A Coffee Rant

Although this blog is about writing, and my writing journey, it is also fueled by gallons coffee. It is therefore an integral part of my writing and my journey and should also be written about.

How I Got Here

Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about my coffee. Over the years, I have visited over a hundred coffee shops in my hometown of Denver, Colorado and I will stop in for an espresso whenever and wherever I come across a new place. And yet, I can only recommend one or two shops that truly provide a consistently high quality product: Khaladi Brothers (and anyone who buys their beans, because their baristas also undergo training at the Khiladi facility) and Ink! Coffee (They’ve managed to maintain a high level of consistency and quality even as they’ve expanded throughout the Denver metro area).

Since my wife and I started traveling in our RV, six months ago, my search has continued as we’ve done most of our work in coffee shops along the way, both as a way to get out and explore and as a prevention against becoming hermits. Our travels have added easily 50 locations between one month’s stays in Boise, Idaho (20 +), Bend Oregon (5 But this was where I got fed up and bought my own machine, but that’s a different post) and our journey down the coast to Santa Barbara. Bright spots along the way were Caffeina, and Java, Hyde Park, in Boise. Both serve a consistently awesome espresso that is rich and flavorful with a head of tasty crema. Caffiena serves espresso in a very stylish double-walled cup that allows you to see the amazing head of tasty Crema produced by their Marzocco Machine with a  bottomless-portafilter. Santa Barbara Roasting Company processes their beans in house, anything from extremely light brown to dark dark dark (almost black) but their service is marred by maddening inconsistency that makes me want to drive 45min to Ojai Roasting Company, in nearby Ojai California to avoid visiting the place.

In the vast majority of shops I’ve visited–even the ones that roast their own beans and employ vest-wearing hipsters sporting long sideburns and stylish facial hair–serve what I consider to be a substandard product. This doesn’t include the places that serve so-called blonde roast, which I believe to be an abomination created by the devil or maybe terrorists to bring about the collapse of Western Society (I could probably do a whole rant on just this). When I walk into a shop and see blonde roast beans in the hopper, I continue on my way until I find a place with sufficiently dark beans I am a dark roast guy through and through. Dark roast brings out the flavor in the coffee beans and makes a drink that delivers on the promise of the beans heavenly aroma. Side note: Starbucks completely redesigned their ovens because the smell of cooking food was overpowering the coffee aroma in their shops and decreasing sales. Good coffee spreads slowly throughout your mouth like melted chocolate, or a delicious bearnaise sauce, involving all your taste  But as I said above that experience is. Very unusual and how did I even realize something was wrong?

What caused it?

I believe I can trace the route of my dissatisfaction to my most recent visit to Spain in 2010. Specifically Madrid in the central part of the country, and San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Vittoria in The Basque country. I  can’t speak to the quality of the coffee and the rest of the country but I can say in these locations, the brew was always as I thought it should be, even though the Baristas / bartenders did not receive tips and seemed to be indifferent to the preparation of quality coffee at best. Not one sported creative facial hair or wore.  One guy in Vittoria seemed to be actively trying to undermine the shop’s reputation. He thought the way to make an Americano was to just run the water through the portafilter until the coffee cup was full. Sadly that drink was probably better than 90% of the coffees I’ve had in US coffee shops. When I returned to the states it took me almost a month to figure out how to get something even remotely resembling what I had been served in Spain. A small americano with four shots of espresso almost does the trick. Which begs the question, Why do I have to special order something that is produced as a matter of course by unmotivated staff in Spain?

The Starbucks Effect

I blame Starbucks. I believe in an effort to increase sales They promoted their blender drinks to non-coffee drinkers. They  seem to have been wildly successful because now most people are drinking $7 concoctions of milk, sugar, carmel, whipped cream, brownie chunks, M&M’s and whatever else will boost their already astronomical calorie counts and a little coffee for the caffeine. Did you know Starbucks puts the same number of shots and all three sizes of their drinks? The sad result is that actual coffee drinkers have been displaced because the majority of customers in coffee shops don’t even want coffee. They want caffeine laced, coffee flavored milkshakes. There’s nothing wrong with this. I just wish they could buy their drinks somewhere else, so coffee shops could focus on making coffee.

We’re All Saved

There is hope on the horizon. I read the other day where a company called Atmos is trying to produce a synthetic version of coffee. In my idea of Utopia, Atmos branded shops would  satisfy demand coffee shakes and allow coffee shops to serve actual coffee to actual coffee drinkers like me.