I Love Coffee, I Love Tea and Knuckles. There are so many reasons we love this medley! First, it can be played by anyone! For generations, children, friends and family members have been passing on this music from piano to piano. Second, the key patterns on the piano have an irresistible sound! It’s fun to learn and fun to play. And play again…and again!
From a piano teacher’s perspective, it’s a dream piece. Whoever created it deserves big credit! The patterns are highly memorable and teach the black and white patterns of the piano before most kids are ready to read complex music notation. Technically it’s all about non-legato touch, playing with a balanced hand on one repeated finger (usually the middle finger, 3), and Knuckles can teach a wrist rotation to students who have little to no prior experience.
The I Love Coffee, I Love Tea medley has traditionally been taught by rote (by demonstrating and copying the patterns on the piano). So, if your students are still staying safe at home with their families, it offers you a unique opportunity to teach them music that they can teach their family members.
If you’re teaching online and teacher duets aren’t possible because of delays in internet transmission, students might be able to play this simple and enjoyable piece with family members at home. Or, they can play along with the duet videos provided in this series.
Treat the I Love Coffee medley simply as one piece of repertoire that your student is learning, alongside all of the other pieces they are working on. Begin by teaching the music to your student as you would any rote piece. Study the blog posts and watch the videos first for ideas.
This teacher intro post opens up a complete suite of blog posts that you can share directly with your students to help them practice between lessons. Ideally, you would share only one until your student has mastered the music or challenge, and then share the next one. It is recommended that you use the student-centred posts in this order:
Learning and Playing the Duet
I Love Coffee I Love Tea and Knuckles piano play-along — Duet videos [Part III][Coming soon!]
Some fun history on this traditional duet
Most of us learned these amazing, fun black key riffs from a neighbourhood friend or a family member. However, this kind of friend-to-friend teaching seems to be in decline these days, so fortunately, the music is now increasingly being taught by piano teachers!
Unlike another popular rote piano piece, Heart and Soul, few can agree on what this black key music is even called. I recently asked around and there were many answers.
- The Black Key Song
- Fisticuffs (middle section)
- Knuckles (middle section)
- Dr. Faust’s Having Fun with Black Keys (Fritz Emonts’s — The European Piano Method 1)
- Down at Papa Joe’s was the runner-up answer
- I Love Coffee, I Love Tea was the top suggestion
[Down at] Papa Joe’s
A quick online search shows that Down at Papa Joe’s was a popular song by American songwriter Jerry Dean Smith and first recorded by the Dixiebelles in 1963. For many years, this title has also been accepted as the name of the traditional piano music.
It was even performed by a flock of chickens on the Muppet show in episode 207, under the name of Down at Papa Joe’s!
I Love Coffee, I Love Tea
When I asked piano teachers what the title of the music is, I Love Coffee, I Love Tea was suggested most often. It’s currently published by that name in Piano Safari, an American piano method. I wondered — is this name popular because of the method, or is the name as old as the piano music itself?
Another question I had was how old is this music? The earliest date mentioned by people who had learned it as a child was the 1960s. Could this piece be like Heart and Soul, in that the popular song (in this case Down at Papa Joe’s) came first, then people started playing the rote piece on the piano? I needed to know what came first.
Then one piano teacher, Judy Freeman, responded that she learned it from her grandmother who called it I Love Coffee, I Love Tea. Though Judy, too, learned it in the 1960s, her grandmother had also taught the music to Judy’s aunts. A quick consultation with her aunts confirmed that they’d learned it prior to the 1960s by the name I Love Coffee, I Love Tea. This suggests that the music and the title I Love Coffee, I Love Tea both pre-date the 1963 release of Down at Papa Joe’s, and that the popular song was based on traditional piano music that had already been in wide circulation.
Possible words to the music!
If you already play I Love Coffee, I Love tea on the piano, chances are that you sing the words “I love coffee, I love tea” to the last riff.
But when I was younger my mother taught me a longer coffee-tea verse that may go with the piano music! She learned it on the playground during recess at the one-room schoolhouse she attended in rural Nova Scotia in the 1940s. It was also called I Love Coffee, I Love Tea.
I love coffee, I love tea,
I love the boys and they love me!
Tell your mom to hold her tongue,
She loved the boys when she was young!
My personal backstory with this piano medley. As a child I’d already heard other kids playing the “Knuckles” part, though with a different rhythm (in 2 with a faster repeat of the single black keys). Also, it was played up 2x, down 2x, up 2x, down 2x, instead of adding the “Coffee-Tea” ending. I’d also heard friends playing the “I Love Coffee” black-white-black pattern. It seemed to be universally known, even by kids who’d never had piano lessons! Back in the 80s kids seemed to teach this music to each other because many homes had pianos, and schools usually had an extra piano in a room somewhere that kids were allowed to play. I first learned it as a medley of three patterns when I was leading a community group piano program through Acadia University’s music department for their piano pedagogy students in the mid-2000s. A piano dad and his son played it prior to one of our group classes while we were waiting to get started. One week I got them to teach it to me by rote and every few years since then I’ve gone through a spell of teaching it to all of my piano students!
In short, this piece is BRILLIANT! It’s a traditional masterpiece. I hope you and your students enjoy!
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Video of the Week
When Puppy has to Stay (Late Elementary, Level 2). Here’s a piece about a puppy who has to stay at home and wait when the rest of the family is away. Young pianists may relate to how the puppy feels! Whether we’re separated because of pandemic rules or live a distance from the ones we love, we miss our special people and want to see them again! This music can help kids get in touch with their own feelings and develop empathy for others. Because each student is different, Puppy comes in two versions! Younger students will enjoy larger notes and lyrics that will help with the rhythm. Mature students may prefer the streamlined version without lyrics. If you’re teaching online, try this with your Early Intermediate students, as the music is appealing and the patterns will make it quick to teach and learn. Want this piece? Check out the studio-licensed eSheet of When Puppy has to Stay in my shop!