add anything artificial to your wine or craft beer, why do so with your coffee?
  2. It not only tastes better, it’s better for you. The milk, sugar, whipped cream, caramel sauce — all of these add unnecessary calories while masking the true taste of the coffee.
  3. It’s easier to make. No blender required. No packets to fumble with or spoons to worry about.
  4. It’s cheaper. Which means you can drink more really good coffee.