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?

Sweet and Spicy

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

For many people, the fall season begins on the day after Labor Day. Growing up, it was when fall began for me, because it’s when school resumed after summer vacation. For the last eight years, however, Fuzzy and I have lived in Texas, where temperatures are still summer-hot at least mid-way through the month.

Nevertheless, today is when the Pumpkin Spice Latte returned to Starbucks, and so, even though the high temperature in my city was 104 today, we went to Starbucks after a lovely dinner at our favorite Asian bistro and a quick jaunt to the grocery store. (We were out of cheese and toothpaste. It was dire.)

My local Starbucks has gained a new barista this summer, not an unusual occurrence at a coffee shop, but this one is particularly awesome. Her name is Katherine (or some variant spelling of that name, but, to quote Anne Shirley, and with no disrespect meant to certain friends or relatives, “Katherine spelt with a K is so much more alluring than Catherine with a C”). She wears rainbow spikes in her ear lobes, which should be weird but somehow hers are both cool and tasteful. She has a lovely speaking voice (no Texas accent so I’m guessing she’s a student at one of the local colleges) and a great personality.

And tonight, she introduced me to a new drink customization.

Our conversation went like this:

“Hi, it’s good to see you!” Katherine greeted me.

“Thanks! I saw the sign that Pumpkin Spice Lattes were back when I was at Tom Thumb, but the kiosk closes at seven, and while they’re lovely people, they’re excruciatingly slow.” I said.

“The salted caramel mocha is back too, you know,” she said with a seductive tone in her voice.

“I know,” I said conspiratorially, “but it’s too hot for the salted caramel mocha. It is not, however, too hot for a grande Pumpkin Spice Latte.”

“Good point,” she agreed, beginning to mark my drink request onto the appropriately sized cardboard cup. Then she paused. “You know what I’ve been doing?” she asked.

“No,” I said, leaning over the counter. “Tell me!”

“I’ve been mixing chai with the Pumpkin Spice Latte. You’re a fan of chai, aren’t you.”

I confirmed that I was, in fact, a chai fan, and that I’d love to try her concoction, and so instead of a standard PSL, I walked out with a grande PSL enhanced by two pumps of chai.

It was sweet and spicy, and had a hint of tea underneath the coffee, and was a bit darker in tone than a standard PSL.

Katherine says the only thing better, in her opinion, is mixing chai with the Gingerbread Lattes when they come out in winter.

I can’t wait to find out.