Coffee Talk

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Growing up, I always found coffee to be a very adult beverage.

Of course, the term “adult beverage” has a different connotation now. An adult beverage may more likely be something you put in your coffee to give it an ethnicity.

Kopi Luwak Coffee. Do Not Google.
(Look, just trust me on this one, OK? -mt58)

So, the first time I tried coffee was at our family Christmas party when I was 12 or 13. We always ate Christmas dinner at my great aunt’s house, then walked about 50 feet to my grandparents’ house to open presents.

(Side note 1: my grandparents and great aunt and uncle were a pair of brothers married to a pair of sisters.

Their next door neighbors were also a pair of brothers married to a pair of sisters. Small town America pre-internet – heck, pre-telephone for them – was a different world. All four pairs of brothers or sisters were farmers back in the day, but long retired when this story takes place, though we still had barns and sheds and large swaths of land to mow, which was the primary consumer of my free time – mowing acres of land every week to keep the no-longer-farm looking neat.)

Hey, I tried to warn you…

Anyway, coffee was always served after dinner with dessert. My great aunt asked, “who wants coffee?” and I was all eager to be part of the adults. “I do.” She’s like, “Sure, okay, if that’s what you want.” She served me up a cup of the best Folgers had to offer, and I took that first tentative sip. I didn’t want to look uncool, but I grimaced and stepped away from the coffee and left it there on the dining table. How on God’s green earth did adults find this appealing???

https://youtu.be/lyhrcS6GNZM
Kathie Lee’s gettin’ upset.

Fast forward to university. I still would not touch coffee, but more and more of my friends did. At some point, there becomes a practical need for coffee – fuel for the late-night or all-night study sessions. At first I tried Mountain Dew or other sugary caffeinated sodas, but they got me too energetic – I didn’t want to thrash around in a mosh pit; I wanted to study. So I discovered my ideal fuel – dark chocolate covered espresso beans!

(Side note 2: I did spend a lot of time in mosh pits when I was at university.

I lost my hearing to all those kick ass concerts; I think I’ve described these concerts and venues in a few past ‘gum posts. I spent a couple of years as mosh pit citizen – more bouncy than aggressive. Then a couple more years as mosh pit guardian – one of the guys who stands at the edge of the pit to shove folks and serve as a protective shield to people who just came for the music.)

I didn’t love the chocolate coffee beans, but they served a purpose – they kept me up without making me bounce off the walls. Step one in my coffee evolution.

Then in grad school, a friend invited me to a hip local coffee shop. I didn’t know what to get, so I got a mocha and some of their homemade hummus (which they made look like a mouse with the veggies – so it was a hummouse).

Photo Credit: Stuart Little AgraEntrprises, Ltd.

The café mocha seemed approachable – kind of like a liquid version of the dark chocolate espresso beans I was already eating. I could actually kind of tolerate it – again, didn’t love it, but I loved the vibe of the place. It seemed like the kind of place I wanted to be – cool local music performances, lots of folks with dyed hair and vegan energy. (I mean “vegan energy” in a positive way – like spirited and principled. Not “vegan energy” in a negative way – like someone who eats no protein and has trouble lifting the laundry basket.)

This is the actual place, btw.

Then, as grad school progressed, I started seeking out coffee on my own – always the type of coffee with lots of milk and sweet elements – a mocha or a latte or something with caramel or vanilla syrup. Black coffee was not remotely interesting to me, but the practical element (staying awake) and the social element (excuse to hang with friends) kind of pulled me into the coffee orbit. Coffee evolution proceeding…

Fast forward a few more years… I was a working joe and had a new baby. My wife took care of my son while I was at work, so I tried to take on most of the night shift duties, which were every – single – night. My son would not sleep without lots of back rubbing and lullaby singing, and my efforts to get him to sleep naturally robbed me of my own Zzzzz’s. Of course, not getting my sleep at night made me a yawny person during the day. After being pretty drowsy at work for a while, I realized there was a Starbucks across the street. I went there one day and got a black coffee, dark roast, with plenty of room for cream and sugar. It woke me up, and it was kind of tasty.

