I love coffee. Coffee is life. Let’s be clear about that. To me, coffee drinking is just as much a rite of passage as say, your first beer. Or a glass of wine. It is an adult beverage. Youngsters can drink it, of course. But it takes time to learn about its intricacies. One must have experience to know that all coffees are not alike. And while each one has its own style and personality, you will not like them all.
One of the great delights of coffee is that it can be personalized to suit every taste. Personal coffee styles separate coffee lovers of every stripe. You can make a cuppa joe just the way you like it. And there are so many ways to do that. But it all starts with the coffee type.
You may prefer coffee that is light and mild. Something like a breakfast blend or Starbuck’s blonde. These are quite popular. They’re not challenging, easy to drink, approachable. Like a porch pounder wine, a session beer or an affable neighbor. You can enjoy it every day without much effort.
Perhaps you like something in the medium range. A little more oompf but not too bitter or strong. A lovely Italian roast or Guatemalan might do the trick. If you’re American, Dunkin Donuts is the king of medium roast coffee. I discovered this when I lived in New York and saw the constant lines at the Dunkins around the neighborhood.
Logically, I asked a cop, “Why the lines? What do they put in their donuts?” She laughed and said the line was not for the donuts. It was for the coffee. “Last place in America to get medium roast. Everything else has gone dark.” Apparently, moderate is not a nasty word in the coffee-drinking world.
Which brings us to the stated preference of many – dark, rich, bold coffee. That would be your French roast, espresso, Intelligentsia Black Cat or even Death Wish, which claims to be the world’s strongest coffee. A dark roast coffee drinker surely embraces life with gusto. This could be the coffee for risk-takers, the ones who want to suck every drop of excitement from life that they can. The skydivers and bungee jumpers of coffeeland live here.
One last category of coffee is the exotic. The Black Ivory Coast, Finca el Injerto, Hacienda La Esmerelda, Kopi Luwak and the like. These are unique and rare types of coffee that have their own histories surrounding them. Because of the nature of their creation, whether from a small and isolated area that is difficult to cultivate or their passage through the system of an animal before harvesting, these coffees are expensive. How expensive? A pound of Black Ivory Coast from Thailand that passes through the digestive system of elephants can go for $50 a cup or more than $500 a pound – when you can find it. It’s not for everyone, just like most of life’s offerings.
Coffee Culture Around The World
And yet, it’s not so black and white. Many rituals around the world inform these basic coffee types. In Cuba and Brazil, for example, coffee is made thick, dark and very strong. But it is blended in equal parts with sweetened condensed or evaporated milk. Thus, the intensity is muted and infused with a sweetness that makes it so drinkable that you cannot have just one cup. It is, perhaps just like life in Cuba and Brazil. Wonderful for some, not so for most, but an unforgettable blend of the sweet and bitter experiences that life there has to offer.
Greek Coffee, Turkish Coffee
In Greece and Turkey, coffee has an important cultural role in the national heritage. These folks love to sit in their coffee shops whiling away the hours. Coffee is made by blending equal parts of espresso ground dark coffee with water and boiled in a “briki” or brass pot with a pouring spout. The coffee boils up and is taken off the heat three times. It can be made sweet, medium or without sugar.
However sweet, coffee is not complete without Greek spoon sweets or Turkish Delight to complete the ritual. Coffee may be taken any time of day, which may account for the amount of late night activity in these cultures, from dining to dancing to, well, more coffee. And when you are done, a skilled reader can turn the cup over and tell your future from the configuration of the grounds left in the cup. This may, sometimes, call for another coffee. And, thus “sto kafenio” or “at the café” is a common answer when looking for someone who is not at work or at home.
Viennese Coffee Houses
The coffee houses Vienna are well known for their place in Austria. Vienna prefers elegance with marble tabletops as a signature element inside lovely chandelier-lit rooms. The famous Viennese specialty of Einspänner Coffee contains strong black coffee served in a glass with whipped cream on top and powdered sugar on the side. A refined approach that serves perhaps as a fitting metaphor for a society that has produced some of the best art, music and culture in the world.
