There was a time in my past when I dreamt of owning a coffee shop. It was a nice dream. One slow morning at my first law office job, the boss asked me to make a pot of coffee. I don’t think I made it to his liking because he never asked me to make the coffee again, but I wasn’t deterred from my dream. I even worked as a barista at a grocery store Starbucks for one summer which confirmed that I enjoyed making fancy coffee, and wasn’t bad at it when I had been trained (or at least was used to) the equipment at hand. But the coffee shop dream eventually evaporated, like so many dreams do. It’s just as well; I never got the hang of latte art.
I’m not a coffee snob, though. My parents were never coffee drinkers, and until Starbucks finally reached central Missouri when I was in high school, I primarily thought of coffee as something almost exclusively for old people. (I blame this prejudice on my experience of only seeing my grandparents and people their age or older at church drinking it.)
My experience with the grocery store Starbucks was very mixed. I enjoyed making the drinks and had a few regular customers who I enjoyed seeing. My manager was a nightmare, though, and some of the training definitely wanted me to have a more sophisticated palate than I do. Even after all this time, my most eloquent taste descriptors for any given cup are “Hey, this is pretty good!” or “This is a little gross.” I often tease my dad for not being able to tell the difference between vodka, rum, gin, and tequila, but Kalen and I briefly joined a local home-brewing club and when we did beer tastings, I was really stretching my creativity to identify different flavor notes in the beer. The club was a lot of fun, but I felt like a heel not being able to give any kind of helpful feedback to people who had worked really hard to make a unique brew and then share it with the club, especially when my taste in beer is pretty narrow.
I’m much less picky about coffee, though, and if I get a cup of something I don’t quite like, it can usually be remedied with enough sugar and milk. I do not recommend this method for improving a beer.
I don’t have a fancy coffee brewing setup that looks like a chemistry lab with various filters and burners and glassware in the most exotic shapes. I do have a French Press, but I haven’t used it in several years. We also have a pitcher to make cold brew in the summer, but most of the time, we just make coffee in our regular drip coffee pot. The fanciest thing I do (when it comes to coffee, I guess; because it’s not that fancy in any other context, and in other contexts I suppose I am occasionally fancier still) is grind my own beans. (See? In any other context, “grinding beans” is not fancy.)
How did that happen? Like many good things in my life, it was an accident.
About ten years ago, I bought some coffee in the souvenir shop of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. I know that buying coffee from a zoo doesn’t sound the most appealing, even if I say, “But there were cute monkeys on the packaging!” but it was fair trade, smelled nice, and it wasn’t that kind that gets eaten and pooped out by civet cats. I didn’t realize until I was home that it was whole bean.
I remembered from my time at Starbucks that different coffee makers need different levels of grind, but I couldn’t remember what the specifications really were, and I didn’t have a coffee grinder anyway. I did have, however, a little blender set with a few different blades. I didn’t know how finely to grind the coffee, but I didn’t have a lot of precision with the tools at my disposal. It didn’t matter though, because the coffee was awesome. I can’t be more descriptive than that (both for the reasons stated above and because it was ten years ago), but I remember realizing it was some of the best coffee I’d ever had. Zoo coffee. Who’d have thought!
Since then, I’ve preferred to grind my own beans. I don’t refuse coffee that’s already ground, but almost all the coffee I make at home is fresh ground. One of my best friends got us a real coffee grinder as a wedding present, and we have used it faithfully for the past nine years.
Last week, though, it broke.
I looked on the company website and they had a few replacement parts, but not the part that was visibly broken on our model. And it looked like they were discontinuing our model anyway, because it was a blade grinder and the coffee world has decided that burr grinding is far superior.
Like I said, I’m not a coffee snob, so even though I’ve heard many such devotees profess that burr grinders are the only way to go, I just shrugged and said, “Okay, but my blade grinder works fine.” Why buy a new appliance when the old one doesn’t have anything wrong with it? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, after all.
But then it was broke(n). And we couldn’t fix it. So we broke(
n) down and bought a new coffee grinder, and this time went with an adjustable burr grinder. It was delivered today so I got it all cleaned and set up, and since it was a cold, dreary morning, and I had a little bit of a headache from the weather, and I was already a little anxious about the outcome of today’s midterm elections (did you vote? Go vote!), I decided I had no choice but to try it out and make myself some coffee.
And it’s good. I honestly don’t know if I can tell a difference in the finished product; I drank the coffee and thought, “Hey this is pretty good!” so that’s what matters. And since I can more readily adjust the grind size, maybe I’ll start using my French press again more often.
What I do know for certain is that this has taken me far more time to write than I thought because I am more caffeinated than usual and keep jumping up to go do other things. Which I must now do again.
Do you like coffee? How do you prefer to prepare it? What’s your favorite snack to have with your coffee? Is there something you’d just like to get off your chest and share? Leave a comment below!