August 31, 2009

Beware of the Buzz Kill - a Coffee Saga

I’m having a love affair with coffee again and I’m not ashamed to proclaim it to the world - especially since certain health officials have finally extolled its beneficial virtues. There was a time when I’d sworn off the dark, steamy liquid heaven and switched to its lighter, less frenetic sister, tea. I blogged about it last year, convinced that the “buzz” I got from coffee ultimately wasn’t worth the rapid heart beats, withdrawal headaches and sleepless nights. And I still believe that to be true, kind of. Honestly, nothing beats the zing you get from that first cup in the morning, how it creeps through your bloodstream, awakening every single cell in its path. The rush you receive when your brain receives the dose, like bubbles of energy bursting in rhythm. But if it were just about the buzz, I’d end this post here.

Recently, I went to a fast food restaurant (that will remain nameless) to try what their advertising people have worked hard to portray as “café-quality” coffee, airing commercials that show hip people sitting in cool clubs listening to smooth Neo-soul music and crisp spoken word. I bought into the hype! I saw me and my girlfriends sipping these trendy beverages in cute little dresses, being exceedingly cosmopolitan. The buzz kill came when I bought one of these drinks and gagged at the unpleasant flavor and bitter aftertaste. Yes, my drug of choice must not only be stylish, it must also taste good.

In my town of Jersey City, NJ, we have Starbucks, Gloria Jean’s, Van Houtte, all national chains that do coffee well. It’s what they do. It’s their specialty. Even Dunkin’ Donuts gives good coffee because they don’t try to compete with a million other things on their menu. My town also boasts a few artisan coffee shops that are exceptional like Legal Grounds and AHYMN Espresso Bar & Café. The baristas must study the art of coffee and have found their niches from Italian press to grinding their own beans. I make my rounds through all of these establishments. I spend money, way too much. What is it about other people’s coffee that makes standing in long lines or waiting more than 10 minutes to get a fix acceptable? I figure while I’m there I should ask as many questions as I can about what makes a great cup of java in hopes of duplicating their efforts at home. Is it the grinds? Or do the beans have to come from Columbia or South Africa? Sometimes I get answers; most times I get blank stares. And while spending $3 - 4 everyday on my favorite beverage was fine in a better economy, it’s not a wise move now. Enter the greatest invention since the DVR – the Keurig machine and accompanying K-cups which solve everything: a consistently great tasting cup of coffee in a wide variety of roasts and blends right in your own home or office. And at what comes out to about $.25 - .50 a cup, you won’t ever have to worry about your buzz (or your wallet) being killed.

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