Friday, October 06, 2006

The Wesfoodie's Dark Master - No More? - Redux

The WesFoodie was at one time an enthusiastic and constant coffee drinker. My devotion was not entirely to the caffeine. In fact, while I was certainly dependent on my caffeine fix – and it was fierce – my coffee drinking was mostly about the enjoyment of a good hot cup of sweet bean.

Like most native New Yorkers, I was raised on the cheap weak stuff at Greek diners. (For those who can’t remember that far back, when Starbuck’s hit the City in the early nineties, the going rate for a cup of Joe was fiddy cents at the neighborhood diner. Starbuck’s doubled the price and the rest is history.) However, my coffee palette was suddenly elevated in the late 1980’s when I traveled to Berkeley. There, in the city of hills, great year-round frontlawn gardens, aging hippies and C—z P—e (the holy one whose name must not be uttered) my cousin pointed out the window of her little car and said, “There’s Peet’s. Its really good coffee – you should try it.” And I did. Man, the Major Dickenson’s blend. Really good. When my pal came out to visit from the City and I walked him across town for a cup (like I did everyday) he was like: “Man, if you put sugar in its like ice cream.” He was giddy. (We weren’t aging but we were probably hippies.) I drank Peet’s whenever I had the chance for years. It was my coffee of choice.

Sometime in the mid-nineties, Au Bon Pain (whose name we can definitely utter) started serving Peet’s at its stores in New York. Yeah really great. They were all over town. Go into the Au Bon and get a chocolate croissant and a big cup of Peet’s coffee. You’re set. Right? No. It turns out its hard to make a good cup of Peet’s coffee. At least for the under-trained and cranky counter staff at the Au Bon. Really hard. Impossibly hard. The coffee sucked and pretty soon I was not drinking Peet’s anymore.

Fortunately, by that time Starbuck’s had arrived in the Big Apple. So many Starbuck’s in fact that, like the fabled squirrel of virgin North America that could cross the continent from tree to tree without ever touching ground, I could walk from tip to tip of Manhattan island sipping my grande Starbuck's and refueling at the next Starbuck’s without ever missing a warm gulp of Sumatra (the Tiger). Fortunately for Starbuck’s, and Starbuck’s was quite fortunate, the first Bush economy was causing recent Phd.’s to work retail. So at Starbuck’s one could pretty much count on getting your $1.25 cup from a college grad. Now, one must also note as a matter of historical significance that the cultural moment was ripe with Seattle then. Not only was Starbuck’s revolutionizing hot beverage consumption and cafĂ© aesthetics, but Pearl Jam and Nirvana were dominating musical tastes. Certainly mine. So for someone in the Wesfoodie’s socio-cultural demographic, drinking the Starbuck’s was, you know, right up there.

I don’t know when I first noticed that Starbuck’s coffee was at best inconsistent and often downright lousy. But once the realization took hold I was already weaning myself off of my coffee cup and towards the Zen tranquility of a good cuppa. The Wesfoodie was really stressed out at work and I couldn’t handle the bean anymore. So to the tea leaf I went. Half the caffeine and just as hot and sweet. Coffee was now strictly for the weekend.

One might think that when coffee became a rare treat, my taste for it would naturally rise towards the highest quality, perhaps rarest, grind; that I would crave the perfect roast from the most exclusive estates. That with but two days a week to enjoy, I would have for myself a level of quality otherwise unaffordable or a cup just too damn good for the everyday drinker. But this is not what happened. Just as my taste for coffees could be expected to ascend . . . . Devolution!

The downward arc of my coffee palette is unmistakable. From the platitudes of Peet's Berkeley brilliance, to Starbuck's off-the-mark but well informed roasts, a short lived romance with a local coffee bar with pale pedestrian brews and then to the ubiquitous drive up donut shops. But I'm not too highbrow to admit to it (or to write an essay about it and post it on the Internet for that matter). In fact, its interesting to me. Like a clue into my yet to be fully known self. A hint at my true nature? Maybe that's going too far but its close. The fact that I now crave not Pete's gourmet roasts but a pink and orange styrofoam cup filled with Dunkin Donuts coffee (milk and sugar please) must say something about who I've become and what makes me who that is.

Note to readers: This piece was originally posted in April 2006 and appears once again as a prelude to Part II of the Dark Brew, a piece which will run in the Westchester Times Tribune on October 12 and will be posted here simultaneous with its print publication.


juliebean said...

Very cool post, very well written. And oh, so true of that time...I remember a time when I walked around declaring, 'friends don't let friends go to starbucks,'in order to try and save the small time independent shops. But often I found the smaller shops to be inconsistent with both quality and service, and so, as with yourself, when the Starbucks came, I succumbed. And yeah, this was right around the time when I, myself, was wearing flannel and birks and listening to the sounds of Seattle...Now, I'm more addicted to the coffee bean than perhaps I was then, lol...Still, I cannot see myself receiving good quality coffee from these many new outlets--it seems nearly everyone with electricity is offering, 'premium coffees.' Oh well, only time will tell.
Good blog, I'll be a regular reader!

Anonymous said...

Did you write this previously? I feel as though I've read this someplace else maybe a couple weeks/months ago.

What type of tea are you drinking at the moment? I'm a big fan of loose leaf green tea but I drink my own Masala Chai and just plain old English tea every once in a while. Are there any good tea stores in the area? I've been buying most of my green tea at the local Asian stores as Maeda-En is my favorite brand at the moment.


WesFoodie said...

Chris - Yes this is the redux (I hoped that the "redux" in the title would be enough to nod to the earlier posting of the piece - so I am thankful to you for your comment which together with this reply makes it abundantly clear now)of the piece from April.

I just finished a part II of the roasted bean saga and wanted everyone who has come to the site post-April to get to see part I first. The second part will be posted next Thurs. and will simultaneously run in the Westchester Times Tribune (I have a weekly column). Thanks for remembering.

For the past few months I have been really getting into teas from the Satrupa Estate in India. I get them through TFactor on the Net. Particular favorites are the full leaf Darjeeling (unlike any I've had before with nice subtle fruity notes - don't use milk with it) and the Assam called Spring Kama (a deeper bodied tea that goes nicely with a splash of milk).

I'll do a post on teas soon.



Anonymous said...

your blog is great but the abundant and incorrect use of apostrophes (with Starbucks and PhDs) is very distracting in this post!