Zach Dyer is a writer living in Saint Louis. He did his thesis research on coffee farmers in Southern Mexico. Since then, he has visited coffee plantations in Costa Rica and Mexico as well as roasters and cafés across the U.S. He blogs about coffee for Gut Check every Wednesday.
Betrayal was the first emotion I felt. My boyfriend said he was giving up coffee -- and for tea, of all things! What does tea have over my black beauty? It was like hearing, "It's not you, it's me." Or, "I think we need to take a break."
For as long as I can remember, coffee, to me, has been about other people. It's a chance to meet with friends in the afternoon or extend your evening after a date. It's an excuse to keep talking at brunch, taking up a table into the early afternoon. So when my boyfriend said he was going to give up coffee, I was suddenly rudderless. How would this change a tradition that's become second nature?
I didn't start drinking coffee alone, like some begrudging convert who finds himself needing it to stay awake or to give his morning a kick-start. My coffee relationship started with my mother when I was in sixth grade. She needed someone to have coffee with after dinner and, considering my middle-school angst, it was a rare time to connect with an adult. Even as a college freshman, I used to grind my beans the night before (as a considerate roommate, I sacrificed grinding in the morning) to have breakfast and coffee with a friend down the hall. Coffee has always been, essentially, social.
But before you start sending condolence letters and messages of support, coffee for one might be more of a beginning than an end. I realize now that, like black coffee with a shot of half-and-half, my vision had been increasingly clouded by an overdependence on drip machines. Perhaps coffee was becoming more a habit than a passion.
The untimely disappearance of my caffeinated cohort in crime has allowed me to address a major fault in my coffee life: I don't own a French press. I know it's well understood to be the best way to serve coffee at home. In fact, I spoke with one barista who said that considering that end result, coffee from a French press achieves the same results as a cup from a Clover. But boutique methods of brewing don't translate well to serving several people at once. I love coffee, but when someone's over, I don't want to have to grind new beans and boil fresh water for every cup.
My initial trepidation over a French press comes down to the glass carafe. Glass is too heat conductive for a warm drink. My coffee always seems to get too cold too quickly when it's served in a glass cup. Considering that one of the reasons I like my coffee black is that I tend to drink it slower and enjoy it longer, the thought of making enough coffee for two and then watching it go cold before my cup's done seems wasteful. And if you buy a press big enough for two people but find yourself, as I do now, short a dance partner, it seems like you invested in something beyond your needs.
(I know it might seem like I'm over-thinking this, but let's be honest... I write a coffee blog.)
When I interviewed Mike Marquard of Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Company
on his recent placement as one of the top ten baristas in the nation, he mentioned something that really stuck in my head. "Coffee is not a finished product." Unlike soda, beer or wine, coffee is completely dependent on the barista or the home drinker to reach its full potential.
No longer limited by my drip machine's advantage of quantity, I can finally indulge my primary interest in coffee, the process: selecting the right beans, experimenting with different brewing methods and getting the grind just right for each of them. Then, of course, there's the sense of achievement that comes with mastering something -- even something as small as a cup of coffee. The whole endeavor has a Zen-like peacefulness for me, the losing yourself in an task while taking great care to execute it perfectly.
So maybe my beverage break-up wasn't such a bad thing after all. But I'm still not going to forgive that home wrecker of drink, tea.