About the Artist
Christoph Niemann’s illustrations have appeared on the covers of The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine and American Illustration. His work has won numerous awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Art Directors Club and American Illustration. He is the author of two children’s books, “The Pet Dragon,” which teaches Chinese characters to young readers, and “The Police Cloud.” After 11 years in New York, he moved to Berlin with his wife, Lisa, and their sons, Arthur, Gustav and Fritz. His Web site is christophniemann.com.
I like coffee so much that I have tea for breakfast: The first cup of the day in particular is so good that I’m afraid I won’t be able to properly appreciate it when I am half-asleep. Therefore, I celebrate it two hours later when I am fully conscious.
I must have been 5 when I first discovered the taste of coffee, when I was accidentally given a scoop of coffee ice cream. I was inconsolable: how could grown-ups ruin something as wonderful as ice cream with something as disgusting as coffee? A few years later I was similarly devastated when my parents announced that for our big summer vacation we would go . . . hiking.
When I was 10 I still hated coffee, but fell in love with the ritual of making coffee. My parents were thankful enough about me fixing them coffee every morning that they overlooked my first clashes with brewing technology.
At 17 I still suffered from coffee schizophrenia: I loved the concept of coffee, but resented the taste. I decided to cure myself through auto-hazing. Around that time, my parents took me on my first trip to Paris. We arrived by train early in the morning and went straight to a little cafe. I ordered a large café au lait and forced down the entire bowl. It worked. Since then I have enjoyed coffee pretty much every day.
When I was 21 I worked as an intern at a magazine. The art director and I would brew a gigantic pot of coffee around 9 a.m. to help us get through the day. The pot would simmer in the coffeemaker, and through evaporation the coffee strengthened noticeably at lunchtime. In the evening hours, the remaining coffee had turned to a black concoction with a stinging smell and tar-like taste. We endured it without flinching.
When I came to New York in 1995, I was delighted to discover deli coffee. At the time, I was focused less on taste and more on quantity and price. Thus, I was in caffeinated paradise. In January 1999 a friend seduced me into switching to latte. Within weeks a considerable portion of my budget ended up at the L Cafe in Williamsburg.
My inner accountant quickly convinced me to buy one of those little espresso machines (for the price of approximately 10 tall lattes). It had a steam nozzle to heat milk, which one should clean very thoroughly after each use. I didn’t have the patience to do so. Within a few uses, an unappetizing, dark brown, organic lump developed around the nozzle. A few days later it had become unremovable, and I reverted to getting my coffee outside.
Here’s a chart that shows my coffee bias over the years. For good measure I have added my bagel preferences over the same period. (1) Drip coffee, (2) Starbucks, (3) blueberry bagels, (4) sesame bagels, (5) poppy-seed bagels, (6) everything bagels Please don’t hold my brief affair with blueberry bagels against me. I cured myself of this aberration.
I order large coffees, but stop drinking when the coffee gets too cold. There’s always a couple of ounces left in the cup, so I can’t just toss it into my wastebasket. I dread the long haul to the bathroom to properly dispose of the coffee remains. Hence you will usually find a tower of paper cups on my desk.
Hot milk greatly improves the taste of coffee, but I find milk foam useless and annoying. My mother (who makes the most delicious coffee in the world), is obsessed with a particularly potent mechanical foam maker. The result is a layer of impenetrable foam, a kind of lacto-stucco. I have to gnaw my way through it before being able to get to the actual coffee. Apart from that she really makes the best coffee in the world.
Once, after a grueling all-day design conference at a university, I was invited to dinner on campus. To go with the various delicious pastas, salads and quiches, coffee was served. When you are craving a beer, coffee is the most disgusting drink in the universe.
In New York, I was always envious of people who could walk into a coffee place and the guy behind the counter would know them so well he would just start fixing their order, without any exchange of words. It took me more than 10 years to get to that stage, but at the very end of my tenure in New York I finally achieved it: I would enter my little spot on Eighth Avenue and, with nothing more than maybe a nod of acknowledgment, my buddy prepared my personal choice: drip coffee with steamed milk.
After a couple of blissful weeks though, things took an unfortunate turn. For some reason he started making the wrong coffee (half and half, two sugars). I knew that if I corrected him, our mystic bond would be forever tarnished. So I swallowed the coffee, instead of my pride.
Source: NY Times