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Nov 13, 2007: I'm trying to change my life

WARNING: narcissism aheadI'm on Day Three of a major life overhaul. After twelve years of not-so-subtle pressure from MJ, I'm making a good-faith effort to become a coffee drinker.

On Sunday, I made a meeting with OK/Cancelman Kevin Cheng my excuse to visit Joe, in the West Village, which purportedly has New York City's best coffee (not to mention excellent Magnolia-killer cupcakes personally baked by my good and close friend, Amy Sedaris). I had a regular coffee, with a little milk and a little sugar. It was good and hot, but the experience didn't realign my vision of the universe and my place in it. It was hot and bitter and not much else. Essentially the way I like my tea. I finished it, got a great buzz, and that was that.

Had another cup yesterday at Tillie's in Fort Greene. Not a famous cup like Joe's, but about the same taste and same experience. And now I'm having one here at the Postmark Cafe in Park Slope. Same thing again.

Maybe I'm missing something. Should I be ordering something fancy, full of cream and sugar and god knows what else? I've always preferred my hot drinks plain and bitter; when I want something hot and sweet, hot chocolate has been my choice. Why dress up coffee like hot chocolate when you can have the real thing?

So the plain joe I've been drinking is comparable to a good tea. Other than the added buzz, I'm not sure what the pluses are. It is a little cheaper than tea, and certainly more ubiquitous. But I still feel like I'm missing something.

Maybe I've just not had a bad coffee yet? One that would make me appreciate the stuff I have been drinking? That seems like a low bar to set: is the best stuff really just mediocre, and only stacks up well against everything else, which is really bad? I'm not sure I like those odds. (Hmm... three hour trip on Amtrak tomorrow should afford me a good opportunity for a truly bad cup of coffee. I'll keep you posted...)

I feel so lost; someone please help me. I've got four more days of coffee drinking; then my week-long experiment will be over. Should I just return to the mundane life of a tea-drinker? Or make my membership in the coffee-drinkers' club a permanent one? I need guidance. How can I best enjoy coffee, make my wife happy, and make my life complete?

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Comment: Michael (Nov 13, 2007)

You should try making it yourself with a French Press and some Trader Joe's coffee :) Then you wouldn't have to worry about drinking bad coffee.

Comment: Steve Mulder (Nov 13, 2007)

Don't succumb! Stand strong, my friend, against the tyranny of the buzzed majority!

Comment: Andrew (Nov 13, 2007)

Sure, try some fancy sweet drinks like malted lattes or something. Sometimes those are great.

I've recently gone to a place here in Seattle that's a "micro-roaster" where they roast small batches of local beans. The idea is that you're not drinking beans that are roasted any more than a day before. I've been amazed at how good the coffee is, and how different the taste is. Maybe you could find someplace like that?

Comment: Cloned Milkmen (Nov 13, 2007)

If the coffee is good, then you should immediately notice the aroma. If the aroma does not catch your attention, then you are not drinking good coffee. For the best aroma, the beans need to be the arabica type (the other type of bean is robusta), and they need to be roasted recently (last few days is really good) and fresh-ground.

If the coffee is really good, you probably won't want to spoil it with milk and sugar.

Comment: Eric (Nov 13, 2007)

I drank black coffee for years. For me it got a whole lot better once I started adding either half&half or whole milk. I don't need the sugar.

Try the permutations and see what works best for you. But if you finally end up drinking a glass of half&half with sugar, I'll disavow this message.

P.S. Did you just name-drop Amy Sedaris, sister of David Sedaris? If so, this should be a triple-hot-dog posting.

Comment: Peter (Nov 13, 2007)

That's funny, I'm just trying to quit coffee.

Comment: Jeffy (Nov 13, 2007)

Heh - in my totally subjective experience, the best smelling coffee is usually lower quality, and prepared all wrong. For me, there's nothing like the smell of Maxwell House on a stove-top percolator.

