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Penkava: When coffee becomes a regular grind

I don’t like coffee. I don’t like it black. I don’t like it white. I don’t like it sweet. I don’t like it disguised as a chocolate soda or branded as a Frappa-something or served in a mug that says “Over the Hill and Picking Up Speed.” I just don’t like it.

I even protested when my wife wanted to get a coffee table for the living room. I thought it would be hypocritical. But after much debate, I compromised, and we bought a decaffeinated one. My wife likes it because you can’t tell the difference between it and a real one.

Being a non-coffee drinker, I am clearly in the minority. One study suggested that more than 80 percent of the people in this country drink coffee. Why, odds are you are enjoying a cup of your Morning Thunder as you are reading this. So take another sip of your Cup of Joe as I try to establish some common grounds with you Go Juice gulpers.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to like coffee. I mean, I love the smell of fresh coffee brewing. But, I’m sorry, the taste does not live up to the smell. It’s like going to beautiful Wrigley Field to see a ballgame and then having to watch the Cubs play. That taste has been lingering in my palate for quite a while.

In doing some research, scientists have discovered a few interesting things about coffee. Take, for example, the disparity between taste and smell. When we smell coffee initially, we are breathing the aroma in though our nose. That smell registers high on our brain’s Smell-a-Vision Scale. But when we take a drink and some of the smell moves from the inside of our mouth and up and out of our nose, this activates a kind of “second sense” of smell in our brains that scores a much lower smell score. The result? Primary Smell beats Secondary Smell by a nose, literally.

The other interesting finding is that there is a special gene that some people have in them that allows them to taste a chemical called propylthiouracil. This chemical is responsible for the bitter taste in coffee. The people who lack this gene appear to be somewhat “Taste Blind” when it comes to the yucky coffee taste, so they can handily tolerate it.

The bitter truth is that I’ve obviously got this gene floating around in my DNA. Maybe that bitterness gene also explains why I still hold a grudge against Eddie Haskell for teasing The Beaver mercilessly. The weirdo.

Because of my hereditary coffee disability, I must make various adjustments in my life. I do not take a “coffee break,” I take a “Milk Time-Out.” I don’t go out for coffee and doughnuts, I make a visit to dunk a Double-Glazed Chocolate beauty in a cup of cow juice.

When my friends and I stop at Starbucks, I order a Virgin Caffe Leche … hold the coffee, just give me the foam. Either that or put a few beans in one of those little cups and I’ll just smell ’em. I refuse to stop at Caribou Coffee because I do not think large migratory mammals from the tundra should be made into a Mocha. And to me anything “Premium Roast” at McDonald’s is not a drink, but a well-cooked slab of prime angus beef. With three pieces of bacon, please.

While I do lead a coffeeless life, please do not feel sorry for me as you take another gulp of that delicious Cupped Lightening. Sure, there’s no Mojo in the morning to perk me up. There’s no Rocket Fuel in the afternoon to get me through the day. And there’s no Java to enjoy after a good meal.

But I choose to look on the bright side. My Smell-a-Vision works fine. I’m genetically amped up with taste bud genes to readily detect propylthiouracil. My lactose tolerance is off the charts. And, best of all, our decaffeinated coffee table fits nicely with the high-fiber Amish glider chair we bought at the health furniture store.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He is currently sipping a Double Dolce Lechezilla Latte as he sits next to his decaffeinated coffee table in his high-fiber Amish glider chair. He can be reached at

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