Everyone who loves coffee has their own unique personal journey with this complex beverage. Maybe you like drip or press, maybe you like latté, espresso, or frappé, maybe decaf or full caffeine. In coming months we’ll be bringing you a series on the finer points of many ways to grind and brew the seeds of the Coffea plant.
My personal coffee journey began at age fifteen. Before that, I hated coffee. I tasted it here and there when the grownups had some, but I couldn’t see the appeal, even with cream and sugar in it.
That summer, our family vacationed in the small Pennsylvania town of Eagles Mere, where neighbors invited us to spend a week at their summer home. At the south end of Eagles Mere Lake in the Endless Mountains, there wasn’t much for kids to do except skinny-dip at night or walk in the woods and ride bikes by day. The first time I rode the five miles to Laporte with my new friends, our sole goal was ice cream from the country store.
Something inexplicable came over me on that ride: a sudden, certain craving for coffee ice cream. I ordered a big double-scoop cone, and never looked back. It was as though those fleeting tastes of coffee in the past had inoculated me with the seeds of an addiction that budded on that bike ride.
For the longest time I could only drink coffee with ample cream and sugar so that it tasted like ice cream. And I couldn’t drink it often, because it ‘tore up my gut,’ as the saying goes, so it remained a special treat just once a week or so, even through college when I tended to indulge on nights before a term paper was due. Later in grad school, I’d drink coffee from a bottomless pot at Perkins Pancake House til closing while studying for exams with my friends Kathy and Marcy.
A few years later, between jobs, I lived for some months in an old cracker house deep in a liveoak forest in north Florida with a couple of guys and about 175 snakes. There I was introduced to the joy of drinking afternoon coffee while smoking pot for no reason other than that we could. It became a powerful recreational combination for me. Eventually I found I could drink it however it came, without sugar, without cream, without both.
I still didn’t have a regular morning coffee habit, though, and most of my homes through the years, unless shared, didn’t have any kind of brewing technology: Coffee was always an elsewhere extravagance, at a restaurant, at work, at someone else’s house. Shortly after I moved to the North Fork Valley in 1992 (time flies!) I became an habitué of Moonrise Espresso, and got to be friends with the incomparable proprietress Nan. Mostly I went for her morning glory muffins, but also began to drink decaf fairly regularly. Still, too much and even without much caffeine, the acid got to me. Still no home brewing.
That changed when I got stuck at the Old Folks’ Home in DC, visiting my parents when the 9/11 horror struck. That Tuesday morning remains crystal clear in my memory, though the rest of the day has faded. The next morning, still not sure when, how, or if I’d ever get home, I woke up wanting only one thing (besides to get home). I walked through the corridors to the main lobby and greeted the hostess with a broken hug; we’d known each other fifteen years, and this was our first hug. Vera asked the question everyone was asking each other.
Did you lose anyone?
“No,” I said, “not that I know of. Yet. You?”
“Coffee,” I said. “I need coffee.”
Vera walked me to the dining room, and asked the server to “please bring Miss Rita a pot of decaf.” Every day for a week, I walked like a zombie to the dining room to collect a pot of coffee to go. I added cream and sugar and carried it back to the apartment, where I drank mug after mug until it was gone. In a world upended, that morning coffee felt like one sure thing.
One of my first purchases when I finally did get home was a French press. I’ve drunk a cup or two of coffee, mostly decaf, virtually every morning for almost twenty years. I’ve tried mail-order low-acid coffee, Starbucks, whatever-was-on-sale, regionally roasted, ground and whole beans, a porcelain dripper, an aeropress, and finally bought a coffee machine with a gold filter. Somewhere in there I started drinking vanilla lattés at our various coffee shops and stops in the valley, and eventually bought a stovetop espresso brewer to make my own full-strength vanilla lattés on Sunday mornings.
I stumbled upon Rubicon Roasting when Jay opened in Root and Vine. I’m all about locavore cuisine, and so grateful to live in this valley where we have so many wonderful locavore fruit, vegetable, and meat options. Now locally roasted coffee, too! I was thrilled, and started buying there when I could catch them open.
When Jay moved to his current location, I planned my trips to Paonia to coincide with his hours, so I could buy coffee exclusively from his selection of fine roasts. Of course, we know now that coffee is not a sure-forever thing in a world suffering climate chaos. (Neither is chocolate.) But for as long as Jay’s in business, I’ll be buying sustainably-sourced and/or organic coffee beans from a wonderful local roaster, learning more about coffee every month, and savoring every cup.
What’s your Coffee Journey? Email email@example.com, and we’ll feature selections in upcoming posts. Thank you!