From Coffee Hater to Coffee Snob, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bean

I hate coffee.

Or, at least, I thought I did. It turns out that it was only because I didn’t know what I liked. Travel teaches you a lot of things, the most important being that everyone does things differently. There are many wonderful and profound things about traveling, but the one I’m going to write about today is pretty mundane: I do, in fact, love coffee — just not the way we typically prepare it here in America. =)

It Started With Starbucks

Starbucks is the gateway drug. Is it good coffee? Not really. But oh man, it is candy. I still enjoy a Starbucks mocha, but I don’t pretend it’s the same thing as a proper Italian espresso, or a nice Turkish coffee. Starbucks is more like Taco Bell. I don’t delude myself that it’s Mexican food, but sometimes I crave it all the same.

Next Was Travel

In the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot of interesting places. having come to the Starbucks-driven conclusion that maybe I would like some kinds of coffee, I had started trying coffee when I visited other countries.

Cynthia and I went to Brazil with a friend and the coffee in our hotel was spectacular. Sweet and a little bit chocolaty and not at all bitter. I was visiting Germany for the OpenNMS User Conference and a coworker and I would get latte macchiatos and they were great as well — silky smooth. In Spain I tried a caffГЁ macchiato and it was tasty too, like a good dark chocolate. In Italy, we tried caffe con panna, a wonderful mix of espresso and sweet whipped cream. A great little deli right here in Fuquay-Varina of all places, Nil’s, makes wonderful Turkish coffee, thick and sweet.

Since getting acclimated to coffees I like, I’ve tried drip coffees thinking “Coffee is an acquired taste, right? Maybe I’m just used to it now.” Nope, still not in the same universe as what I make at home now, much less the wide variety of wonderful coffees I’ve just mentioned. Making it myself is not only better, but it’s extremely consistent. It’s hard to make a bad cup if you’ve got good beans.

The AeroPress: A Coffee Geek's Best Friend

So What Was Different?

So let me start out by saying, I am still in no way an expert. I can only say what I’ve found that I like, in my quest for coffee that fits my tastes.

I Googled around a lot and found a number of coffe nerd blogs and forums, and the consensus seems to be that the reasons I prefer European coffee are twofold:

First, the average espresso machine in Europe is better maintained than here in the US. There are certainly plenty of good coffee shops in America with people painstakingly crafting good coffee, but for every one of those, there are 5 with poorly-maintained equipment, or a barista who doesn’t know the craft as well. When I was traveling, though, I found that I could walk into any random place with coffee and it was well-made.

Second, European roasters tend to not roast their beans as dark as US roasters do. This turned out to be the real key.

Making Coffee Myself

With that knowledge in hand, I looked into what it would take to make my own coffee.

First, how do I brew? To make a proper brew without your own espresso machine, the consensus I’ve found is to use either a classic French press or a new contender on the block, the AeroPress. The AeroPress has the advantage that it’s super cheap, and makes a very smooth cup of coffee. Score.

Second, what do I brew? Probably my favorite coffees I’ve had were the Brazilian cafezinho, and the espresso we had in Italy. The first thing I found was Counter Culture’s Toscano, a Tuscan espresso roast very much like what we had in Italy. Cynthia got me the AeroPress and some beans and I was in business. The Toscano turned out to be pretty darn good. Really smooth and good flavor, not bitter at all.

Since I got that first bag of beans, a new coffee shop has opened up in Pittsboro (where I work) – Red Star Coffee. They do a really good job of making espresso, and they get their beans from Bean Traders, who roast a wide variety of excellent beans, and, like Counter Culture, are local. Even better, they have a Brazilian roast, and it’s heavenly. Finding fresh, good beans that haven’t been burned to Hell has definitely been the most important part of this.

I’ve also gotten a burr grinder, which either through the placebo effect, or actual differences in grinding, seems to make my coffee taste better. =)

So That’s It

Nothing groundbreaking. Just a taste for something I thought I had no taste for. I hope you enjoyed my journey into coffee love.

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August 9, 2011  Tags: , , , , , , , , ,   Posted in: Food

One Response

  1. D. Travis North - August 9, 2011

    I would have to try one of the European roasts one day. Maybe I do like certain coffees. I will admit to drinking an Cafe Mocha from time to time, but that’s not quite the same, is it? In the end, I probably shouldn’t be drinking coffee anyhow. I’m hyperactive as it is…caffeine is something I try to limit (or as of late, eliminate).

    Still…I’ll keep an eye out for a good cup of coffee in my travels.

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