Repost: Once more into the well, dear friends

This is a repost from September 20th, 2004. The average daily traffic back then was REALLY low. So, from time to time I’m going to bring another back out, now that readership has moved beyond a bored medical student with relatively close family ties.

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This weekend I told to someone caffeine was a recent vice. It was subsequently suggested my recent obsession with America’s Favorite Stimulant was less vice and more love at first sip.

What, doesn’t everyone plan their daily menu around each item’s relative stimulating effect?

History teachers would have you believe the pilgrims came to the new land for religious freedom, but could they be wrong? Is there margin for error in the historical consensus? Here’s my modest (and somewhat ridiculous) proposal: they came to the new land seeking something with a little more kick than tea. The Brits are famous for their drinking habits, aren’t they? Maybe the pilgrims were just tired of drinking the yard waste.

While I’m revising history, let us turn our attention to the Boston Tea Party. It has been said the Boston Tea Party was about taxes and choice, but maybe we’ve had the choice part just a little bit wrong all this time. Maybe they just didn’t want tea. We’ve been told our founding fathers were a savvy lot. I’ve also heard that, while they thought democracy was groovy, their trust in the unwashed masses to make good decisions was not terribly high. (How else do you explain the Electoral College?) Maybe they knew coffee was the superior caffeine delivery device, but they didn’t trust the public to make the right choice. Maybe, just maybe, the Boston Tea Party was a clandestine effort to manufacture a little more market for coffee. With Boston’s supply of tea flavoring the already polluted harbor (and making it worse), the people would have to look elsewhere for their fix; nudging them all in the right direction, so that we all might be as enlightened as our Founding Fathers.

“Give me coffee or give me death!”

Know thy coffee

In the office I’m known to some as “Mr Shade-Grown,” based on my advocacy for certain varieties of fair-trade coffee. Don’t mistake me for Mr Green though, I’m filled with imperfections and contradictions.

A year or so ago I switched to brewing coffee with a french press. Part of me just wanted to play around with different methods of coffee brewing, but another aspect of the french press method appealed to me: no more disposable paper filters. Yeah, I know there are reusable filters you can buy for drip coffee makers, but there was something elegant about a french press I couldn’t pass up.

Well, by now you know I’ve been having trouble getting good sleep, and that’s led to a brutal caffeine jones. My thermos of home brew just isn’t hacking it anymore. (Speaking here of quantity, not quality.) That’s how I came to putting in with the coffee club at the office – buying into a share of a Keurig machine, despite my misgivings about its wasteful nature (it’s landfill machine – responsible for a ton of little plastic Keurig cups). Ah, but there’s something else I’ve noticed about the little brewer – something I think tarnishes its “gourmet” claim: compared to the pure flavor from the glass beaker of my french press (and the glass teapot I use to heat up the water in microwave), the stuff that comes out of the Keurig machine seems to have a distinct bouquet of plastic and paper.

It’s official: I’m a coffee snob.

Fluff, courtesy of the magic bean

I am torn. I aspire to be a coffee snob, but I’m finding that some of the equipment is a little too pricey. My first steps to snobbery weren’t too expensive… whole bean instead of ground, a once forgotten coffee (blade) grinder received as a wedding gift, and a French press.

I’ve come a long way from coffee flavored, instant chocolate milk (General Foods International Coffees).

The next step is perfecting the grind… and that’s the problem. Good grinders cost a mint. I’ve read that the key to a good, consistent brew is a good, consistent grind – something that isn’t possible with those food processors masquerading as coffee grinders. I see the results every morning. No matter what I do, the grind is a mixed bag… some beans chopped up to the consistency of flour, other beans untouched. Burr grinders are supposed to be much better… with opposing surfaces which pulverize the beans instead of chopping them up. You can set the distance between the surfaces in order to control the kind of grind you want (coarse for the french press, fine for the auto-drip). I’m toying with picking up a cheap hand crank model, but I hear it takes more effort than I’m willing to spend (at six in the morning) to produce just one cup of coffee. I’ve found lots of less expensive burr grinders (re: less than three significant digits to the left of the decimal point on the price), but the reviews are consistently mixed.

I’ve got my eye on an inexpensive Cuisinart at Amazon, whose reviews are a little less mixed, but I’m still a little leery. Tearing open the long awaited box from Amazon, grinding up some coffee, and getting another bad grind would be more disappointment than I could handle right now.

It’s a good thing I haven’t acquired a taste for espresso. Those things look more complicated than the main engines on the space shuttle.

One of the must see stops on any trip to Florida is The Kennedy Space Center. We’re lucky enough that it’s only a quick trip to the other coast…. This is one of the main engines that flew on the maiden flight of Challenger in 1983. Among it’s 15 flights was the mission that launched the Hubble Space Telescope. I only wish I could have gotten a less obstructed shot.



Spoiling the grandkids, double-aughts style

This evening my son (he of three) asked my wife for “a vanilla bean.”

“Come again?” my wife asked.
(I’m taking a wee bit of license here… she probably just said: “what?”)

“I want a Tall Vanilla Bean mommy.”

Cheryl and I had one of those “meant for you” moments. We each came to the conclusion that a certain mem-may (re: my bastardized, English approximation for in-law alleged, French-Canadian slang – meaning “grandmother”) was taking WAY too many trips to Starbucks on her baby-sitting day.