‘Nuff said.

(Side note 3: in those days when my son was a baby or early toddler, it was hard to put him to sleep unless he was in motion.

He fell asleep easily in the car, so we went for drives around the city every single day to get him to take a nap. In a pinch, I could put him in a stroller in our tiny condo and pace around until he nodded off. I wonder if this association with motion and comfort is why he is officially the biggest car aficionado the world has ever seen?)

Over the course of a few months, I started going every day to that Starbucks. And by the end of a year, I was just getting the coffee black. “Blacker than a hundred midnights / Down in a cypress swamp,” as James Weldon Johnson penned in his poem “The Creation”. Then I thought to myself, why am I spending $3 a day every day for Starbucks, when I could just make it at home and save a lot of money? So I invested in a $20 drip coffee maker (my friends call me “ Mister Big Spender”), and I was officially an adult at age 32. My coffee evolution was nearly complete.

Now I’m kind of on the older side. I have a heart condition, and my doctor recommended I reduce my coffee consumption. I reluctantly lowered my coffee intake from a pot a day to half- pot a day. But what I lack in quantity, I make up for in quality. Nowadays, I’m a total coffee snob. If it’s not locally-roasted, single source from a farm in Burundi or Ethiopia or Peru, then it’s not my cup of, well, you know . Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a rich guy, not by a long shot. But coffee is one of those few things in my life that I will not skimp on – it’s unskimpable. It’s my own personal indulgence.

(Side note 4: I remember I had a friend in high school who was a really smart guy, but just a bit of a wild card, a free spirit.

We went our separate ways when we went to college and lost touch. While he was in college, he got his girlfriend pregnant, so he had to drop out and get a job to support his new family. When I bumped into him a few years later – at a concert, naturally – he told me about his work, his life, his kid, the whole life story over several years apart. He was installing garage doors and seemed to be pretty content with his life. He told me that there were lots of things he and his family would skimp on to make ends meet, but toilet paper was off limits – they HAD to have the good toilet paper. That was non-negotiable. At the time, I only kind of understood, but now I TOTALLY understand.)

The official tnocs.com TP positioning policy.
You’re welcome. -mt58

I’m not sure if I have reached some level of coffee bodhisattva or if I have more evolution still ahead of me. I know that coffee is very much a part of my life. I suppose you could call it an addiction, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But I feel like it’s an addiction I don’t have to feel ashamed of or worried about (my cardiologist may have a different opinion)

tnocs.com brothers and sisters, I ask of you (if you want to share):

1. What the story of your coffee evolution?

2. What thing in your life is unskimpable?

Let the author know you liked their article with a “heart” upvote!

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JJ Live At Leeds
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April 14, 2022 8:44 am

1. Consider me unevolved. I never developed a taste for coffee so whether that means my taste buds are stuck in pre-adolescence I’m not sure. And just becuase I’m English doesn’t make me a tea aficionado, I’ll drink tea but its pretty dull. So I guess I haven’t grown up yet.

2. I do have a sweet tooth, I love chocolate. I guess your cardiologist may have something to say about too. Finding a coffee flavoured chocolate in a selection though is enough to ruin my day. I try to eat it in moderation and I’m not a complete snob about it but if I want a treat then cost is no barrier, as notified by the rather expensive Easter Egg I bought myself that is sitting in the kitchen waiting for the weekend. Just in case it does appear that I’m actually 10 years old bread is another item that gets me going. Specifically sourdough. When its good its really good but I’ve learnt the hard way that anything sold in the supermarket labelled as sourdough is only going to lead to disappointment. To get the good stuff I have to go out of the way to farm shops or independent bakeries.

JJ Live At Leeds
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April 14, 2022 1:12 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

There’s plenty of the homogenised stuff here too, its what I grew up on. First time I had sourdough was while we were on honeymoon in San Francisco at Boudin’s bakery in 2009 – had a sourdough turtle. At that time you couldn’t get it here, its only in the last 5 years its really taken off. Similar to you with coffee, as a kid I wouldn’t eat the crusts, now its the best bit.

