I had a breakfast meeting the other day at the Original Pancake House, 2625 N. Downer Ave. It's a perfectly fine restaurant, but every time I visit, I'm taken back to a time when this building housed one of my favorite long-gone Milwaukee restaurants, the Coffee Trader.
I spent an awful lot of time at "The Trader" during college and into my early 20s. When we were underage, we could sit there for hours, eating triple-decker grilled cheese sandwiches and tiramisu, drinking gallons of coffee and plotting ways to take over the world.
In fact, while tomorrow marks the official anniversary of the creation of OnMilwaukee.com -- the day, 11 years ago, that I began my life as a self-employed guy and got to work building the magazine you're reading right now -- I used to noodle over the idea of starting some sort of Milwaukee city guide at the Trader as early as in 1996.
But I remember one day most vividly at the Coffee Trader. It was the day, back in the summer of 1994, when I discovered coffee.
During college, I recorded my memoirs for posterity, probably for an school assignment or something. Reading them now, they don't make for the most riveting prose, but I'm glad I've still got the stuff.
The way I remember my introduction to coffee is a little different than what I wrote in my memoirs, however. As I recall, I was in a meeting during my summer internship at Johnson Controls, and someone offered coffee to everyone seated around the table. When I asked for tea, the secretary shot me a puzzled drink, and I decided then and there that I would start drinking coffee. I went back to my cubicle and choked down about 32 oz. of it, black, then kept drinking it all day, culminating in about five more cups that night at "The Trader."
My memoirs, unedited for your pleasure, tell a slightly different story and oddly leave out the part at the Coffee Trader, which remains my most vivid memory of that day:
Now, I hated coffee, and refused to drink it because I thought it was a disgusting beverage. I always drank tea, which was both expensive and a little embarrassing. The kicker came at Elsa's one night, when Eron and I stopped for some tea and coffee. Out waitress, Kerri, whom we both thought was pretty cute, said to Eron, "Here's a coffee for Coffee Man." After she left, Eron and I knew that that meant I was Tea Boy. It was time to start drinking coffee.
The next morning at work, I poured myself a tall cup of Glen's strong coffee, and made myself drink it. Then I drank another two more. I didn't really understand the power of caffeine until then. What a fantastic drug.
Funny, I think, that I captured the exact moment in time that I became addicted to coffee. In my defense, I can certainly live without caffeine. I just choose not to.
Do you remember the day you decided that coffee stopped becoming disgusting? The day you acquired the taste for java? Lets here your stories using the Talkback feature below.
Lord Open Road once said, "A loaf of bread, a ring of red, enough said." He never mentioned a cup of joe, a pale imitation which you are given in the missions with a stale donut before you are put out on the pre-dawn streets. When flush, you can luxuriate in a Community coffee shop with a cup of espresso and a piece of chocolate decadence cake.
I have loved the taste and smell of coffee for as long as I can remember. I don't recall my first cup, but I know I used to sneak as much as I could. I even pointed out to my parents that when they allowed me to have a "half-cup" that since the cup was narrower at the bottom I could fill it more than half way up (think VOLUME, not height). Then, while still in the kitchen, I'd drink as much as I could as quietly as I could, refill it "half way", and then walk into the living room where they could see me. That had to be at maybe 7-8 years old.
I was probably 15 or so. I had a Milwaukee Sentinel route, and before school would do it with both my parents (they liked the morning walk, even when it was zero out). After that we'd all have breakfast together before heading off for work or school. At some point in my sophomore year at SHS I switched from cocoa to coffee. My friends and I were also regulars at Marc's Big Boy in Shorewood and weekenders at the Trader, so it could have been one of those times, too. At the Trader it was all about "the Melior pot" (french press)
My first was in the Army. It was awful. Later on, I was stationed in Washington DC and was dating this girl whose parents were from France. When she took me over to meet them in Georgetown, they treated me to coffee from a press. That was the turning point to give coffee another chance and seek out the alternatives to the original cup of mud I had on the base.
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