Just curious: why does MJ want you to start drinking coffee? Being too cranky in the morning? Does she want you to drink it at home, or go somewhere and get it. Maybe this is clever ruse to get you to go get fresh bagels every morning. ;-)

My favorite coffee places in Seattle are those that roast their own, right in the store. You can feel the love with every sip...

Comment: Victor (Nov 13, 2007)

The next step may be an espresso-based drink. Try a small latte at Gorilla on 5th Ave in Park Slope. It's still just coffee and milk, but special in a satisfying way that's different than loading up with sugar and flavoring. The latte is still as drinkable as a regular coffee in case you're not ready for a straight espresso.

(Or I'll make you one at my place :)

Don't hang out in Gorilla too long though, you'll turn into a hipster, start wearing ironic t-shirts, and listen to bands no one has heard of.

Comment: Lou (Nov 13, 2007)

No, I don't really know Amy Sedaris! My tongue was firmly lodged in my cheek. But she really does bake the cupcakes they sell at Joe's.

Comment: Adam Kalsey (Nov 13, 2007)

Coffee should be a sweet beverage, not a bitter one. The taste should be tangy and slightly sweet, even when you drink it black.

The problem with commercial roasts is that they burn the beans. Coffee develops some delicate oils when it's roasted and these oils can make the coffee taste stale more quickly. So the coffees you get at the store, at commercial places like Starbucks, and even a lot of smaller coffee houses has been over-roasted to burn off the oils.

Too bad you've only got a few days left of your experiment. Otherwise I'd send you some of my home-roasted coffee to try out.

Also, just like different teas have vastly different flavors, coffee's the same way. Ping me by email if you want and let me know what sorts of teas you like, and I'd be happy to suggest a coffee that you might like.

Comment: Divya (Nov 13, 2007)

I am a daily coffee drinker and I brew my own (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_filter_coffee) - it has a slightly bitter after taste (that kinda keeps me awake!) but tastes sweet when I drink it, and smells heavenly when I bring the cup to my lips :) a great start to my day!

Comment: Mary Jean (Nov 13, 2007)

To clear my name: I did NOT insist that Lou start drinking coffee. True, when we started dating 12 years ago I was aghast at myself to be hanging out with a guy who doesn't use, but I long ago came to terms with it and, I swear, the berating quickly came to an end.

Lou left out an important detail: he may never have drunk the stuff, but for several years he's been making me coffee every morning. Very good coffee. Grinds the beans and everything. In fact, my own skills have atrophied so much that when he goes away I notice the drop in quality. So I think before this experiment ends he should, as he always says, eat his own (caffeinated) dogfood.

Adam, *I'd* sure love some of your home-roasted coffee if you care to send some; it doesn't have to depend on Lou, does it?

Comment: Walker Hamilton (Nov 13, 2007)

I'm pretty certain you just haven't had a bad cup yet.

And, good, Mary Jean *should* have been pushing him to have coffee. The earlier the better!

Comment: Lou (Nov 13, 2007)

Victor, let's have a latte date when I'm back from DC.

Adam, I'll just have to extend my self-imposed deadline. Our mailing address:
705 Carroll Street, #2L
Brooklyn, NY 11215 USA

Send it along and I'll send you something nice in return. That goes for everyone!

Oh, Adam: my favorite is the tin of loose Royal Blend from Fortnum & Mason. But just about any black tea, not too aromatic, will start my day off right.

And everyone: I daresay I do make good coffee. (Victor, will you back me up?) But to actually try some of my own brew, now that'll be something. I've got Saturday marked as the big day.

Comment: Scott Rippon (Nov 14, 2007)

G'day Lou.

You've probably already heard about this but if you're starting to become a coffee drinker please consider buying fair trade coffee.

Mugged: Poverty in your coffee cup
An Oxfam report

Comment: Victor (Nov 14, 2007)

I will testify to Lou's coffee making skills -- it's yummy. Though usually a cook should taste the food he makes, so I think we were missing a step in the feedback loop :)

To Scott's concern, the coffee at Gorilla is organic and fair trade.