French cafés, of course, are known the world over. Here, the proper way to take a coffee is to sit outside, facing the sidewalk and watching the world pass by. This is true even if you are sitting with a companion. You will both sit side by side and converse while watching the happenings. Un petit café, or a little strong espresso coffee, may be taken black, sweet, with milk or in any variation. It is usually accompanied by a pastry or croissant. Then, you sit back and chat and watch the activity in front of you. Sometimes for hours. The French do not rush to turn tables. And you should not rush to get the check.
Mexican Coffee And More
Mexican coffee is brewed with cinnamon and sugar. It provides a little sweetness and spice that seems appropriate for a country that can’t resist a good fiesta. Spain and Portugal love to drink a “cortada” combining espresso with a little warm milk. Along with breakfast, these Europeans serve coffee as a pick-me-up during La Merienda, an afternoon time for coffee and snacks. Saudi Arabians respectfully serve the elders their coffee first. Cardamom spice and sweet dates often accompany the coffee to temper the bitter dark brew.
Coffee Culture In America
So while the world enjoys coffee and has its own coffee culture, no country has the diversity of coffee customs as America. True to life here in the States, coffees can range from the lightest to the darkest. Coffee drinkers make it strong like espresso, dripped through a filter, poured over, French pressed, steeped, percolated, boiled, and even slowly made through coils while cold.
One American coffee custom that is particularly close to my heart is the tradition of “Coffee and…” You know this tradition, too. We have coffee and donuts. Or coffee and bagels. Coffee and cake. I first became aware of this ritual through an old friend who, whenever we would talk about having a coffee together, would offer to bring bring the “and.” To this day, one of my favorite ways to take a break is to meet someone for coffee and.
It’s undeniable that there are many coffee uses that go beyond just a warm morning cup. There’s nitro coffee for an extra caffeine punch. Bulletproof coffee made with butter and coconut oil can make a whole meal. And frozen coffee milkshakes easily become dessert. Millions of coffee lovers eagerly anticipate pumpkin spice lattes in an annual celebration each fall. Cappuccinos can complete an elegant meal. Irish coffees can start one. Coffee cupcakes, coffee cookies, coffee brownies…there’s so much to do with coffee! And Americans do all of it somewhere.
Whether you want to sit and sip leisurely or get a jolt on the go, you will find a way to enjoy your cuppa just the way you want it. And as the globe spins, so does coffee continue to evolve. One of the best innovations I’ve seen is the adaptation of the concept of the tea bag to brew your cup of coffee. Steeped Coffee offers a way to brew your coffee using an oversized tea bag. Of course, they’ve taken pains to use this process to create the perfect cup of coffee every time. Unlike tea bags that create a bitter brew if they steep too long Steeped Coffee bags actually brew a perfect cup every time. So you don’t have to worry if you’ve gotten a call during the few minutes it takes to steep. Nitro sealed for freshness, the coffee choices range from light to French roast, and even decaf. I tried several and really did love the convenience and the taste. No muss no fuss.
From standing in line at Dunkin Donuts to driving through Starbucks to hanging out at the local diner, Americans truly love their coffee. Consuming 400 million cups per day – 146 billion cups per year, Americans are the world’s biggest coffee lovers.
Famous Coffee Quotes
As one might expect, there are some fun and memorable coffee quotes. Howard Schultz, the wizard of Starbucks sums it up in one way: “I can’t imagine a day without coffee. I can’t imagine!”
And another that makes me smile is from the irrepressible David Letterman who says: “If it wasn’t for the coffee, I’d have no identifiable personality whatsoever.”
Just so we’re clear that coffee has indelibly inserted itself into the fabric of America, one of the most famous quotes we associate with coffee came from President Theodore Roosevelt. Often called our most caffeinated President, TR drank a gallon of coffee a day. It’s no surprise that he came up with the famous coffee quote, “good to the last drop.”
Coffee Is Life
Coffee provides a window to the world like no other beverage. It’s world culture in a cup. And every individual shows his or her true self through a particular coffee style. Witness someone in Starbucks ordering a triple venti half-caff no foam soy latte with caramel drizzle at 120 degrees to see if you disagree.
Coffee is life. Embrace it. Chase it. Make it your own.
Hmmm… I think it’s coffee time. What’s that you ask? What am I going to have? Well, today I think it will be a nice Italian roast, run through a drip filter with a little Italian sweet cream. Perfect for easing into my next story. How about you? What’s your coffee story?
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