I just read that it is possible to get a $55 cup of coffee in Los Angeles. Well of course it is – didn’t we all see this coming? We have reached the age of artisinal everything where young bearded and tattooed men will craft the finest of anything for you, so long as you are willing to fork over the cash. But $55? For a cup of coffee?
My very first reaction was “Pfffttt! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. What person in his (or her) right mind would pay 55 bucks for a coffee? Maybe some Coffee Snob, but certainly not me.” But then I stopped – could I one of those coffee snobs? I can’t decide.
I started drinking coffee in my college years. One summer I worked in a place where the coffee was free but the hot chocolate (my preferred brew) was a quarter. Hey, a quarter was not nothing in 1979. The joe that I was able to slurp down was sort of the same though, once I got through dumping enough sugar and powdered creamer into the cup to make it drinkable.
When I got back to school I bought an electric percolator and all the supplies necessary to do the Java Jive. Mr. Coffee was a big seller by then but being the contrarian that I am, I stuck with what was good enough for Grandma. Besides, who could resist the cheerful sound of the Maxwell House percolator jingle that I grew up with. I was a little disappointed when mine didn’t sound like that.
I splurged on a can of Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee (because it seemed exotic and I liked the name) and made up for it with a big economy size of store brand powdered creamer. I still remember that first cup with the new creamer – it was not at all like what I had become used to. Who knew that powdered non-dairy “coffee lightener” could vary so widely in quality? I wasn’t sure how good the stuff could get but I quickly learned that I had purchased the one that marked the low end of the quality spectrum.
I was faced with a decision. I could either gird my loins and consume that entire container of noxious powder – one distasteful cup at a time – or I could force myself to drink my coffee with nothing but sugar to wrestle coffee’s unique flavor around to something that my uneducated palate could handle. Throwing out the nasty fake creamer and buying a new container of the pricier name-brand dried and synthesized fake creamer was not an option – because I was raised by Germans and there is a rule of shopping: When you make a bad choice you just have to live with the consequences, Bub.
Somewhere along the line I stopped the sugar too. This may have been after I got into law school, but I really don’t remember. Perhaps my Mother’s lifetime of black coffee (“you never need to worry about whether cream or sugar is available”) had an unconscious effect. But from that day I became one of the Tough Guys, one of the people who didn’t need no stinkin’ cream or sugar to get a cup of coffee.
I will confess that I got some enjoyment out of the little edge of attitude I could inflect into my voice when someone offered cream or sugar. “No thanks, just black” was a lot more polite than “Do I look like I need cream and sugar to you? Well Do I?” I don’t get a lot of opportunities to go all Dirty Harry in my life and sometimes ordering black coffee is as close as a guy is going to get.
Somewhere along the line my standards have gone up. Like the year that I got a coffee bean grinder for my birthday. It enabled me to start buying whole bean coffee and grind it fresh for each pot. OK, the pot is a standard Mr. Coffee, so I guess my standards have not gone up all that high. Still, when that grinder broke I never for a moment considered going back to pre-ground coffee for my morning brew. Nope, I am now on my third grinder and will buy another if (when) this one offs itself. You might say that I have not bought a good enough coffee grinder and you would be correct. Which kind of goes to the heart of this topic.
I have also found myself getting choosy about coffee beans. Columbian? Sumatran? I have tried them both. “Breakfast blend?” Do I look like I need Breakfast Blend to you? Well do I? Nope, give me the darkest, boldest roast you’ve got and I will be happy. At least the darkest, boldest roast that can be found in 2 1/2 pound bags at my local warehouse club. The Starbucks French Roast or Cafe Verona are just lovely, thank you.
So I fresh-grind my not-inexpensive coffee beans in a cheap grinder. I pour the fragrant, freshly ground caffein delivery source into the cheapest white paper filters I can find. I then pour plain old tap water into my basic Mr. Coffee, and there we are. Oh yes, I push the little “strong” button.
Unless I am at home or the office and just want a single cup (which happens quite a lot, actually) in which case I sell out to the convenience gods and drink the Cafe’ Plastic that comes out of one of my two Keurig machines. On these occasions all of my eggs go into the convenience basket, which means that I buy the cheapest dark roast K cups I can find. Am I exhibiting some kind of Coffee Schizophrenia?
I have never even thought about owning a French press or some other highfalutin contraption to make “the perfect cup of coffee” and would almost never darken the window of a Starbucks, despite the fact that I buy their beans. Is there such a thing as a coffee half-snob? If not, perhaps I can file for the trademark and offer lessons.
My “coffee-out” go-to is McDonalds and find it quite good, so long as it is fresh. Other than during breakfast hours I have sort of reverted to my cream and sugar crutch as “freshness insurance” because there is nothing worse than black coffee that is from the bottom half inch of the pot after a half hour on the burner. Yes, failure to sign up for the full course of coffee snobdom has its price.
But that price is not $55.