Personally I like the Turk's approach to coffee:
Black as Hell,
Strong as Death, and
Sweet as Love.

Comment: mantruc (Nov 14, 2007)

Lou, you may already have seen some of my espresso pics on flickr. That's the way to go IMHO.

I've loved coffee for long but these last years, working with my european office-buddies has led me to learn more about how to properly prepare it.

Once you find the good beans and ground them to espresso size, take them to an espresso machine and get the coffee-containing cup whatever-you-call-it tightly packed. Turn the water on, you will first get a thick dark liquid, and it will later become paler, but still thick. The trick is to stop brewing before it is watery-liquid and transparent, this can take some practice and requires attention, as its a matter of seconds.

There's a whole science behind all this about the lesser the time the coffee is in contact with the water, the least toxins you get into your cup, etc. The clear foamy layer atop of your cup is what Italians call crema, it has oils, proteins, and is the key to a great taste... good beans will get you nice crema, old, bad or not tight enough coffee will hardly develop crema and will taste quite bitter. A good espresso will have a balanced flavor, almost sweet.

That's what my wife has come to call coffee syrup.

I've found some nice beans from Costa Rica and Colombia around here (Santiago, Chile). But sanitary regulations make it hard for me to send you a sample, you just better pay a visit anyway ;-)

Comment: Liz Danzico (Nov 14, 2007)

I send Victor's recommendation for Gorilla (and his testament to his own coffee!). It's delicious. You can order it online and not even be tempted by hipsters.

*Edible Brooklyn* just did a wonderful article on Brooklyn's coffee, including a nice mention of Gorilla.

Comment: Mark Thristan (Nov 21, 2007)

Lou, just to add my twopennorth - try Blue Mountain from Jamaica. Phenomenally expensive, but it might just give you the wow! factor to convert you properly. Commonly regarded as the best coffee going (but that is, of course, a matter of personal taste!), and certainly one of my caffeine preferences. You might also want to try a civet coffee - very interesting taste, but you may want to ignore the method of "production"... Can't make any recommendations as to NY coffee houses, but if you want a stash of tea from Fortnum's at any stage, just let me know.

Comment: Richard (Nov 21, 2007)

Stick with Tea

Its more 'green' in the fact that coffee buyers have tended to force 3rd world countries into more debt by forcing the price down

Tea has less caffine that coffee, this is a true fact

Tea is more civilised

My advice try PG tips you can get from a Britsh food shop, you will never touch coffee again for your daily dose of hot beverage

Comment: Myra (Nov 22, 2007)

What the hell is wrong with sugar in coffee? I love it, and I'm proud to say so!!!

Comment: The Bat (Nov 25, 2007)

Ahh, heck. You just need a good ol' mug of my notorious "cowboy coffee." Take a blue enamel coffee pot, fill it with water, throw in couple of handfuls of fresh coffee grounds and about a teaspoon of salt. Boil it. When it boils, add a dash of cold water to settle the grounds. Depending on what your tap water is like, I tend to use bottled spring water. That's about as fancy as it gets. And, yes, you can crack an egg and dump it in to collect those grounds, but it really adds nothing to the brew and it's a waste of a good egg. (I'd rather fry the egg and eat it on an English muffin or a piece of sourdough toast.)

Comment: The Bat (Nov 25, 2007)

Ahh, heck. You just need a good ol' mug of my notorious "cowboy coffee." Take a blue enamel coffee pot, fill it with water, throw in couple of handfuls of fresh coffee grounds and about a teaspoon of salt. Boil it. When it boils, add a dash of cold water to settle the grounds. Depending on what your tap water is like, I tend to use bottled spring water. That's about as fancy as it gets. And, yes, you can crack an egg and dump it in to collect those grounds, but it really adds nothing to the brew and it's a waste of a good egg. (I'd rather fry the egg and eat it on an English muffin or a piece of sourdough toast.)

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