A Cup of Coffee That Brings Tears to My Eyes

By , November 9, 2009

Every great once in a while, whether to comfort myself, or to torture myself—I don’t know which—I make a cup of coffee that brings tears to my eyes.

My mother, Gertie Zeiger, passed away from pancreatic cancer two days after Christmas day, 1998. She was 65 years old. Most boys will tell you his mother was a saint. I believe my mother was one because people have always told me so. A woman of great warmth, she certainly had her faults, but they mattered so little when compared to her virtues. Her type of upbringing has led others to codependency, crime, alcoholism and mental illness. Instead, Mom became a blessing to almost every life she touched, none more so than those of her family.

I’ve spoken before of Mom’s hospitality, of which hot drinks were a central feature. One of those was “fireside coffee.”

I don’t know where she found this recipe. I’m a bit surprised that a coffee-based recipe would have entered the family collection. Coffee wasn’t a feature of our household. No one in the family drank coffee back then. She offered instant coffee to visitors—she wouldn’t inflict coffee brewed by a non-coffee drinker on them.

She made fireside coffee mix and offered it along with other hot drinks. I eventually started drinking it. I associate it with Christmas, so I may have considered it a seasonal beverage.

When I left to attend college, Mom packed a baled ceramic jar full of fireside coffee mix for me, along with a recipe card. After the jar emptied, I refilled it now and then over the years, but I drank it less as I learned to make my own coffee from ground whole beans.

Here is the recipe “from the kitchen of Mom Z,” which is written in her longhand (with my clarification and notes):

Fireside Coffee

1 Cup Swiss Miss*

1 Cup powdered cream (coffee creamer)

½ Cup instant coffee

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

¾ Cup sugar (Note: Optional! I decided against this ingredient October 15, 2015. See explanation here.)

Blend all but sugar together in a blender in short bursts, just until coffee is well ground.** Mix in sugar by hand.

3-4 rounded teaspoons in each mug.

*I’m not sure why Swiss Miss cocoa mix is specified, but it contains less high fructose corn syrup than most major brand instant cocoas, and isn’t as sweet.

**For a non-electric option, grind coffee (which the recipe probably assumes is freeze-dried crystal form) with a mortar and pestle until fine.


The last time the jar had mix in it I literally chipped out chunks of it to dissolve in hot water. That was years ago. Just before last Christmas, I pulled out the recipe and realized that I could make the same drink in non-instant form with less ingredients. I brewed my normal cup of coffee, which usually includes a spoonful or two of cocoa mix. I added a sprinkle each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and whitened it with a dash of powdered milk, since we don’t have instant creamer.

When I raised the cup to my lips, the aroma hit me, and I had to quickly set the cup down as deep sobs overwhelmed me. The smell had triggered such strong memories of Mom that I could barely stand. I found a comfortable seat and enjoyed my drink while submerged in memories of my mother.

I discovered that for me, because of these associations, fireside coffee is a recreational drug. Used judiciously, it can be a transcendent experience, but it must be used sparingly, not abused. And, of course, I should avoid operating heavy machinery while under its influence.

You will not have this same problem. I invite you to try fireside coffee for yourself. May it eventually evoke for you sweet memories that bring comfort in time of need.

Mom would have wanted it that way.

2 Responses to “A Cup of Coffee That Brings Tears to My Eyes”

  1. Beth (Little Sister) says:

    I’m with you this season, too, Mark! Had a comforting cup at work the other day and it really boosted my spirits to have Mom with me. New batch ready to go! Love you for posting your memories and experiences.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Beth, I just made the first batch of the winter myself. Cheers!

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