A cup of cappuccino when my husband makes it is a work of art: a grandissimo clear plastic cup rippling with undulating layers of luscious colors ranging from pure frothy cloud to murky mud. The aroma is arousing; I am tempted to taste. But that would be a mistake. When it comes to coffee, I'm strictly a voyeur; drinking the stuff makes me sick.
It hasn't always been this way. In my teens when I worked as a waitress and then as a journalist, coffee was my lifeblood. I liked it sweet and creamy but I would drink it poured over ice or lukewarm and stale. I lived on coffee the way I lived on oxygen; I didn't really care if it was any good.
Then everything changed. It happened very suddenly when we were camping in the woods and making coffee in a battered tin coffeepot over a wood fire . There's nothing better than waking up in a cool, damp tent, tossing a sweatshirt over your jammies, and sitting in front of an open fire with a blisteringly hot cup of very strong coffee, but that coffee tastes an awful lot better going down than coming up. I'm not sure what caused it (probably not the coffee), but I spent a whole day at the campground either throwing up or trying not to--and the last thing I had injested before I got sick was a big cup of hot coffee.
That was ten years ago and I still can't drink coffee. For years I could get nauseated just by walking past a Starbucks and I couldn't kiss my husband if he had coffee breath. Our household became strictly segregated: one coffeemaker for coffee, another for tea, and a third complicated contraption for cappuccino. One travel mug for coffee, another for tea; one cabinet for coffee, another for tea--and never the twain shall meet.
Over time I've grown less intolerant of coffee and I've even developed an appreciation for that wonderful coffee aroma, but I still can't drink it. The last time I drank coffee was at the 2005 MLA convention in Washington, D.C., wehre I spent two days interviewing job candidates in a very pleasant little nook in a hotel lobby with the coldest floor this side of the Arctic. Halfway through the first day of interviews, my feet were so cold I couldn't think straight, so I wandered around looking for something hot to drink. The hospitality booth in the lobby offered coffee but no tea. I've grown accustomed to the fact that the universe discriminates against tea drinkers, but this time I was desperate so I poured a cup of strong hot coffee, dropped in some sugar, and started drinking.
It took me half an hour to drink half the cup and then I gave up. I felt moderately warmer and more alert, but I also felt as if I might unexpectedly vomit all over the next interviewee, which would ruin his nice Dress for Success suit, not to mention the interview.
Clearly, coffee and I suffer irreconcileable differences. These days, I prefer to watch as the resident cappuccino drinker pours in the foamy milk and then drizzles the rich aromatic coffee over the top, and then the layers of luscious colors swirl and coalesce. It's a work of art, but I have to remind myself that most art is not edible. I drink it with my eyes but when I'm thirsty, I reach for the teapot.