Phylum of Alexandria
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April 22, 2022 8:25 am

Yeah, living in Montreal really got me into quality breads. Thankfully, my wife is a gifted baker, who now makes breads that are far better than what we get in the best French restaurants in the Northern VA area. It’s a shame that there’s not much demand for great bread in the States. Even in NYC it’s not as accessible as you’d think, and it’s almost impossible to get a baguette that tastes like a Parisian baguette. Hopefully my wife can learn to make those some time. 🙂

Virgindog
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April 22, 2022 10:59 am

Coincidentally, I just finished one of Ms. Virgindog’s wheat rolls. They’re scrumptious. Sounds like you and I are both very fortunate to have married above our station.

lovethisconcept
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April 14, 2022 8:46 am

I have managed to live my entire life with a whole family of coffee fanatics and never develop a taste for it. In fact, I actively dislike it. I am a tea person all the way. I have taken a similar journey as you, from the Lipton that was served in our house as a child to a preference for loose leaf tea of various types, preferably obtained from small locally run tea shops. However, I will drink Twinings Irish Breakfast tea any time.

cstolliver
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April 14, 2022 8:51 am

When I was a child, I lived across the street from a lovely senior Swedish woman who introduced my siblings and me to coffee (with cream and sugar) at a very young age. We always enjoyed our coffee time with her. When our family moved away when I was 10, I gave it up and never looked back.

My hubby just had knee surgery this week, and I’m learning how to make coffee the way he likes it (not rocket science but if you haven’t made coffee ever, it does take getting used to). I have a feeling that by the time he’s fully back on his feet, I’ll be competent at making a good cup of coffee.

cstolliver
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April 14, 2022 8:54 am

Oh, and that coffee shop looks a lot like one in my neck of the woods (Raleigh, N.C.). Guess there’s a “coffee shop template” out there…

Virgindog
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April 14, 2022 9:31 am

Like most kids, I hated coffee without really trying it. That changed, slightly, when I was in junior high. My parents bought a small piece of land on a lake and planned to build a cabin. I went there one Saturday morning with my dad, his brother Larry (who was also my godfather), and Larry’s kids, Mark and David. It was one of those cold, drizzly, raw, Maine, mornings.

My cousins were younger than me and none of us were going to be much help doing whatever Uncle Larry and my dad were doing. I think they were digging holes for the foundation of what would be the storage shed / outhouse. We were there for a while and, growing boy that I was, I got hungry. My dad said there were sandwiches in the car.

The first thing I did when we kids got in the car was to wipe my runny nose, but then I ripped open a baggie and started eating. I don’t remember what kind of sandwich it was but I needed something to wash it down. I checked the picnic basket and there were no sodas of juices, but there was a thermos. I opened it and smelled that it was coffee, but it was hot. That sounded good on a cold day, so I poured half a cup and cautiously sipped it.

My mom took her coffee black but Dad preferred it with milk and sugar, and that’s what this was. It felt almost like hot chocolate, which I loved. I had no idea coffee could be sweet. With my sandwich in one hand and a plastic thermos cap of coffee in the other, I felt so grown up in the back seat of the car with my 8- and 6-year-old cousins.

I tried coffee again but didn’t like it. I suppose it was the combination of the hot sweetness on a miserable morning and being in charge of the younger kids. Perhaps it was the situation more than the coffee itself, but it’s still a vivid memory.

mt58
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mt58
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April 14, 2022 9:36 am

During college, I worked after classes and over the summers at an office desk job. I’d previously been indifferent to coffee, but when I saw how all of my co-workers lived for those 22 freshly made pots during the course of each day, I figured that it must be a standard protocol for the good worker bees of the world.

Wanting to fit in, I started out with a few cups a day, prepared black/no sugar, because this somehow seemed to be the “professional” way to go.

A few months later during a physical exam, my new (and impossibly young) doctor asked what drugs I was using. I was shocked and replied that I didn’t, but he pressed on until I mentioned the 18 to 22 cups of corporate sludge that I was ingesting each day.

