Black Lightning coffee

SqWires, 1415 South 18th Street; 314-865-3522.

Feb 28, 2007 at 4:00 am
This time last year, we were done with coffee. After a long love affair with the brown angel, we figured we'd had our share. In our years of morning coffee, we've drunk an estimated 131,400 ounces (averaging 20 ounces a day over 18 years). That works out to be roughly 1,100 gallons of coffee — and we're being conservative.

So we kicked. There were some headaches involved, and grumpiness, sure. Soon, however, it was no longer in our life, and we couldn't have cared less. Coffee was in the past, gone the way of flannel shirts and grunge. We'd switched to tea, a wicked blend that probably had as much caffeine as a triple espresso. Each morning, a jumbo tea or, on a whim, Earl Grey with milk, steeped for about seven minutes.

Coffee started whispering to us again about six months ago, just a little suggestion as we were waking up: Come back to Mama. We smiled, but resisted. Tea is delicious, and a perfect hot morning liquid. Then we started tasting it in the back of our throats, that distinctive nuttiness. We drove slowly by Kaldi's. We had to resist the smell of Meshuggah's coffee when we were ordering our tea.

Oh, java. We can't quit you.

It's a Thursday morning and we're at SqWires in Lafayette Square, drinking a goddamned coffee: a large Black Lightning. It's the color of tan corduroy and tastes like Satan's hangover blend — like a slap in the face, a kick in the shin and an Indian burn. Each morning we trudge in with $1.50 and our buy-twelve-get-one-free card, the barista hands us an empty sixteen-ounce cup and a lid, and we fill 'er up with Black Lightning or, if that's not offered, a French roast. SqWires is good because its market opens at 6:30 a.m. and sells not only the brown bean, but also a really good bacon-and-egg sandwich on a croissant. Those are great with coffee.

Our return to coffee started with a little taste. Just a little taste: the smokiness, the earthy warmth, like being wrapped in a fresh-from-the-dryer comforter. Coffee. Then we moved to a small, and augmented that in the afternoon with a large tea. From there we dabbled with blends of chai and espresso, which was an expensive habit. Then we figured that was silly and started moving to coffee flat-out, with a mix of 2 percent and half-and-half, which the Europeans call "white coffee." Which is where we are now: drinking coffee every morning. Back on track.

SqWires serves Wildhorse Creek Coffee, which is longtime St. Louis roaster Ronnoco's "gourmet" subsidiary. Ronnoco provides a lot of the region's restaurants with coffee and offers strong Seattle-style roasts, as well. You know Ronnoco because you smell their handiwork each time you're on Highway 40 just east of Barnes-Jewish. The whiff of roasted bean is so strong that it wends its way through auto ventilation systems to tickle the nose of drivers.

The Black Lightning blend consists of three dark roasts (SqWires couldn't say which) and has a rich, very chocolatey fullness without any acidity at all. It has a nutty, creamy backbone and makes your brain buzz about a half-hour after you finish it. We like it a lot. But then again, is that surprising?