Geeking Out over Coffee


Last week, over at All Things Girl, I admitted that when I was at Barnes and Noble shopping for Christmas gifts, I realized that I hadn’t renewed my membership card there, and worse, that I hadn’t even noticed that it hadn’t been renewed.

Today it’s time for another confession: I may not be able to maintain my gold card status at Starbucks this year.

For those of you who know me, this will be a shock. After all, I’m the queen of frou-frou coffee, and have been known to mark time by the appearance of the red cups each fall.

The thing is, Starbucks is popular, not because they make great coffee (we all know they tend to burn their beans), but because they turn out a consistent product and are conveniently located throughout, not just the country, but most of the world. So ubiquitous have they become that we actually make comments like, “The nearest Starbucks is more than 50 miles away,” in order to demonstrate how rural (or backwards) a place is.

So why am I not drinking at Starbucks? Well, I’m not boycotting them, or anything. I mean, for a safe warm place to write, with free wifi and clean bathrooms, they rock. I love their “protein plate” and if I’m out and about (and hungry) will happily nibble on one while reading. As well, I recognize that for a major corporation they’re not politically horrible, actually offering healthcare even to part-time employees, and such.

A few years ago I bought a Keurig machine. It was nice, because I’m usually the only coffee-drinker in my house, and I was finding myself brewing whole pots of coffee, having one cup, and forgetting the rest was there. (Also Keurig offers pods from Caribou coffee, which is so much tastier (and not burnt) than Starbucks. Really.) So the one-cup Keurig gave me instant gratification, and saved me the cost of all those wasted pots of coffee.

But I wanted espresso.

I did some research and determined that in order to replace the Keurig, I would need a machine that could make both regular coffee and decent shots of espresso, and I bought a mid-range CBTL machine. I love it to pieces. I make shots in the antique demitasse cups my parents brought from Mexico for me at Christmas, or in the less-than-antique Starbucks demitasse that Fuzzy brought me from Hong Kong (the city cups), or sometimes in the cups from the Japanese tea set we received as a gift from some really good friends several years ago. (JULIA, I MEAN YOU.)

I even spent the extra $50 for a frothing pitcher, so I can have lovely cappuccino without ever leaving my kitchen…or, for that matter, putting on a bra.

I love my CBTL. I keep my Keurig upstairs to make cocoa or tea with (since neither requires me to add milk) when I’m working upstairs. But sometimes I want the pleasure, the romance, the heady aroma, of grinding real beans and listening to the water churn and pouring out the deep brown fluid that is the elixir of my life, if not everyone’s.

I especially like trying new kinds of coffee. Not flavored, because I think flavored coffees pretty much uniformly suck – especially hazelnut – but blends, varieties, roasts. A friend of ours from the UU church introduced me to his fair trade coffees – they make some of the best organic decaf on the planet, and then, last November, my friend Clay brought some Sightglass coffee with him when he came from San Francisco.

I was hooked almost instantly, and not just because of the name, invoking pirates along the Barbary coast, and tall ships appearing out of the fog.

We made the espresso in a regular pot, and it was awesome. We made the regular coffee as well and agreed it was likely the best non-espresso either of us had ever tasted.

Yesterday my order of more arrived. A bag each of Indonesia Sulawesi and Blueboon blend. Roasted on Tuesday.

And today, late this afternoon, I will be receiving a three-cup stovetop espresso machine, a Bialetti Moka Express, that’s basically the modern version of the antique copper coffee pot gracing the top of the hutch in my kitchen.

Three cups is just enough to have two really good mugs of coffee, without wasting an entire pot, and since I can grind most any bean espresso-fine, I don’t need to worry about having a specific blend. (Espresso refers to the method of brewing, NOT the roast of the bean – any dark roast can be used – if you’re a Starbucks fan try their Verona.)

And so, as I enter into a weekend that will see Fuzzy heading to Orem, UT for work on Sunday afternoon, I will at least face it with excellent coffee.

Care for a cup?

Perfect Moments in Pretty Cups

wedgewood-espresso When my parents came for Christmas, they brought with them a very special gift. It wasn’t a Christmas gift, mind you, but a we-want-you-to-have-this-now-so-we-can-see-you-enjoy-it kind of gift, mixed with a dash of stop-whining-about-not-having-pretty-demitasse.

The gift in question, pictured in this post, is a set of four Wedgewood espresso mugs with matching saucers, which originally belonged to a woman our family always referred to as “Auntie Annette,” and from whom I got my middle name.

Annette, of course, isn’t technically a relative at all, but an ‘affectionate’ auntie, one of my grandmother’s best friends from during my grandfather’s active-duty military days. My memories of her are dim, though I last saw her when I was nineteen or twenty, at my actual aunt’s house in Connecticut. I remember her as having perfectly coiffed, gray hair that, despite the faded color, was incredibly healthy. And I remember that she was honest, but honest from a place of kindness. And I remember that she always smelled really good.

Mostly, though, I remember her dogs. Or at least one of them. She always had a toy poodle, often a “pocket toy,” generally black, often given the same name – Nanette.

How can you not love a woman who sipped espresso from Wedgewood cups and owned dogs?

These mugs aren’t my only connection to this woman who was much more involved in my mother’s life (and the lives of her sisters) than in mine. Upstairs in the Word Lounge, I have a copy of a book I’ve had since I was six: A Very Young Dancer, about a young girl named Stephanie who is chosen (hand-picked by George Balanchine, actually) to play Marie in the New York City Ballet production of The Nutcracker. (Stephanie’s story (click here) is not all sunshine and flowers – if you loved the book as much as I did – and still do – you might want to skip the link.)

And there are a couple of scarves and a hat in boxes that came to me through my grandmother.

But the mugs…the mugs are the thing I’m really excited and touched to have, partly because my mother brought them to me, after they traveled with her to Mexico over a decade ago, and has used them, and partly because they have a sense of family history that a book about people I don’t actually know can never have.

As I write this, my espresso machine is gurgling, sending a perfect shot into one of these cups. The sun has just broken through the clouds after three days of grey skies and two days of nonstop rain (which we needed, but still…) and there’s a cardinal singing a happy morning tune in the tree outside my kitchen.

Sometimes, all it takes for a perfect moment is a shot of espresso in a pretty cup.