Friday, August 18, 2006

Coffee is one of the things I am passionate about. Actually, it seems this blog is becoming full of things that I’m passionate about[1]. Coffee has to be in the top 5, though.

I sometimes think of individual days as having a Suck Factor. A day with a Suck Factor of 10, for instance, means the day sucks the absolute worst, and a day with a Suck Factor of 0 is any day you get laid. I think that not having any coffee on a given day automatically adds +2 to the day’s Suck Factor (unless, of course, you get laid that day).

So you get the idea: I like coffee. I would say that I’m addicted to coffee, except that I have real addictions, and coffee ain’t one of them. I do get caffeine withdrawal symptoms if I go without it (horrible headaches, if you’ve never done it), and I do obsess about coffee if I don’t have it, but it certainly doesn’t rule my life. I am passionate about it, however, so I’m going to be discussing coffee from a depressed and impoverished person’s point of view.

Kinds of Coffee

I’m going to try to not go overboard here and make this a connoisseur’s treatise, but I do want to talk a little about types of coffee. Store coffee is what I call the commonly available brands of coffee in the U.S. These include Folgers, Maxwell House, and other brands whose names escape me because they don’t spend bazillions of money in advertising. Now, I have two seemingly contradictory things to say about American store coffee: one is that “American coffee” is an oxymoron, and the other is that it’s wonderful to have store coffee if you don’t have good coffee. I would kill for some Folgers Classic Roast right now. Speaking of which, a recent trend in store coffee has been to offer various types and blends of coffee under the parent brand name. Folgers, for instance, currently offers Breakfast Blend, Classic Roast, Special Roast, 100% Columbian, French Roast, Gourmet Supreme, and some decaf and flavored varieties whose names I will not utter here. This is good news for us coffee snobs. I recommend the “100% Columbian” brand, by the way; it’s fuller-bodied than the “Classic Roast” blend[2].

Specialty coffee is one of the names I have for the coffee you can find in coffee shops. This category includes both the single-bean coffees and the blends. If you’re a malt whiskey drinker, the single-bean coffees correspond exactly to single-malt scotches, and the blends to blended Scotch. I prefer single-bean coffees, and here are the best, in my opinion:

3 Best Coffees

  1. Kenya AA (floral and delicate; don’t get it roasted too dark)
  2. Tanzania Peaberry (another African coffee, less delicate than the Kenya)
  3. Costa Rica (a good all-around coffee if it’s roasted dark[3] enough)

I shudder to mention the following two items, but I will anyway. To me, drinking decaffeinated coffee is like kissing your sister: the “what” is fine, but you need to change the “who”. Drink it if you must. And as for flavored coffees, I won’t even discuss them except to say that if you drink them, you’re excused only if you’re female and you’re cute. I hate hazelnut coffee. Stop serving it to me when I come over. Buy real coffee.

Coffee-Like Substances

If you don’t have coffee, coffee-like substances are a poor substitute, but much better than nothing. These items include tea, instant coffee, and desperation coffee.

Instant coffee is at the top of the CLS list. It tastes like real coffee in the same way that instant non-fat dry milk tastes like real milk: not very damn much. However, it tastes a lot better when you’re broke and out of real coffee. I never buy it, because I always buy good coffee instead, but I always wish I had it on Day One of no coffee.

If you’re a devoted tea drinker, you probably know lots more about it than I do. If you’re not, and you’re just out of coffee and want caffeine, then read on. Black tea is the tea of choice for impoverished coffee drinkers, because it has caffeine and can be made strong enough to resemble weak coffee. Other kinds of tea have the benefit of being hot beverages, but beyond that, it’s purely a matter of taste – you like it or you don’t. I’m here to tell you, however, that even if you have the world’s worst-tasting herbal tea in your pantry, if you’re poor you’ll end up drinking it at some point in your life, usually on the second or third day without real coffee. As I said, it’s hot. It sort of ends up being a coffee placebo, and may make you feel a little better.

I have discovered two kinds of desperation coffee: recycled grounds coffee and hot water coffee. Recycled grounds coffee is pretty much self-descriptive; the only suggestion I have is to remember not to wash your coffeepot after you use up the last of your coffee. And don’t bother trying to recycle the grounds a second time: you might as well just drink hot water and save yourself the trouble. It still strikes me as odd how little recycled grounds coffee resembles real coffee. You’d think it would just be like normal coffee except a lot weaker, but nope, it has a taste all its own. It tastes like desperation.

Hot water coffee gets its own blog entry.

Storing and Preparing Coffee

Whole bean or ground? By all means, buy whole bean coffee if you have a grinder and the money and are a coffee snob like me. Otherwise, ground coffee is just fine. If you buy specialty coffee, however, don’t store the coffee in the bag it came in once you open it. Have a separate jar or bowl with a tight-fitting lid to store your coffee. And don’t store it in the refrigerator or freezer. People disagree about this, but chilling coffee can produce condensation that makes the flavor go off more quickly. Just store it on a shelf or in the pantry, and it’ll be just fine.

- Hulles

[1] I’m also passionate about many things that aren’t in this blog. Girls, you know who you are….

[2] Although, recently I completed a questionnaire on the Folgers website when I was supposed to be working, and after answering 9 inane questions, the magic coffee oracle told me I would really like Gourmet Supreme. Hunh. I haven’t had it, so I can’t make fun of the choice – yet.

[3] I stumble over reading this every time. It probably should be “roasted darkly enough”, but the mental image of some evil coffee roaster cackling over his latest batch of Satanic coffee prohibits me from using the correct grammar.

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