I was in my twenties and getting some breakfast at Elm City Bagels in Keene, NH. Everybody was so excited while waiting in line to check out.” What is everybody talking about?” I asked the lady in front of me. “They just got Starbucks coffee in!” she said in a giddy tone. Wow, I thought to myself. I’d been hearing about Starbucks for years now and finally I get to see what all the buzz was about. I set my bagel down and ordered a Starbucks coffee instead of my usual “regular” coffee, which now; after so much fanfare would surely taste like coffee they swept off the floor.
The woman behind the counter handed me my cup and a brown thingy she called a sleeve (before this, sleeves didn’t really exist, and the only sleeve used to pick up a hot cup, was your own coffee stained one) with the Starbucks logo on it…I was confused and trying to put it together in my head how was this going to turn into a lid, When out of the woman’s mouth came the total for my “coffee of the god’s” and a bagel with schmeer. This took my attention away from the sleeve and back to reality. “What?” I said confused. She repeated the total and I told her she must be mistaken, I only had one bagel in my bag not two.
Feeling good about clearing up the mistake, I went back to the sleeve for a split second finally figuring it out before she said “I only charged you for one bagel.” So, begged the question…”How much was the coffee?” Now bear with me kind people as I have no earthly idea as to how much the coffee or the bagel were, but I do remember the coffee was damned near as much as the price of another bagel with schmeer, And these were 1990’s dollars (always wanted to write that) so we shall leave it at that. I walked away with my cup, my sleeve and my bagel thinking to myself….this better make sparks fly outta my arse!
A long story longer…It was the worst coffee I had ever tasted, surely they burnt this batch. I informed them of the mistake, this batch had been burned and I’d like another. The woman behind the counter laughed and said I was like the twentieth person who had said this. She said “It’s supposed to be that rich!” Rich?! Brownies are rich, this was burnt. Burnt was a flavor I knew well from years of eating my mother’s grilled chicken (Which I loved by the way…in case you’re reading Mom). Today it is a personal joke whenever somebody says “Starbucks”, I always say…”Oh Starbucks, their coffee is sooo rich!” To which, everybody likes to nod like little sheep and I always get a laugh out of, even though nobody knows why.
Look, I pick on Starbucks because I can. But the truth is, almost everybody is making this same brand/type (in my sorry opinion) of crappy tasting coffee. Joe Muggs, Seattle’s Best….pick one, any one… they all stink in my estimation. I don’t mind, and even enjoy espresso, which I drank a lot of when I lived in the South End of Hartford, CT (a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood) This espresso I drank was not fussed over, and cooked on a little stove top device that reminded me of the old fashioned percolators of my youth. It seemed as though all the Italian families had three or four of these in all sizes, and the coffee mostly came out of cans although there was some fresh ground as well.
I’ve had Greek Coffee made by my dear friend Litsa and others that is also good. I’ve done cuppings more times than I can tell you. Cuppings done with dear friends who try their damnedest to make me a coffee snob and for the life of me I just can’t do it. “Here Pav, this is a hand-crafted single origin bean from the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, and roasted by this super-duper place in Washington state.” “Hand-Crafted” I ask? Whose hand exactly made that bean? Single origin, well you told me where it came from, of course all the beans are from there… Why are we making it so damned complicated, it’s just coffee. To me, honestly, it just tastes like the last cup o’crap that I didn’t care for. “Pav, can’t you taste those fruity notes, with caramel and chocolate undertones?” NO, and if I could, not only would it be wonderful, this would be the only coffee I’d drink!
What’s my go to coffee of choice you ask? Well I’ll gladly tell you I drink Maxwell house “Master Blend” oh, so rich! It was good enough for my father, and it’s good enough for me. I know, I know…bring on the haters! Look, I never said I was high end. I’m decidedly not high end, unless we’re talking about scotch. For me coffee is just an effective and cheap delivery system for the caffeine I need to turn me from Cap’n A-hole, into the gruff but lovable me, you have all come to know and love.
My brother Bryan I can only imagine, is rolling his eyes in disgust with a look on his face as if I had just lost his entire baseball card collection from the early 70’s…ummm… like I did when I was ten or so. (Hey in all fairness, they were all still relatively new cards when I lost them, so me losing them, or us using them in the spokes of our bicycle tires… let’s let bygones be bygones) Yes Bryan is one of you “coffee” people. I have no idea how, as we grew up drinking coffee that had been percolated for oh, just under a year, and kept in the pot to get “stronger”. My grandfathers were both from Canada and were tea men, but you could float an iron rail on both of their tea’s after brewing, so maybe that’s where the strong coffee my father made came from.
Another reason I can never be a coffee snob is because going into coffee shops now just makes me laugh. Mostly at the ridiculousness the concoctions, but also at the prices and to a lesser extent, the collection of poor tortured souls behind the counter…”The Barista”! Wow, barista sounds super important. Let me break it down for you real quick, it’s not. You serve coffee. Sometimes it takes a long time to serve one of these crazy assed mochalatta ya ya cha cha drinks, but nine times out of ten, you… are not a barista.
Now now good and noble slingers of coffee, don’t be offended. I’m not saying it’s not a real word. But a full 99.5% of all people serving coffee are not what I would consider a barista, nor would true barista’s (which I know exist)…nor would anybody else. Look, I’m a cook…some people even call me chef. I’m not a chef or a cook because I own knives and have an oven. I’m a cook or a chef because I have trained extensively in culinary arts. If just showing up to a kitchen made someone a chef, my mom would be a master chef of hot cereal and burnt chicken! Training for a day or two figuring out what goes into that five hundred plus calorie, thirty odd grams of fat gut bomb called a venti iced whole milk double chocolaty chip frappuccino with whipped cream does not a barista make. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you what it’ll make the recipient either.
For what it’s worth dear barista wanna be’s… I couldn’t and wouldn’t do what you do. I’d sooner fight a lion with a banana, than deal with most of the pretentious asses you deal with on a daily basis. (Read this next quoted text in whiny assed spoiled teen cheerleader voice while on a cell phone and you’ll see what I mean) “Yes, ummmmmmmmm….I’ll have a venti iced whole milk double chocolaty chip frappuccino with whipped cream… oh, and extra mocha…..oh, and make that to go….what, oh I know… I told Laurie, that purse didn’t even match, and so she was like, WHAT EVS……..yeah, oh, hold on a sec…..Did I order extra mocha?!”
Yeah, I got your order sweet pea…Here’s your coffee flavored coffee…black… milk and sugar are over there, now beat it! YOUR HIPS WILL THANK ME LATER! (Sorry, I pictured it being me behind the counter…and no I wasn’t all tatted up looking like I was in Goth hell either) Now picture a whole line of these people, or people just like this one, throwing in the odd business person, soccer mom, etc…oh for the love of pecan pie, please choke me out now!
So yes I know I am the exception rather than the rule, and coffee snobs feel free to extol the virtues of sustainable, in season, organic, French roasted, fair trade, French Pressed, hand-crafted, single sourced, Kopi Luwak (you know, cat poop coffee…look it up)…and I’ll picture you getting it straight from the source. But you’re probably right, maybe my piss poor taste, or lack thereof is the reason for my not liking “good” coffee. Coffee is something I love the smell of dearly, and aside from bacon, nothing smells better. From a taste standpoint however, I just don’t get it. Jameson on the other hand…