Morning Coffee – A Reflection by Irish Mike
When the sun is out and the mountains are in full view, there may be no more perfect setting for a cup of coffee, than in the city of Seattle. By now, if you have visited, or live here, you know what I am speaking of. The clouds dissipate, the rain dries up, and the grass and trees are a perfect emerald green. The magnificent mountain to the south stands majestically as if watching over us, and the surrounding ranges provide a backdrop to sun, blue(ish) skies, and even when a bit chilly, the natives become restless, wanting to get out and walk or ride their way around this great town. One of the first stops or experiences on days like I am describing is to either prepare at home or go out for our favorite cup of coffee.
Seattle has been known to be a coffee culture of sorts over the past couple of decades, and while true, there seems to be a calmness that has enveloped our city over whether we care enough to still be known for that culture or if we are more comfortable letting our little step sister city south 180 or so miles stake claim to this culture. No, I think we have grown up a bit…
Oh please don’t think that doesn’t mean we don’t like our coffee! We consume a ton of it. We do everything from read reviews on the internet for a good brew, to visit a coffee plantation and get a fresh yield. Lattes, mocha’s and all sort of ways to experience good quality black coffee. You see one benefit to all of this caffeinated culture is that we have grown accustom to good things, coffee being one of them. We now know the difference between a latte, a cappuccino a French Press, and Aero Press, a pour-over, a Chemex, and all sorts of myriads of icy and frozen java drinks. We also now know the difference between the every day “diner” style coffee of yesteryear and what it means to have a good quality, single-origin, FairTrade cup of coffee from an obscure plantation or farm in Latin America. We, in a sense, have become educated.
Take my father and uncle for example. At one time considered the likes of “gourmet” coffee to be for yuppies and the elite, guess what coffee you WON’T find in there mugs and green thermoses? No blue or red can any longer. No, they will gladly pay the extra for one of their favorite coffee roasters. What was once painful to pay over $11 a pound for coffee, is now just part of the weekly grocery bill. Maybe they say no to something else on the list, but they now know, burnt taste buds and all, what good coffee tastes like.
Generation X (my generation) was the first to grow from high school to college to marriage to parenting in this Pacific NW coffee “culture.” For me the journey, like so many others in my generation, started with Big Green. On the way to the UW in the morning from Bellevue, I had about 25 minutes in between buses. I walked down to Starbucks first to get a hot chocolate, then moved to apple cider, and then was exposed the beauty of a hazelnut latte. My first real foray into “gourmet” coffee. As a kid my dad and mom drank Maxwell House, Folgers, and the others that came out of those big #10 cans so there was simply no desire to drink that waste water. So after I experienced coffee at Starbs, I began to become enamored with what Howard Schultz was peddling at that time (this was the 90s remember), that “third place” where you could mix, mingle and meet. We take it for granted now when we see dozens of laptops and other electronic devices buzzing around the c0ffee shops, but at that time, Starbucks and their competition at the time (Tully’s, Seattle’s Best, Appassionato, Torrefazione, and Veneto’s) were trying to convert 50 cent cups of coffee consumers to spend a buck or up to 3 bucks at the time for a double tall nonfat no foam vanilla latte. I too wanted to experience the third place. I too wanted to study, read, listen to music (walkman at the time) and meet people over a cup of coffee.
The coffee journey continued from there to a job with the Siren to dreams of owning my own place some time. I simply loved the coffee HOUSE culture, frankly, even more than the coffee itself. The traditional coffee I have ordered for years was NOT some boutique blend from Africa, rather, it was a milky, lightly sweet way-too-big iced drink that no one actually likes. This was my commuter cup. The drink that got me out of bed, caffeinated, and ready for what the day would bring. I didn’t like coffee. I liked how I felt after, and was still romantically connected with the idea of coffee, really the idea of connecting with people socially, for business, or just to get some work done in a place other than the office. I was a poser and a phony and I had a real attitude about it. I thought I knew what needed to be known…but like a lot of life, the more you know, the more you don’t. So I set out to learn more…
Today, coffee for me is less about what it does for me by way of caffeination and energy and more about the taste, the experience, and the subtelties of particular flavor profile from specific countries, farms even, around the world. Thanks to my good friend Iron Phil (Caffe Lusso), I am learning to pick up notes of chocolate, straw and blue berries, peanut butter, and other exotic spices. Coffee, when bought right as green beans, then roasted by a true master roaster, and then prepared right at home or in a coffee house, can be the difference between having an average existence and having a full, energetic, passionate life where people celebrate the very fact that you are alive. Sure, it may sound over the top, but I really believe that coffee can be like a lot of great food and drink experiences. Take wine and chocolate for example. There is table wine, and cheap “camping” chocolate, and then there is the taste that a beautiful Bordeaux or Montepulciano brings, and in chocolate, the heavenly, almost sensual taste and experience you get when you breath and taste Valhrona for the first time. It is the proverbial NEXT LEVEL.
So next time you wake up to a lovely spring day in Seattle (or wherever you call home), think about what you are buying, brewing, and experiencing. If you are like me even a little bit, you will remember your coffee journey, and I hope you will keep going…sipping, savoring, breathing, and enjoying not only our “culture” but the connection to the land those rich dark beans have come from.