My high school social studies teacher once led a class on types of government and explained a theory posed by someone (Aristotle? Machiavelli? Elton John?) that the potentially most perfect form of government, when corrupted, could become the worst form. I’m fuzzy on the details, and I’m not getting political (step away from your keyboards!). I only want to say that this is exactly the way I feel about coffee.

It’s the best of drinks and the worst of drinks.

When it’s good, it’s very, very good, and when it’s bad, it’s awful.

You get my drift.

In the right hands, a fistful of roasted beans can become a most excellent beverage, a smooth and deep pool of refuge, especially when sipped from a solid mug on a chilly morning while watching the sunrise and hearing the birds sing. The mere fragrance of it has the power to lift you out of bed and coax you to begin another day. They don’t say “wake up and smell the coffee” for nothing.

Yet this same beverage, when left to languish for hours on a dirty burner — say, in a gas station or in the galley of an airplane — turns into caffeinated radiator fluid, with the power to melt granite and an odor foul enough to cause pigs to cry. Bleh! Likewise, if the brew is so weak that you can see through it to the crumbs floating on the bottom of the cup, forget it. It is not fit to drink. Maybe you can use it to polish furniture, but for heaven’s sake, don’t drink it.

Robin passes to her children the knowledge of how to drink a good cup of coffee in their pajamas.

And then there’s the temperature of the stuff. Just as beer is at its best when it’s properly chilled, coffee is best when it’s piping hot. If it cools down to tepid, I’d rather bathe in it than drink it. It’s got to be strong, but not rancidly strong, and hot, but not lawsuit-hot. And like fine chocolate, it must be smooth, not bitter.

Give me some strong, hot sips, and eventually I’ll be able to form complete sentences.

Now, I’m not one to toot my own horn, but let it be known that I do make a darn good cup of coffee. In fact, that’s the only thing that keeps my kids coming home from college.

I don’t do their laundry, but every morning I will make a pot of coffee. I take heart in that, because when it comes to breakfast, a pot of coffee is about all I’m going to make. Sometimes I sprinkle some cinnamon over the grounds, but that’s the extent of my effort in the a.m. Pajama-clothed bodies will lumber in and out of our kitchen, lured by the aroma of morning, and through half-closed eyes I will point at a box of Cheerios and the French press as I take my hot sips, while visions of waffles dance through our heads.

My kids have learned to respect the brew. And though I have failed in other areas of child-rearing and have not taught them what many people would call “the basics,” I have taught them what makes a good cup of coffee. Sewing on a button, making a pot roast, balancing a checkbook — those are particular life-skills that they will have to pick up on the streets.

As for coffee: Start with good, dark coffee, because quality matters. Don’t skimp on the amount, because quantity matters. Add a dash of cinnamon if you want a nuance of flavor. Drink it hot and fresh, unless you move up to Boston one day and morph into someone (like your relatives) who enjoys drinking old coffee over ice.

Make it strong, make it dark, drink it hot, drink it now, and maybe spice it up a bit.

It may not be the secret to life (although there may be a life lesson hiding in there somewhere), and it has nothing to do with governing bodies, but it is the key to the perfect cup of coffee.

I think it will take them far.

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see