One of the most vivid memories of my late childhood was when my father finally let me to stay at his table in the Gran Doria café, when it was still located in the dark bowels of a galería in Santa Fe's San Martín street.
I was maybe 12, and I had seen him sit there with a cortado while my mother went shopping with us, or while I went to one of those things kids go to (artistic expression classes? Puppetry workshop?) and it was such a mistery. It was like a three hour hole in my dad's life of which I had no information.
What would he do there? Who did he talk to? Did he read something? And always there, at the table when I came back was an empty small cortado cup.
I suspect that's when I started liking the idea of coffee. I was, of course, an inveterate hot chocolate drinker (El Quillá brand, unknown beyond that city, yet superior in my mind to any others), after a long, long time of drinking warm sweetened milk. And I know I had tried coffee before and hated it, but of course, sitting there, I said "un cortado, por favor". And boy was that thing awful. I did not drink coffee again for twenty years.
I did learn to like tea, or at least tea with milk, and learned, in college, to drink mate like a sponge. Bitter and strong as hell, the closest caffeine delivery mechanism to an IV drip, slow, weak and constant over hours. You have not really been awake until it's 5 AM, you are on your third thermos, and it feels like 2PM. It's like the wrong kind of pill in the Matrix.
But then I moved to Buenos Aires and I was alone. And drinking mate alone is like drinking Vodka alone, depressing and dirty, so I started going to cafés and ordering lágrimas. A lágrima es like a backwards cortado. If you get a big cup and put a lágrima and a cortado in it you will get a decent café con leche. It's a pathetic beverage, only fit for the emotional wreck I was at the time.
But it's a gateway drink. And by 2002 I was drinking cortados. And by 2006 I had my own espresso machine and was some sort of caffeine Keith Richards, doing maybe 10 strong cups a day, buying expensive blends... and then I had to stop.
On January 1st 2008 I woke up at 4AM with intense chest pain. I thought I was having a heart attack. I walked to the hospital and it turned out to be gastritis. This happened again. And again. Not often, but once every year, then every six months, then every month, then four days in a row. And I had to give up coffee.
It was hell. I was asleep all day and awake all night, not having my crutch to modulate my sleep. I was grouchy, and annoying. I cheated. But then I stopped.