Category Archives: Coffee

Chasing Fireflies

I went out for a cup of coffee as night fell.  Alright, I went out for a brownie. The coffee was an accompaniment that I ordered out of habit. Post stroke, I’ve cut my consumption to a cup a day. It’s a 12 to 16 oz cup, mind you, but still a cup. Until recently a 32 oz press was scarcely enough to start my day. The funny thing is, I don’t miss it.

It helps that my local shop has switched suppliers. Their coffee is different. New names. The new names are new fangled. They’re names the roaster gave them. These names are given to intrigue you to taste and purchase.’s They don’t tell you where a coffee is from or how it was processed. Not seeing the name of the country/region listed with the bean is unusual for me. Where a coffee is from determines–to a large degree–it’s flavor profile.  I can and do ask the baristas, but their knowledge is general. They’re still getting to know the coffee too. It’s a barrier. I buy less coffee here are a result. Last night I ordered a cup and learned on first sip that it was Ethopian. The delicate fruity aroma of the cup, it’s berry flavor and medium body gave it away.  The coffee is 30% more expensive. That’s another a barrier. If I’m going to pay $17 for a bag of coffee, I’ll buy a top rated bean from a great roaster.  If I’m counting pennies, which I am, I’ll choose another local supplier. So I purchased a cup with my amazing 4×4 brownie and walked back home. As I did, I chased fireflies.

Growing up chasing fireflies was a low-tech summer activity. All we needed was a thirty-two ounce jar with a perforated lid. We’d place grass torn from the lawn at the bottom of the jar. Supplies gathered, we were ready. My sibs and I would run and catch fireflies in our hands and place them in the jar. After a time we’d stop and stare at the jar. We were waiting for them to blink. I suppose we thought we’d made a natural flashlight.  They didn’t blink. Given what we know about fireflies, I’m not surprised. We had no idea that we’d become Godzilla, Mothra and Ghidora on their night out. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/science/30firefly.html?pagewanted=all

Tonight I walk, cup of coffee in one hand and brownie in the other. I can only chase the fireflies. I can’t catch them.

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Sweets Has A New Smile

Bud’s bus leaves at 8:20 a.m.
Sweets‘ school assembles at 8:54.

As the school year progresses, I’m learning that thirty-four minutes can be an expanse of time or a short interval.

Mornings have a certain flow to them. I grind the coffee beans at 6:45. The sound invariably wakes my son. A weary voice calls. “Dad?” In his life coffee doesn’t yet have magical qualities. It’s the alarm he hears. Then again, given how hard he sleeps, maybe it does.

When I was eleven, my Dad would stand at my door and call my name. After five minutes that felt like seconds, he knock and call again. If more time passed and I didn’t get up, he’d come into my room, place his hand on my shoulder and shake me lightly. If that didn’t work, my mom would take over and I would feel her hand. I would hear her voice and begin my day.

These days I wake to the chorus of U2’s “Beautiful Day.” It’s a small reminder of what lies ahead, regardless of the weather. When I’m getting enough sleep, I rise before the alarm goes off. Sometimes I’m early enough to be my own snooze button. I’ll roll over and tell myself to take an extra ten minutes or twenty. Then I’ll wake up a second time, before the alarm sounds. If I’m over-tired or just up too late, I try to adjust and set the alarm for a later time. That’s usually an accident in process. I’ve set the alarm for 7 p.m. instead of a.m. or changed it to one in the afternoon. I don’t know how that happens, well I do, but it’s all fuzzy in my head. That’s the point. When that happens the morning is an interesting scramble.

Sweets wakes up when she’s ready. No alarm necessary. She seems to sleep as long as she needs. That’s usually about ten and a half hours. It’s four more than I am usually able.

She’s a cold breakfast girl to Bud’s hot breakfast boy. When she wakes, her head is clear. She doesn’t need much time to wash, eat or dress. That’s good. The thirty-four minutes is a nice buffer to have in the morning.

Making coffee precedes Bud’s hot breakfast. I love the way fresh coffee foams in the press like Coca Cola hitting ice cream. The brew swells and slowly recedes.

There are generally four keys to a great cup. Most important are the beans themselves. Quality matters. Freshness too. Coffee stales quickly and keeping it in the fridge only exposes it to the flavors there. The beans absorb them the way baking soda does. I don’t like flavored coffee. A refrigerated blend sits in my imagination alongside the Berties Botts Every Flavored Beans that Harry Potter hopes he never has to taste.

The grind is determined by the brewing method you’re going to use. And you have to use enough coffee. Two good tablespoons for every six ounces of water is the industry standard. That’s twice what most folks use. Good tasting water is key also. After all, it’s 98% of the cup! I’ll take my first sips while making breakfast and finish the cup as I make their lunches.

After breakfast the requisite reminders follow. Ten minutes until we have to leave. Don’t forget to put your homework in your folders. Is your bag packed? Did you brush your teeth? Deoderize? Where are your socks? You need socks. No, it’s too cold to wear that without a t-shirt. Aren’t you wearing shoes today? Yes, you’re wearing a coat. There’s a lot of eye rolling along the way. There’s tension, sometimes a joke or two and by the time we’re in the car, some ease on all sides. That is unless we forget something, or the unexpected happens.

This morning while Sweets was brushing her teeth a loose tooth came out. One of her front teeth. There was a little blood and more surprise. We used all of the buffer before she headed to school, with a new smile.

Respecting the Bean

Coffee love (and more).

I was in an indie coffee shop a few weeks back and asked about a bean they were selling – out of pure interest. I liked the cup I was drinking and wanted to know what it was.

The barista asked one person, who asked another person, who asked fourth person before the first person took a guess. I almost laughed out loud.

The shop has a great local rep and participates at Specialty Coffee Association conferences, barista championships, etc. Still, no one knew. I realized that in the end, at every business really, the product you provide is second to the service the people you’ve hired to sell it can offer. At Starbucks, Howard Behar was famous for saying, “We’re not in the coffee business serving people. We’re in the people business, serving coffee.”

At your business much do your people know about the services you offer? How skilled are they at helping meet the needs of your customers? These things may look different shop to shop. Store to store. Business to business. The fundamental issue is the one Behar was addressing at Starbucks: How much do your folks respect your bean?

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