Unlike the rest of her family, Mary wasn’t a coffee drinker. She couldn’t fathom why anyone would swig the bitter brew voluntarily. As she pushed her shopping cart past the aromatic bags of exotic-sounding blends, she halted. What in the world would her family like?
It was the first Thanksgiving she’d be hosting the entire family since she’d bought her house. Her three sisters would arrive that evening, and she knew they all required plentiful coffee to function in the mornings. She sniffed bag after vacuum-sealed bag wondering how many different brightly covered packages she’d need to purchase for her family’s long weekend stay. She finally settled on a large plastic can of store brand coffee. Surely that would be enough.
The next morning, she squinted at the label, determined to wow her sisters with her barista skills. As she pulled the new machine from its packaging, doubt flooded her. She sat down with the coffee maker manual and tried to unlock the mysteries of coffeemaking.
Thirty minutes later, her oldest sister Katie stumbled into the kitchen and plopped in a chair. “Is that coffee I smell?”
Mary smiled and poured a steaming cup. Katie took a sip and grimaced. “Is this how you like it? Turkish?”
Mary frowned. “Turkish? Is that a Thanksgiving thing?”
Katie’s coffee sprayed across the table as she half-laughed, half choked. After she recovered, she wiped her eyes. “Poor Mary. We never taught you how to make coffee, did we?”
Like the teacher she was, Katie rose, dumped out the remaining inky brew, and rinsed the carafe. “First, you have to know how many people you’ll be serving and how much they’ll drink.”
Mary smirked. Firstborns might grow up and move away, but bossiness never left.
“First of all, Mary, when you ask five different coffee drinkers how much coffee you should use, you’re going to get five different answers. Everybody’s different. But I’m going to tell you the general guidelines since you obviously, well, you aren’t a coffee expert. The first thing you should ask yourself is, ‘How much coffee for 1 cup? The answer is that an average cup of coffee uses one rounded tablespoon.”
Mary giggled. Katie was just getting started. She’d already switched on her “teacher voice.” Next, Mary thought, She’s going to ask me if I’m paying attention.
“Are you with me?”
Mary straightened and nodded. “Proceed.”
Katie grabbed the can of coffee and set it in front of Mary. “Did you even read the instructions?”
Mary bristled. “Of course I did! I’m not one of your second graders, you know!”
Katie stared at her. “Then…”
Mary huffed. “I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t too watered down. I’ve heard all of you say you like it black. I didn’t think it was going to be black enough.”
Katie laughed toward the ceiling. When Mary didn’t, Katie recovered quickly. “Sorry, Mare. Let me explain it for you.”
She grabbed Mary’s journal and flipped to the blank pages at the back. “Do you mind?”
Mary rolled her eyes. “No.”
In Katie’s best second-grade-cursive, she wrote, “How much coffee for 4 cups?”
“Let’s start here,” she said. “It’s always easiest figuring coffee ratios in multiples of four. That works good for us because…”
Mary raised an eyebrow. “Because we have three coffee drinkers.”
“No, silly, four! You’re a big girl now! You’ve gotta join us!”
Mary shook her head. “Just go on.”
“Okay. So what a lot of people get wrong is the water. They figure, since you’re making a cup or four cups or twenty or whatever, that you need an equal amount of water. Wrong. You need only six ounces for every cup.”
“Why do you only need six ounces? Where do the other two ounces come from?”
“Well, from the coffee grounds.”
“But you said you use one rounded tablespoon per cup. Where’s the other liquid to make up a full eight ounces?”
“Well – I guess that’s because some people like adding two tablespoons.”
Mary grinned. Math had always been Katie’s sore spot. “But that doesn’t make sense. An ounce is two tablespoons, and you’re telling me we’ve got two missing ounces to account for? Not buying it, sis. You got some ‘splaining to do.”
Katie shook her tousled curls. “Forget it! So some things about coffee don’t make sense. I don’t know why different people say a cup of coffee is six ounces. They just do. Can I go on?”
“Promise you won’t force feed me coffee? Go on.”
“So the easiest way to figure coffee measurements is in multiples of four. For four cups of coffee, you use three cups of water and four tablespoons of coffee.”
Mary nodded. “So how much coffee for 40 cups?”
Katie glared at her and bent over the journal, working the math. “Brat.”
Mary giggled. “You’d need one gallon and fourteen cups of water, and – let’s see – two cups and eight tablespoons of coffee.”
Katie stared. “How’d you do that?”
“I was a math major! I’m not one of your second graders!”
Katie sat back. “So let me quiz you. Be easy on me, Little Miss Smarty-pants, while I work these out.”
“How much coffee for 12 cups?”
Mary smiled. “Twelve tablespoon of coffee and nine cups of water.”
“How much coffee for 2 cups?”
“Two tablespoons coffee, one cup four ounces of water.”
“Okay, how much coffee for 8 cups?”
“Umm, eight tablespoons of coffee, six cups of water.”
“How much coffee for 6 cups?”
“Six tablespoons of coffee, six cups six ounces of water.”
“How much coffee for 10 cups?”
“Ten tablespoons coffee, seven cups four ounces of water.”
Katie’s jaw dropped. “You’re good.”
“Why, thank you! Means a lot coming from you.”
“Thank you. Okay, drumroll. How much coffee for 30 cups?”
Mary grinned. “One gallon and six cups of water, and one cup 14 tablespoons of coffee.”
Katie was silent as their sister Beth walked into the room. Mary rose to fill the coffeepot. Beth yawned. “What’d I miss?”
“Oh, nothing. Katie was just teaching me about coffee.” Mary smiled innocently.
“Oh, good!” said Beth. “I was wanting to ask you since we talked last, Katie.