Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Daily Brew

For years, I didn't see feel the love for coffee that so many have. It was a great-smelling brew, but tasted nasty. I preferred tea; straight, sugar-and-milk-like-the-Queen Lipton's, but tea. Of course, this was back in the day when Lipton's was tea, unless, like me, you had Canadian relatives, who smuggled Red Rose over the border. (Years later, we learned that Red Rose was owned by Lipton. But that's another post.)

In college, I began drinking a little bit of coffee with my cream and sugar. That was for survival; I needed to be able to be wide awake while drawing geological sections, structural diagrams and maps late, late in the night. (I also smoked briefly at this time, because nicotine helped, too. Thank God I stopped that early on.)

When I married into a family that had attached coffee mugs to their hands surgically, I began drinking the stuff to "fit in." It was still more of a slurry of ground beans with my cream and sugar, often with flavorings like almond or hazelnut added, but coffee it was. About the time I grew accustomed to this, I was delivered harsh news by a guy with OB/GYN after his name; NO MORE CAFFEINE. Did he realize what he was asking? But I was sensible, endured the caffeine withdrawal headache for about 5 days, and entered the world of decaf. Remarkably, during this time, I still needed that cuppa. I think it was the ritual. Measure, pour, sit over the mug, inhale the delicious steam, drink. The health issue I was fighting disappeared. I endured the contempt of some waiters and waitresses, the most notable being at Dick's Last Resort, where my brew earned a huge DECAF written in marker on my placemat. Over the years, I've drunk lots of stale decaf. People don't seem to read. If they did, they would learn that decaf becomes stale in about half the time caffeinated coffee does. It needs to be re-brewed more often, which led me to ask before ordering, "Is it fresh?" Very few waitstaff will fail to offer to brew a new pot. After all, the tip-o-meter is ticking.

Then I went to Austria, and had my first cup of coffee. Sitting in Cafe Demel one fine afternoon, I faced a Sachertorte and a cup of steaming, fully caffeinated, Austrian coffee. Coffee in Vienna is almost a religion, and, after my first sip, I was converted. Legend has it that coffee was a gift from God after the Seige of Vienna. The army went out into the Ottoman camp, found bags of beans left behind after their hasty retreat, and brewed up a batch; ostensibly, to go along with the first croissants. Those were baked with the last flour and milk/butter left in the city. In gratitude for their deliverance, the bakers used the crescent-shape so important to the Turks, and, well, culinary history was made. But I digress.

Although my Austrian interlude was fully caffeinated, bringing back a resurgence of the medical problem I was avoiding in the first place, it was a blissful time of full-strength, full-flavored deliciousness. Coffee there is not a bottomless cup. Each offering came on a silver platter, with sugar cubes and ice water (My Viennese friend told me that coffee without the ice water is not good coffee.) and is meant to be savored, enjoyed with a little smackeral and good conversation with a friend (old or new, doesn't matter.) I returned home with a sampling and a new attitude. I did, however, switch back to decaf.

A couple of years later, I took a college class on coffee. Not realizing such things existed, I laughed when my son suggested it. But he told me the instructor was very good, and very enthusiastic about the topic. He'd even written two novels about the coffee trade in South America. The class was very informative; it was actually a geography class about the coffee-growing areas of the world. We learned about economics, politics, agriculture and gastronomy in 4 very different areas of the world. And I learned why some coffee is just swill. It's not coffee snobbery; it's how it's harvested and processed. See, coffee grows on trees like cherries. While we eat the cherry and throw away the pit, with coffee, we throw away the cherry and brew the pit! In this video, you see Brazilian coffee harvesters "stripping" the cherries from the trees. In the process, they take the ripe cherries, the underripe, the overripe (and rotting) cherries; they don't discriminate. In other countries, selective harvesting is employed. Only the ripe cherries are picked, producing better quality beans and yummier brew.

Try this. Brew a cup of Folger's, or Maxwell House. Place it side-by-side with a Starbuck's medium roast, (not Pike, which uses some Brazilian beans) or Caribou, if you prefer. That after taste in the Folger's? Brazilian overripe beans.

Now you know a little more about coffee than you probably wanted to. If you've lasted this long, you'll soon know what inspired this tome.
This article explains some of the health benefits of drinking caffeinated coffee, in fact, some of the reasons I started drinking it. I'm back to half-caffeinated morning brew, motivated by this information and also by my reaching "a certain age." Now my caffeinated morning is not necessitated by late nights studying and partying, but by desire to avoid certain nasty diseases. I want to die in my sleep, not screaming in fear, like the other people in the car.

(By the way, our "house blend" here is Starbuck's Espresso blend, half- caf. In case you're wondering.)


Kris said...

So, Jay just told me that he knew I would fit into his family, not because of my personality, but because I had a coffee cup surgically attached to my hand.

Melody said...

Although that personality will help!

Glenda said...

Ever since Germany, we have loved German coffee. It sounds like what you experienced in Austria.

Around Christmas time, we found this lady who imports all sorts of German things - she had whole bean German coffee. We grabbed it and I brewed a pot that afternoon. WOW! It was so delicious. Then we discovered that we can buy it, plus another type on Amazon (of course). So now we buy our whole bean German coffee and love every day having a cup or two or three. The brands are Dallmayr and Jakobs.

Melody said...

Glenda, my German cousin tells me that most German/European coffee is African in origin. In this country, we've been more used to South/Central American beans. There IS a difference! I really like Ethiopian coffee, like yirgacheffe or sidamo.