My Coffee Journey

Chemex urn (source: Wikipedia)

My earliest memories of coffee are of my parents using their large Chemex coffee urn to brew coffee in “pour over” style.  I think they brewed 3-4 cups, and kept the coffee warm on their electric cooktop with a star-shaped wire thingy that kept the borosilicate glass from directly contacting the electric burners. In those days, I had little interest in coffee: I didn’t care for the smell, and it seemed to be one of those things adults liked that children did not.

Fast-forward to the early 1990s. I was in a new job at World Vision, helping them move their computer programs from old mainframe computers to new ones. They put a bunch of us in a class on network technology fundamentals. I had already mastered this knowledge but wanted to attend to know what my colleagues were being taught. I was hired as a technology mentor, familiar with the kinds of computers new to the organization.

The class was painfully dull, and I was literally head-bobbing. I recalled a coffee maker in the back of the room, and I thought that perhaps this magic potion would help me stay awake.

By my current standards, the coffee was terrible, but it did have the intended effect.

Later that year, I met a friend who liked to patronize Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a coffee shop chain in malls and airports. I found their mocha java coffee delightful with a healthy (?) dose of cream. My coffee senses were awakened.

For the next few years, I was drinking coffee at home with a lot of cream (or you might way, I was drinking cream with a bit of coffee).  But as I came to love the taste of coffee, I gradually reduced the cream dose and switched to half-and-half, which I use to this day.

In the mid-1990s, I moved to Seattle and discovered Starbucks Coffee. I gravitated to their Café Mocha, and drank them daily for years.  My standard order became “double tall 175 degree non-fat mocha with whip,” which rolled off my tongue as easily as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. But that was not the end.

My work situation changed, and my daily Starbucks mocha became my weekly Starbucks mocha. At the same time, I began to buy Starbucks Italian Roast coffee for brewing at home. This, too, would last for many years.

A few years ago, I decided to venture forth and try other brands of drip coffee. On a particular business trip, I was traveling through the Silicon Valley with a couple of colleagues one afternoon, when one of my colleagues asked, “who wants coffee?”  We stopped at a small Philz Coffee stand, where I ordered a cup of Ether blend coffee.  Philz is a pour-over coffeehouse, no espresso. And Philz makes the complete cup: if you want cream or sugar, they add it as they make it. Imagine my mild embarrassment when I ordered my coffee “with a little room,” to which they replied that they add all the fixings.

This cup of coffee was the best tasting coffee I had ever had in my life. Believing it to be the coffee itself, I bought two pounds on the spot and took them home. And indeed, this was delicious coffee, but it was not as good at home. Then I recalled that the brew method at Philz may have played a part. Remembering my parents’ Chemex coffee, I purchased a 3-cup Chemex coffee maker and soon mastered the art of pour-over.

I switched back to Starbucks Italian Roast for a while, but soon tried other brands, including Black Rifle Coffee, Peet’s, and others.

About two years ago, I was on a business trip to Marina Del Rey and was having breakfast on the restaurant patio. The server asked if I’d like some coffee. Again, this coffee was wonderful, among the best that I had ever tasted. I asked the server what kind it was; he wasn’t sure and went back to check. He brought back a large bag of Lavazza Intenso – a rich, dark blend that induced Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus in my brain with each sip. I sourced this myself, and a pound of Lavazza Intenso was waiting for me when I arrived home two days later. This is my daily coffee to this day.

I generally have two cups of Lavazza in the morning, and a cup of coffee in the afternoon. My afternoon coffee is locally produced, Blue Star Espresso Roast. This blend has some high notes absent from Lavazza and is a welcome afternoon flavor.  I make Blue Star with my Chemex using the standard method used for my morning coffee.

On business travel, I sometimes patronize Starbucks. But my sweet tooth has waned, and I rarely order a mocha. Instead, my choice is a cup of dark roast drip, to which I add a dash of half-and-half. Today, I patronize Starbucks less than one visit per month: I work from home full time and do not frequently travel, and the nearest Starbucks is 25 miles from my house.

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