“Half a Cup”

Half a Cup
by Elizabeth Cruz

I asked her, “Ama, puedo tomar poco de cafe?” 8-year-old me, sees my mother drink her coffee in the morning and afternoon, wondering why she loves it so much. She always drinks her coffee in the morning with a Barrita de Fresa cookie and just the coffee in the afternoon. She responded “Ahora no, a tu edad no te conviene, dejarás de crecer.” I looked at her unfazed as I knew it was a lie. But still part of me thought the saying was real so I stopped asking her. I turned 16 last year and my mother commented on how she thinks I stopped growing so I finally could drink coffee without her giving me the side eye.

The first day I was by myself in an unknown place, my mind was automatically attracted to the coffee machines in the CSSSA cafeteria. The three different coffee machines were new to me. Glancing across the cafeteria and I saw decaf, medium roast and dark roast. Heading towards the machines, I then picked the dark roasted coffee because it’s the one that sounds the most familiar to me. Grabbing the cardboard cup and placing it under the coffee machine. My index finger presses down the black handle and see the smoke of the heated coffee rise up into the air. Once it was filled to the top I headed over to where the different flavored creamers were. Pouring in the vanilla little creamers and two packets of sugar, mixing it into the dark coffee that then turned into a light brown shade. I take a sip of it and it tastes like shit. Bitter and unsweetened. Trying again and again every morning to make it taste like home, but it simply cannot give the same taste my mother creates.

The black coffee beans I savor the most come from Mexico. Every cup of coffee has a different taste yet all come from the same ingredients. There is no one way of making it, but coming from my mother, the specificity of its mixture being blended by the temperatures of the heat, and making its way into our freshly woken bodies, is just right. I wonder if my mom tries to recreate a coffee that she grew up with, cafe de olla, which I’ve heard is her favorite to drink. The cafe de olla was originally made from adelitas, the women who prepared and kept steady men who fought in the Mexican Revolution. The pot is made to retain the heat but finds its way to twist its taste into the coffee with its earthy flavor. My family wishes we lived nearby a place that sells the cafe de olla. Instead, the nearest place from Delano, my hometown, is 137 miles away from us in Los Angeles, California, and even then it still doesn’t hold the antique taste as it does in Mexico. The fastest route to get to an antique coffee restaurant in Michoacan, Mexico is 1,868 miles from us. Only being able to go once a year, in December. The air is different, they tell me. It wasn’t until I was actually in Mexico that I guessed they were right.

a photo of the ingredients of cafe de olla, the topic of this short story called Half a Cup
the ingredients (photo from Madeline Cocina; used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 MX)

The scarcity effect, they say, is the feeling of missing something more when we can’t have it. The desire and the excitement that comes with missing this drink is a feeling I’d like to keep and value because it’s something that I know will always be part of the experience when traveling to my parent’s homeland; Michoacan, Mexico. I sit in the wooden chair in the outdoor restaurant located right off the highway. My family sat in other wooden chairs that surrounded the squared table that united us. It’s a restaurant made to attract travelers since it’s so accessible and seen so easily. I glanced at everything I could see as everything I saw was new to me. The paintings fell against the bright orange-colored wall. The trees arched over our heads as they are the ones that provide shade from the sun illuminating the streaks of sun hitting my face. The music in the background was playing loud but not too loud that I could still hear conversations going on. I turn to my right and I see freshly cut wood light with fire that sits hovering comal warming up the handmade tortillas. I look at my dad sitting across from me and see him looking at the comal too. “Tu abuelita tenia un comal como ese, y las tortillas siempre salieron bien sabrosas.” says my dad. The most original and authentic way of making tortillas is with the natural heat of the fire that cooks the homemade dough of tortillas. He said this was the reason he wanted to come to the restaurant. To be able to reminisce about his childhood with the motherly taste of tortillas. I stood in awe as I learn bits of my dad as time goes by. Turning to my left I see my sister sitting and I see her looking at the menu that was the size of a children’s book, having about only two pages. She tells me with excitement, “I’m getting the Cafe de Olla! Ama, todas deberíamos pedir un café” I asked her what that was and she told me, “It’s a coffee that is made in a handcrafted pot that then makes the coffee give off a taste of cinnamon?” She tells me, questioning herself, she then says, “I don’t know, just get it and you’ll see” So I got it. As time passes, we get our coffee. My mom, sister, and I all got different designed mugs. Mine was a brown mug that had hand-crafted green with white flowers painted onto them. I pick up the mug and take a sip. I couldn’t compare it to anything because of its unique taste. It had a hint of cinnamon, and black coffee, and was bitter but also sweet. It was a mix of everything but yet still was the best coffee I have had.

She rises from her long slumber of the night before as her feet patter to the kitchen at 5:00 am. I wake up an hour later and I notice her half-empty coffee cup sitting on the counter. I wrap my hand around the cup and feel the warmth. A warmth that always seems to fill me with chills crawling up my skin. I sip it and feel the light consistency of the melted dark roasted coffee beans warm my insides. Every morning, I find myself finishing her leftover coffee. I glimpse over at her, sitting on our brown sofa a couple of feet away. Wondering if she purposely leaves half a cup of coffee leftover knowing I’ll finish the rest. We never speak about it because the act is of nothing. But I like to think she leaves half of it knowing I’ll always be there to complete it. The fondness of the warm roasted coffee with a splash of vanilla creamer is now the one thing I find myself trying to recreate when I’m away—the power of small actions. The one-act I miss the most is the fine coffee that paints my tongue made by my mother. Still not able to recreate it. It’s strange because it was something that never once crossed my mind. Yet it is now the one thing I miss at home. Awakening, and sensing the dark coffee my mother makes every morning. The aroma of coffee travels throughout the air, filling each room with a scent that is all too familiar.


This is a series of writing to come from the amazing teen writers who were part of CSSSA (California State Summer School for the Arts) 2023. For most, these will be their first publications. 

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