Piano play-along duet: I Love Coffee I Love Tea and Knuckles [Teacher intro]

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.

Watch the I Love Coffee I Love Tea and Knuckles piano medley on YouTube! (Clara is dressed up as a mushroom!)

Unit Plan

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 — Learn the tunes [Part I]

I Love Coffee I Love Tea and Knuckles piano play-along — Learn the duet chords [Part II]

I Love Coffee I Love Tea and Knuckles piano play-along — Duet videos [Part III]

Fun Intro to Keyboard Harmony

I Love Coffee, I Love Tea and ‘Knuckles’ Intro to Circle of Fifths [Part IV]

II – V – I is the most powerful chord progression in music. This post shows how to name chords based on the degrees of a scale and how the lower duet of I Love Coffee, I Love Tea can introduce you the Circle of Fifths. This is a great introduction to keyboard harmony!

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.

  • Jello!
  • 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!

The Muppet chickens perform “Down at Papa Joe’s” on the piano!

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 words in my mother’s handwriting.

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!

~ Traditional

Listen to possible traditional words to I Love Coffee I Love Tea on YouTube!

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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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤

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Rebekah Maxner, composer, blogger, piano teacher. Follow my blog for great tips!

Video of the Week

When Puppy gets to Play, Early Intermediate, Level 3. Here’s a piece about a puppy who has waited patiently for their family to return home from work and school and now that they’ve arrived, it’s playtime! The music captures the excitement we feel when we’re surrounded by our favourite people and helps kids play with energy and creativity. Broken chords, staccatos and light touch are featured throughout. This is a companion piece to the piano solo When Puppy has to Stay. Want this piece? Check out the When Puppy gets to Play eSheet in my shop!

9 thoughts on “Piano play-along duet: I Love Coffee I Love Tea and Knuckles [Teacher intro]

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  1. Java Jive (1975) by The Manhattan Transfer was my first introduction to I Love Coffee, I Love Tea. Such joy when I discovered the tune in Piano Safari for my young pianists years later!

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    1. Yes, since I’ve been writing this blog post I’ve been introduced by piano teachers to the Java Jive. It starts with the same “I love coffee, I love tea” words but has a different rhythm and tune than the traditional piano pattern. The Java Jive has syncopations, tied notes and an ascending melody with upward skips that later comes back down. The traditional piano piece has a very steady, almost march-like rhythm with a chromatic tune. Besides the opening words I’m not sure they’re related. And, yes, Piano Safari and the European Method 1 have both printed versions. I’ve seen the Piano Safari’s video on YouTube and really like that version! It’s a great rote piece!

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