Mind you, I’m not above a tall, cool, Frappuccino myself (the kind with western civilization’s favorite stimulant – not the cream and ice kind). Still, I think kids oughta be carded at the coffee house door. Although I’m a recent caffeine convert, something about kids under 17 sitting around Starbucks nursing a cup of Seattle’s finest (not to be mistaken with Seattle’s Best) just seems wrong.

Somehow, someway… although I can’t quite put my finger on why… I think we’re sending my son the wrong message. Of course by “we,” I mean someone other than ourselves… that insidious scourge on parents everywhere, more commonly known as “grandparents.”

**Author’s note: My wife insists I mention that the “Vanilla Bean Frappuccino” does not contain coffee or caffeine. While I’m noting, I should also say that Adam isn’t really three. As I told my wife, two just didn’t sound lyrical enough when I started typing. (He will be three pretty soon though.)

Oh yeah!

Yesterday I started up my stimulant habit again. That’s right friends, America’s Favorite Stimulant rides again! The post-chemo heartburn has been a memory for a week now – and many of you know how draining a case of insomnia can be, so it was high time for some fine grind brew.

Ummmm, UMMMM! I love my coffee. Three hearty tablespoons of beans (freshly ground), three cups of water heated to just short of boiling, sugar, Hershey’s chocolate, a pinch of cinamon, three minutes in my beloved french press, and my Thermos-Nissan work of insulation genius… equals gustatory nirvana.

Say it ain’t so Joe!

I was standing in line at Starbucks waiting for a little pick-me-up, in the form of a Grande, Java Chip Frappuccino. I haven’t been drinking much coffee lately, but I was hoping a little iced coffee would juice me through an end-of-the-day grocery run at the Super Target.

I was listening in on a little cross-counter banter, when the green apron clad Javameister said something he shouldn’t: “I don’t drink coffee myself.”

Now I’ve heard it all. What’s next? Will Wild Bill Ford tell us he drives a Toyota (ay Corolla!)?

If I reveal this scandal to the head office in Seattle, do you think I’ll be rewarded for my trouble, or will I be banned for life (my driver’s license photo distributed to every store nation wide for posting behind the register)?

Beware of the label

I went with a loved one to a colonoscopy.

Yes, that’s just as fun as it sounds.

In the lobby there was a sign for “hot liquid” next to a table with a dispenser ubiquitous with America’s Favorite Stimulant. I was more than ready for some stimulating beverage, so I ambled over for a cup.

I have to give them this much: it was both hot AND a liquid. As for any implied guarantees beyond it’s temperature or state of matter… what do they care? They’re not dealing with the most choosy crowd; which is either the post-procedure patient or the pre & post-procedure caregiver. Let’s face it, when you’ve just had your lower GI roto-rootered your first concern isn’t the taste of your coffee. And when you’re laying down to sleep, don’t forget the caregivers of the “recently devolumed” in your prayers. In either case coffee isn’t usually the first thing on people’s minds.

Just goes to show you just how shallow I really am.

Weak coffee diaries

My French press coffee maker broke in the dishwasher this weekend. I can’t tell you how distraught I felt. I’ve asked for a new, larger capacity model for Christmas… so now I can’t go out and BUY something I might get as a gift. That’s bad list-making mo-jo, man.

So here I am, drinking weak ‘drip’ brew, a victim of my own sensibilities… a modern day tragedy in your midst.

Don’t try to bring that weak (stuff) in my house!

It looks like today is the big day… the day James Baker and the Senior Singers release their album of Middle East greatest hits. After having the war up on the lift for a few months, it looks like Jimmy and the boys are going to recommend rotating the tires and driving home – eventually, at some time yet to be determined. Now that’s a bold move.

Speaking of weak (and shifting gears to issues near and dear to my palate) I won’t say other people’s coffee is weak, but after going through my wife’s bounty of fine gift grind, a merely mortal cup of joe tastes like someone rinsed whole beans in a colander and saved the run-off. On the other hand, my wife has suggested that my customary cup is capable of felling any earth-born land mammal (and there are some pretty big ones out there). It looks like I’m doomed to custom brew for the rest of my days. No more mass produced coffee for me!

Just one more reason it ain’t easy being me.

Bogota, we have a problem (another entry about coffee)

I think I have the symptoms of a serious chemical imbalance. Specifically, America’s favorite stimulant doesn’t seem to be working as a stimulant. I am familiar with the concept of tolerance… but this goes well beyond your garden-variety tolerance issue. It’s as if I’ve punched my ticket to bizarro world, or left this plane of existence, did not pass go, did not collect my $200, and went straight to hell. You see I’m strapped in the back seat of a van barreling down the highway towards Orlando, Florida.

*** This is a test of the Vacation Disaster System. In the event of an actual vacation, this alert would be followed by an intervention; to make sure you really wanted to spend your vacation in Central Florida. ***

As it happens the occasion of this trip is not a vacation, but a visit with some blood relations of my in-laws. Anyway, I’m sitting in the van with my knees pushed back into my appendix, sipping some store brewed joe, when I begin to feel drowsy. DROWSY?!? I just sucked down thirty-two ounces like a horror movie monster; I should be wired like the gas tank of a ’76 Ford Pinto hatchback.

I’m beginning to suspect foul play. I can just picture a disgruntled Dunkin Donuts employee indiscriminately slinging decaf to the unsuspecting a.m. customers with an evil gleam in his eye.