Since I made a commitment to becoming an avid coffee drinker about a decade ago, a lot has changed in the coffee game. It’s a worldwide industry that makes billions annually and that momentum doesn’t seem to be losing steam (literally or figuratively) anytime soon.
That first Mr. Coffee 12-cup machine from Blain’s Fleet & Farm when I turned 31 (a logical age to start drinking coffee morning, noon, and night, of course) signified a lifestyle shift, a transition to a better, more refined existence. It also started my quest for the perfect coffee. That journey continues today.
There used to be limited options available – the gas station, your local McDonald’s franchise, the corner greasy spoon, or if you were lucky enough, the coffee pot flanking your favorite bar stool. But then something happened. A renaissance occurred. We’re still affixed to that dynamic change as a society with no plateau in sight, not for a while anyway. In fact, we seem to be a culture that is currently transfixed on getting ever drunk on coffee.
Think about it: we’ve got Starbucks, Outpost, Alderaan, Colectivo (formerly Alterra), Bremen Café, Stone Creek, Hi Fi Café, Anondyne, Sherman Perk, Valentine, Sven’s, Bella Caffe, and Whole Foods, just to name a few. Pick a side of town, and you can become an honorary member of the "Coffee Clutchers Brigade" along your coffee-drinking colleagues. This list keeps growing exponentially, and who knows, maybe the places available to grab a cup of Joe will exceed Wisconsin’s current distinction as the lone state that has 2.7 times the number of bars as grocery stores?
But I hesitate to judge. I mean, I’m not only cognizant of the change; I’m part of it. It’s a change I’m embracing. And I plan to have a little fun along the way. Here’s my plan: buy a pound of whole bean coffee, brew a pot, sample the wares, and let my taste buds be the judge, jury and executioner – then buy in bulk when the flavor hits on all cylinders. This venture might take a while. I’m really in no hurry. I’m already a decade-plus in. This is a case of the destination being much more than simply the sum of all its parts.
I suppose I’ll start out locally and branch out in concentric circles until I hit the jackpot, unearth the mother lode, and find that perfect mix of taste, acidity, and punch. There’s sure to be a lot of ebbs and flows, happy accidents, and bitter coffee faces along the way. Maybe I’ll even start a map in my kitchen or garage to document the voyage. Why not?
To support my efforts, I’ve commissioned my wife to post a Facebook straw poll to see what kind of coffee makes people tick. So far, the results are all over the city, state, and country: Door County Coffee & Tea Co., McDonald’s, Colectivo, Stone Creek, Anodyne, Boxcar Coffee Roasters (Colorado), Doubleshot Coffee Company (Tulsa, Oklahoma), Valentine, Starbucks, Kirkland, Lavazza (Torino, Italy), and Dunkin’ Donuts. I’m sure the list will grow in scope and locale. Wherever it stops, nobody knows, that’s the fun of this whole social experiment. It’s pragmatics and deductive reasoning rolled into one. I’ve never been one to underestimate the power of information (or opinions forged by years of experience, for that matter), so why start now? And besides, who better to ask than those in the caffeinated trenches, right? It’s certainly better than shooting in the dark.
Step one of this new leg of the journey started over the weekend with a pound of Colectivo’s Brazil blend, a heavy bodied medium roast with low acidity that boasts notes of chocolate, roasted nuts, dried cherry, and tobacco. It’s decent. I wouldn’t kick it out of bed – not until morning at least (and after I’d already brewed a pot). But it’s not the one I want to commit to buying 10 pounds of (five pounds for me and five pounds for my parents). Nope, that’s the one you want to take home to mom (literally or figuratively).
Ten pounds of coffee beans is no joke. It’s a commitment, and not one for the faint of heart. Yes, the juice must be worth the squeeze (or the bean worth the buzz). At the end of the day (and the beginning of the day), I want the perfect cup of coffee that lets me sit back, relax, and absorb the flavor and ambiance that go hand-in-hand with the ritual of being an avid coffee drinker.
Inquiring minds want to know: what coffee trips your trigger? What’s your favorite blend? Why? Did you ever really take the time to think about it? I realize in advance that your preferences, like mine, stem from your formative experiences surrounding your coffee of choice. And that’s the beauty of it, actually. There’s no right or wrong. Only experiences. So, where has your journey taken you? What stops have you taken along the way? Take a minute to think about it. Re-read that chapter and relieve that moment. Then choose your own adventure and start the next chapter. For every cup of coffee, there’s a story. This is part of mine. What’s yours?