COFFEE, THE REAL MAGICAL BEAN
“I don't know where my ideas come from. I will admit, however, that one key ingredient is caffeine. I get a couple cups of coffee into me and weird things just start to happen.”
― Gary Larson
Isn’t that the case with most of us? Coffee, and the presence of caffeine has become one of those necessities in life. It is, oftentimes, the first thing we consume in the morning and the last thing before sleep. In a restaurants kitchen, coffee is the lifeblood of production. The juice that keeps use motivated to blast through that impossible list of mise en place before service and the fuel that keeps everyone’s senses dialed up to “10” on the volume scale as the printer spits out orders from the dining room.
Cooks, like many others in various professions (pick one, any one, we all use coffee in the same way) have viewed coffee as a commodity. Like gasoline for your car, we frequently neglect any discrimination by brand, source or bean; it keeps the car moving, or it keeps us moving. As long as it has a high enough octane level, we will consume it. Whether your fix is black, with cream and sugar, scalding hot, cold and packed with ice, espresso or cappuccino, the intent is to USE coffee to bring about a result – maintaining your energy level.
I would equate what is happening with coffee in recent years with the typical transition people go through when first introduced to wine. There is the initial reaction of turned up nose and a grimace on your face as the bitter attack of coffee or wine tells your senses to resist. After a few more tries, we become accustomed to the product and, like with any other consumable, we drink without emotion, only to reap some type of benefit (an alcohol or caffeine buzz). When people ask, “Do you enjoy coffee or wine?” The response is usually plain vanilla, “Not really.”
Over time, the consumption of wine or coffee becomes a habit, a part of our routine. “I’ll have a glass of red or white, or, I’ll have a black coffee or coffee with cream.” You drink a product you are accustomed to, but rarely emotional about. Will you drink wine from a box? “Sure, why not?” Do you want Folgers, Chock Full of Nuts, Green Mountain, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks? “Whatever, as long as it is black and hot.”
“Our culture runs on coffee and gasoline, the first often tasting like the second.” ― Edward Abbey, Down the River
Those who take the leap to learn about wine or learn about coffee, can, over time, build a discriminating palate for the beverage. This can be an enjoyable process elevating wine or coffee from commodity status to something that is treasured, respected, and even relished. The interesting thing is building a coffee palate and understanding why products are different is very similar to building a wine palate. When this happens, great coffee, like great wine becomes something to seek out, an experience that can take center stage.
“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup” ― Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings
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