The Holy Grail of Coffee

…and how I didn’t know I was on a Crusade until I found it.

I was one of those Midwest kids that was raised to believe coffee tasted burnt. The few times my dad let me try his morning brew, I must have given him a perfect Bitter Beer face. Even after I grew older I would be tempted by the Pumpkin Spice Mocha Frappamach-whatevers from Starbucks, or the gasoline-colored frothy stuff from gas stations, and I’d be pleasantly disgusted by the telltale burned flavor.

When I was in college, I had three roommates in a single apartment. A fourth—a hipster that squatted four days a week on the couch—worked at Starbucks. Religiously, I might add. His morning prayers consisted of waking me with the tinny grinding of his Starbucks beans. Now, I had heard of the Holy Land: people telling me bitter coffee was a sign of poor construction. So I figured if a die-hard hipster (with just enough curly beard to cover the lapel of his flannel hand-me-down shirt) couldn’t tell me about the secret of good coffee, nobody could.

So I asked him why coffee beans were always burned—especially at Starbucks. His reply? “Oh they aren’t burned. They are a special blend of Bitter Bean that Starbucks uses in all its coffees.”

Okay. Suspicions confirmed. On with my life.

Then I start dating an incredible woman that grew up in Seattle on great coffee. She’d groan about how she wanted coffee, and I’d conjure images of a Green Tea frapp that tasted more of a seaweed milkshake than anything resembling coffee, and would turn my nose up.

So one day she went out, bought a $10 bag of Fair Trade certified Tanzanian coffee from the local 10,000 Villages (which, I might add, was for the price of 2 cups of Grande coffee from Starbucks) and a French Press and brewed me some.

Let me tell you. It was nearly a religious experience. She made it perfect. It tasted delicious black. It was vibrant, full of character, perfect. My throat vibrated it tasted so good. Too bad I wasn’t still in college with my hipster squatter roommate. Bitter beans. Right.

Not knocking Starbucks’ clients. I’m sure the ease of a store on every corner keeps the decision-making to a minimum: good coffee is hard to find.

And the Holy Grail of Coffee? The french press. I grew up with burned perc-O-lator coffee aftertaste in my mom’s morning cheek-kisses and back-of-the-tongue memories of soccer game Saturday mornings with dad’s sipped pick-me-up. One burned cup and every cup is burned.

People spend hundreds of dollars on their Keurig-Cup dispensory coffee. They buy boxes of “single cup” coffees from Starbucks or Folgiers or Seattle’s Best (of which my fiancee nearly cried when she found out they were ground up by Starbucks) and all that disgusting waste. A 200 buck coffee maker that can make only a single cup at a time? Wow. We’ve become dedicated to lazy.

That being said, simpler is better. The simplest, if possible. Good coffee comes from attention. Instead of buying a 200 dollar coffee machine and a 50 dollar 50pack of coffee cups, or a cup of 4.50 burnt ends Starbucks, spend the bare minimum warming (just before boiling) your own water and pouring your own cup. It’s cheaper, it’s tastier, and you get a fraction of the destructive waste of the fast-food coffee.

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4 thoughts on “The Holy Grail of Coffee

  1. I’m so happy that you discovered truly delicious coffee! Let me tell you – I have never cared for the way Starbucks brews coffee – it’s always too strong. I think there is nothing wrong with the beans, because I grind them (very fine – espresso grind – for the most flavor) and brew the coffee myself and I get very tasty results.

    Another thing – as a coffee lover, I really don’t get “drinking coffee for the caffeine”. For me it’s all about taste and relaxation!

    • I ended up doing some research online (which might not be the best place to begin a search) on Starbucks, and from what I gathered the company roasts the beans at a higher temperature. It flash-roasts the beans for distribution, but also burns them. But it could be rumor only.

      I haven’t leaped into grinding my own beans yet. I’m pretty green when it comes to coffee: I haven’t moved past the “french press” stage.

      Since I’m a writer, caffeine is liquid creativity. I must admit I’ve bought it solely for the boost, although when I go to some of the specialty shops in St. Louis, I definitely get a thrill from trying new flavors.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • It’s funny, but I don’t think the caffeine does much for me…in fact I often feel sleepy if I drink it at night. Go figure.

        If you do purchase a grinder, get a burr mill instead. Instead of chopping the beans it grinds them. There is nothing like really freshly ground coffee – much better than if you get it ground in advance. Just grind what you need before brewing.

        Don’t know about Starbucks’ roasting methods, but I see that they have a new campaign for their blonde roast. I’m skeptical. But personally, i like darker roasts better anyway.

        I think it’s more fun to try coffees from small coffee roasters too. And I like to support fair trade when I can. So many coffee beans, so little time….;-)

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