He was a little “concerned,” and ordered me to taper off by only 1/2 cup a day, until I was down to no more than three in a 24 hour period. I’ve been fairly compliant ever since, unless I have a major project going on, like this website. But I always try to come back to that good doctor’s advice, and not let the coffee thing get too out of hand. Keeping a huge water bottle nearby has helped.

lovethisconcept
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April 14, 2022 10:34 am

What is unskimpable for me? I have a few. Two of them are chocolate and eggs. I only eat chocolate that is fair trade certified. I only eat eggs that are certified free range. There are several other ethical issues that enter into my grocery buying decisions, such as rain forest certification, use of renewable sourcing (particularly of palm oil), and others, but those two are inviolable.

dutchg8r
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April 14, 2022 10:44 am

Ooh, yes, chocolate. I won’t eat anything but a Hersheys product if I can help it. Their chocolate has a definate difference in taste from other companies – it’s creamier. And I’m very particular about the best way to enjoy a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (fresh, chilled to around 50 degrees – straight from the fridge is too cold – so I can nibble around the entire outside edge, then pull off the top in one piece, then I can eat the peanut butter….)

dutchg8r
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April 14, 2022 12:10 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Hershey was 40 minutes away from where I grew up.

No, I don’t think the fact that my dad’s workplace having their summer company picnics at Hersheypark, or riding the Chocolate World ride that empties out into the world’s biggest Hershey products outlet biased me at all. Nope. Drive through town down Chocolate Av just to huff the air? Doesn’t everyone do that??!!

(I’m actually heading to Hershey in July for the Monsters of Glam Metal Tour aka the Motley Crue/Def Lep concert. Waaaay less hassle to go there than deal with going into downtown DC! Haven’t been back to Hershey in about 30 years, so I’m kinda looking forward to seeing the town again)

cstolliver
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April 15, 2022 12:47 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

Hey, dutch — I never lived in Pa. full-time, but my dad’s family is from McSherrystown/Hanover, so I spent lots of summers in the area. My late ’70s summer memories are heavily influenced by WYCR (which, as I recall, no longer operates, under those call letters if at all) and, then, at night catching WLS on the AM dial — a little taste of home.

dutchg8r
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April 15, 2022 4:24 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Hanover, home to about 47 different nationwide snack food companies!

I keed, but boy do they love their pretzels and potato chips in that little corner of the county…

dutchg8r
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April 14, 2022 10:37 am

Guess I’m still not grown up yet – I can’t even remember when I last had a sip of coffee. I just can’t get past the aroma. It’s like being the only non-smoker going out with the smokers on their break 20 years ago, only now I’m the non coffee drinker strolling with coworkers to the local coffee shop just because I want to take a walk!

No, my crutch is still Pepsi. If I’m driving and I’m suddenly thirsty, I will go out of my way to find a Taco Bell or KFC for drive thru so I can get a Pepsi. I will get burgers from Wendy’s or BK, no drink, and head down to 7-11 for a Big Gulp Pepsi to go with my meal. Settling for Coke is a last resort.

I have tried to tolerate Pepsi Zero (sugar free), and that might last a few months before I need full on Pepsi once again, get my fill for a few weeks, then go back to trying to be responsible with the Pepsi Zero.

And when I first moved out on my own, I would be fine eating cheap crap from the store, but I did have one must have item – Apple Jacks cereal. I loved them as a kid but my mom would never buy them – too expensive she’d claim. So that was my adult victory – “I WILL eat Apple Jacks, by golly, and I will have them 3 times a day if I want!” It literally went on for 18 years, no joke. I was determined to make up for those lost years apparently. Might still be eating them today too if Kelloggs hadn’t mucked up the recipe and made them taste like cardboard now.

And those civet coffee pearls? Someone in our group encountered that story about 10 years ago when we happened to be working on maps of Indonesia. It was THE topic that week, lol. I think someone even ordered a bag of the beans. You can blame those Dutch overlords (Actual Netherlands Dutch) for having a very strict policy back in the day that local farmers could not pick their own coffee beans, it all went to the glory of the Dutch West Indies Company. Like, severe punishment if caught. So some local farmer realized – hey, there’s these beans here, that sounds like a loophole to me!! Desperate coffee drinkers will take desperate measures.

dutchg8r
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April 14, 2022 12:17 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Nope, you’ll be fine, lol.

