Coffee Deprived in the PNW??
The old man and I are serious coffee fans. Access to good coffee is a quality of life issue for us. We live in the Pacific Northwest and should have access to all kinds of great brews, but we don’t. Which sucks since this is the birthplace of Starbucks, the most ubiquitous brand in the industry. Starbucks led the way in the coffee revolution that swept the country in the 1980’s. Not that their coffee is so special, but the whole coffee shop experience–the Americano, Macchiatto, latte, breve, gourmet, single-double-triple shot 240 degrees and dry please coffee experience, we owe largely to Starbucks–and the Italians. But in this country, before Starbucks, coffee options were minimal. I grew up in that deprived era. It was awful.
Growing up we were offered two options–you could have it black or with cream. The cream could be ordered light or medium, so coffee light and sweet had lots of cream and sugar. Yes, there was sugar too! White sugar. The bleached cane variety. It came in little white and pink and blue bags. It’s one of the few things that hasn’t changed in the industry. But now we also have packets of other plant-based sweeteners in our well stocked coffee bars– stevia, Agave, fructose, and even Sugar in the Raw, which sounds like a porn star but is actually sugar that has undergone less processing than white sugar and therefore is much more expensive and is generally my sweetener of choice. And now there are sugarless low-cal sweeteners made from God knows what that have a wicked metallic aftertaste, but hey, they won’t make you fat so go ahead and order the 600 calorie lemon pound cake you know you want. But please, only skim milk in the latte.
The coffee I grew up with had only one temperature too–hot! There was no people-pleasing harried “barista” with a thermometer at Dunkin Donuts to insure your coffee was the exact temperature your over caffeinated OCD coffee snob attitude insisted was the only possible way you could drink it without your whole day being ruined. It was hot and that was good enough, back in the simple days of my youth. I made coffee for the good working people who lined up at Bess Eaton Donuts on week day mornings, bleary eyed and hungry. They wanted coffee made quick, strong and hot and a fragrant fresh donut alongside. They would not have tolerated some mamby-pamby coffee snob in bike shorts sniffling over the temperature of his coffee or the crustiness of his croissant. I’m just sayin.
Cold coffee was something of an issue, as there were no microwaves to heat it back up then. You either threw it away or poured it in a pan and re-heated it. A lot of trouble to re-heat a beverage, I know, but that is how we lived, hard as it is to imagine. Now Iced coffee was something my Sicilian American mother did with the day old coffee at our house in the dog days of summer. She put it in the fridge and the next day drank it with cubes, milk and sugar. I thought that was pretty exotic at the time. Little did I know I would live through a true coffee renaissance Now there are iced coffees, blended coffees, coffee like beverages made in giant slushi machines that taste more like milkshakes than coffee, and there is wet foam and dry foam and steamed milk and iced hot chocolate (??), and coffee drinks come in bottles, cans, and convenient little plastic straws of coffee concentrates you can keep in your purse so you need never be deprived of your coffee fix. And at home you can pop an innocent looking little plastic coffee pod in a machine and have a personalized coffee experience right in your own kitchen! Then you just pop that innocent little pod in the trash can and wait for it to show up out in the Pacific ten years from now bobbing around with a gazillion or so other innocent looking little plastic pods. It’s so convenient.
And talk about convenient–coffee is even showing up in bathrooms and bedrooms now. I see them on those home improvement shows where they ambush unsuspecting but some how always photogenic young and stylish homeowners shopping for light bulbs and caulk at Home Depot and in three days give them an incredible new bath or bedroom with built-in mirror TVs, gas fireplaces and shiny chrome espresso machines to fire up when their done playing with the new bidet.
So yeah, there is definitely a coffee experience renaissance still going on. Except in my corner of the world. Which is close enough to the whole Seattle/Starbucks/Tully’s thing to have an espresso stand on every corner, but most of them serve really horrid coffee. Coffee the color and viscosity of bong water. And it doesn’t matter if you order single, double or triple shots in your latte or Americano, the coffee flavor component is still mysteriously sorely lacking. And the so-called “coffee shops” usually consist of second-hand vinyl tables and chairs scattered around a mildewy store front with an espresso machine cranking out the same vile dishwater flavored coffee and “pastries” from some commercial bakery outlet store located in the depressing industrial part of town. No comfortable leather couches, no gas fireplaces and no warm Tuscan color schemes. No fresh coffee beans being ground to order and filling the air with the irresistible aroma of Juan Valdez’ poncho. No 600 calorie lemon pound cake. NONE of it. It’s so depressing.
But we have adjusted. We make our coffee at home for the most part. It is strong and hot and we buy quality bags of Rain Forest Blend organic arabica beans from Costco. It’s quite good. We brew it in a drip coffee pot that belonged to my Mom and that made the first cup of coffee I ever drank. But when we’re rushed and on our way somewhere, we end up at Starbucks more often than not. Which is okay. It used to be a twenty-minute drive to the nearest one, but they built one closer so it’s about fifteen minutes now, and off the interstate so it’s convenient. And most of the folks there are travelling too, so there isn’t much sniffling going on in line if things aren’t perfect. We all want our coffee strong, hot and fast. With a raw sugar please. And a 600 calorie slice of pound cake. Life is short. Live dangerously.
©2015, Ilona Elliott