July 25, 2012

Why My Characters Drink Coffee

Why My Characters Drink Coffee

I had a few readers write to me and ask why my characters drink so much coffee. The first email I got, I brushed off. Maybe they’re not a coffee drinker, I thought. But then I got another, and yet one more. At that point I was forced to give it some thought, so here is the answer.

The Reason My Characters Drink Coffee is…

because everybody I knew while I was growing up drank a lot of coffee. My great Aunt Kate used to put coffee in my baby bottle when I was only two years old. We lived in the city in a small row house and Aunt Kate lived around the corner. She had emphysema and the walk up the hill made her cough. Whenever I heard that cough my feet started kicking, hands waving, and strange babbling sounds came from my mouth. Or so they told me.

From that moment on, the infusion of coffee never stopped. Our whole family loved coffee. My mother used to fix all the kids a cup with breakfast, from first day of school until we were old enough to do it ourselves (second day). And I don’t think I’ve missed a cup since. We lived next to my two aunts, and the one thing I remember is that no matter what time of day I walked into their house, something was cooking and coffee was always brewing. It didn’t matter if it was ten at night when I walked in, my Aunt Rose would say, “You want some coffee, Jibbo?”

When to Drink Coffee

Coffee, in all its variations—espresso, cappuccino, Americana—was the drink of choice at any occasion. At funerals it comforted people, at weddings it sobered them up. We drank coffee when we felt sad, and we drank it to celebrate.

Coffee was never a drink just to “wake up.” That would be sacrilegious. Morning coffee, in particular, was to be savored, and always with a cigarette. (That is still the number one thing I miss about not smoking.) There was usually an almost immediate second cup, then mid-morning coffee, followed hours later by that magnificent mid-afternoon cup. That one, too, was to be savored. Coffee at night was sometimes flavored with sambuca, and if we felt the need, an occasional “drop or two” of grappa.


When I had a heart problem back in the nineties, the doctor suggested I quit drinking coffee. Let me tell you, for almost a year my life was miserable—until I found a doctor who said that was nonsense. I did cut back to about four cups a day, but each cup gets four tablespoons of freshly-ground, heaven-sent coffee, and I savor each sip, down to the last swirl of residue in the bottom of the cup. (Always a glass cup) and it’s always made in a French press.

French Press and Bormioli glass coffee cup

Bottom Line

If you notice my characters drink a lot of coffee, and might even be picky about their coffee, blame it on my family; they instilled this fervor in me many years ago. I’m not about to change now, and neither are my characters. Not even if the doctor says so.



Ciao, and thanks for listening,


PS: My coffee of choice nowadays is from Turtle Creek Coffee Company in S.C. Not only do they produce fine beans, the owner, Mick Carnett, is a hell of a nice guy who cares about his customers. If you talk to Mick, tell him Giacomo said hi.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of Murder Takes Time and A Bullet For Carlos. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 41 loving “friends.”

13 Responses to “Why My Characters Drink Coffee”

  1. I am not a coffee drinker, much to the chagrin of my husband. I don’t even like the smell of it, but I’ll put up with it at Starbucks if it means I’ll get a cranberry muffin out of it.

    um…just out of curiosity, with that much coffee in you, do you ever sleep?

  2. it really doesn’t bother my sleeping. i guess it’s from having it from so young an age. My little 8-year old niece just started joining me, though I don’t make her’s as strong.

  3. I too was infused with espresso and alot of latte from bottle fed days. It amazes me that I could stop a 30 year smoking habit, diet from my favorite Italian dishes. Walked out on a few men after years of courtship and marriage, but I CANNOT stop my relationship with coffee. Needs to be strong and brewed a special way. I was the official cawfee (how we pronounce it in New Jersey) maker and Insalada maker in the family. Coffee like a cigarette is an extension of everything we did. Sadness, happiness, the Aunts coming over all required coffee to validate the moment. In my opinion any Italian that drinks weak coffee is just not Italian enough for me.

  4. You had me laughing with this one, but you’re right. I quit smoking, I’ve quit other vices, but don’t dare try to take my coffee! And I can barely drink it anywhere but home because of how I make it. When I travel, I take mine with me.

  5. Well, well….so once again I see where I get some of my traits from.

    I have a travel espresso maker and goes with me on every trip. 🙂

    The darned thing takes up a 1/3 of my carry-on but it’s a must!

  6. unfortunately, you’re right. Traveling with coffee is an absolute must!

  7. Another great story. We too drank it at an early age and I haven’t missed a day since. We’d dip our toast in it for breakfast before school. I can taste that now. I remember sitting in your Mom’s kitchen on Clayton Road. I can’t say for sure if I drank coffee there but I probably did.

  8. I think we did, Tim. It was a lot of fun back then. I feel sorry for the kids nowadays, growing up in the new ‘subdivisions’ without the colorful characters like we had in Cleland Heights.

  9. One last comment on coffee…….when we found cousins in our grandfather’s hometown of Altomonte, Calabria, I remember Enza telling us that the Ferrieri nickname in the little town is “choccolatera” which apparently means “coffee maker” or “coffee pot.” Explains a lot.

  10. That’s a gretchen story! Love it. Sometimes you grow into your name even if you don’t know what your name means.

  11. That should read “great” story.

  12. What an enjoyable story!! I love the picture I get of you drinking your coffee in your botle at age 2!!! My mom always tells me of how my grandmother started feeding her spaghetti and meatballs as a baby! My Uncle Frank drank a cup of espresso every morning. He said it “woke up his heart.” And he always had a glass of homemade red wine with dinner. He lived into his 90’s so I think he had the answer!!!

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful stories!!!

  13. I agree, Karen. My Aunt Rose, who was one of the ones who lived on coffee, will be 96 in October. Glad you enjoy the story.

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