College campus had a Coke contract, so my go to drink those 4 years was Cherry Coke. I met up with an old roommate a few years back, and she was surprised when I ordered Pepsi – “but you always drank Cherry Coke?”

“Well yeah, cause I couldn’t get a Pepsi on campus!!”

“Ohhh yeah, forgot that part of it!”

cstolliver
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April 15, 2022 12:49 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

I thought I liked Cherry Coke (and I guess I would drink it as a backup) until I learned about Cheerwine … my go-to if I need a carbonated beverage.

dutchg8r
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April 15, 2022 4:27 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Well, looks like I’m gonna need to be checking out some Cheerwine on my next visit to Sheetz (according to the Cheerwine website, lol)

Is that what Jermaine Stewart’s singing about in “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”? Where he’s gonna dance and party all night, and have some cherry wine, uh-huh???

Aaron3000
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April 16, 2022 1:08 am
Reply to  dutchg8r

My wife is the same way with Pepsi, dutch. When I first met her I was a Coke person (one a day), while she was going through a 12-pack of Pepsi every day. Needless to say she converted me, and Coke just doesn’t taste right to me anymore. I’m still a one-can-a-day drinker, but at least she’s managed to cut her pop consumption in half…

thegue
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April 15, 2022 7:47 am

Great article!

My stepmother (adopted me when I was 11) grew up in Costa Rica, where they didn’t drink coffee – they were a tea family, and more specifically, boiled milk, then steep the teabag in it. Skipped the water part entirely.

Therefore, we were a tea family, and I still love a good tea, but my wife worked for Starbucks for over ten years, so the switch to coffee was inevitable (I tried to maintain my love for tea, but the SBUX selection was bad, and brewed at approximately the temperature of the sun, so…).

Over time, we’ve become more picky. We now ground our own beans, but haven’t gone all in with the roaster yet, but I imagine it’s just a matter of time. Surprisingly, we’re not all boujie yet with the bean selection. When she worked at Starbucks, we used to drink the Ethiopia medium roast, but these days we select a Columbian medium roast from Amazon.

The video posted above reminds me of a decent book I used to share when teaching AP World History: A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage. If you get a chance, give it a read!

mt58
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April 15, 2022 8:15 am
Reply to  thegue

…”when teaching AP World History…”

^ Whoa. This is New Information. Storytime?

Virgindog
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April 15, 2022 10:30 am
Reply to  thegue

My wife worked at Starbucks, too. The pay isn’t great but the free coffee beans and healthcare are. Both helped me get through my years of freelancing.

mumchance
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April 16, 2022 1:22 am

No sugar tonight in my coffee. In fact, hold the coffee as well. Big tea fan, though. Black and pu-er for me. One of my best friends in college and I would make loose tea (I had one of those coils you stuck in a mug of water that warmed — but sadly did not actually boil — the water for tea in my dorm room) and watch Inspector Morse on PBS. We felt quite sophisticated, let me tell you. I would later learn from him that a roommate who drinks coffee is a mixed blessing — on the one hand, I would wake up to the pleasant aroma of coffee brewing; on the other hand, coffee grounds are really freaking annoying to clean up; on the other hand, there is no other hand!

Phylum of Alexandria
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April 22, 2022 8:22 am

I’m pretty much a coffee snob too. I’ve always been fairly sensitive to caffeine, but finally got into heavy consumption for my doctoral research. Even then though, it was mostly pots of green tea. It was when I moved to Montreal for a postdoc that I really got into coffee, because I was exposed to some really high quality stuff in the cafes everywhere.

Now I have my own espresso station, which was expensive, but is quite bean-efficient for my daily dosage. Just one Tbsp per day! I’m currently trying to learn how to make proper latte art…and failing for now. 🙂

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