My Coffee Odyssey Part 2Â
Note: This is a lengthy, reminiscent account of my journey into a now full-blown fascination with coffee. In honor of the beverage, this post (Part 1 only) highlights several of my favorite coffee photos, many of which have already been posted previously on this website.
This is Then
All I wanted to do was to brew a better cup of coffee for myself. I was tired of having my at-home joes teeter on the brink of decent to downright despicable dross. Surely, making a cup of coffee didn’t have to be based on speculation or ”˜guesstimates.’ And while there are coffee shops less than a kilometer from where I live and play, my latte receipt totals were fast adding up and encroaching on my cookbook-buying budget. Horrors, something had to be done.
My relationship with coffee has been bittersweet. Growing up, adults would always warn me to stay away from the stuff because it would make me “stop growing.” Of course now I know that’s not true and you can bet I’m not mouthing off that excuse to 5 year old Boo who shows an occasional fondness for iced mochas. Growing up, I’d eat my cereal as my mom patiently waited for her coffee to steep in her French press. I’d watch as she poured the steaming black liquid into her favorite cup and then stare in horror as she’d drink it black (gak!). Sans creamer and sugar, I regarded the stuff as vile.
In my ”˜tween’ years and on into my early teens, I’d drink hot Milo with lots of sugar and Coffee-Mate and pretend I was drinking coffee. I felt very grown-up and who’s to say I wasn’t? I didn’t drink much coffee while I was in high school or college. The coffee culture hadn’t descended upon our shores yet and Starbucks was still a few years away from arriving. Besides, my few encounters with coffee had made it clear that it had a terrible effect on me: heart palpitations. Even small sips would make my chest tighten and my heart would feel like it missed a beat or two coupled with this dull, pounding pain at the back of my head. I wish I could liken it to falling in love or just being plain giddy, but it wasn’t anything like that. It was just plain painful. Sometimes I’d lie face down on the sofa, table, or whatever flat surface was available, and languish in agony, hand over heart, moaning and wondering how a drink could be so evil. Later on when my Bin was still my boyfriend (aka, pre-husband days), he’d tsk-tsk me and say, “You drank coffee again, noh!” Big help he sure wasn’t.
I got married the month that Starbucks arrived in Manila, December 1997. I credit the coffee behemoth for teaching me how to drink this caffeinated beverage and for introducing the coffee culture to Manila. Prior to Starbucks, was there really any place where you could nurse your coffee for four hours and not be kicked out by some overzealous security guard? I think not. “Let’s do lunch,” became “Let’s do coffee!” To celebrate the occasion, my Bin even gave me my own 2-cup French press.
My new life as a wife began with me playing hostess to the hilt. I’d hold these small dinners with my girl friends and our desserts would be accompanied with Corelle brand flower-decorated cups of ”“ dare I say ”“ instant (!) coffee heaped with lots of sugar and Coffee-mate. Looking back on those brews we sipped so blithely, they were definitely part of the “would you like some coffee with your creamer?” ilk, aka coffee-flavored milk drinks. And the palpitations? Interestingly enough, they dissipated as I got older, locking in my soon-to-be-huge fascination with this beverage.
From the year 2000 until the middle of this year, I was what you could call a “social” coffee drinker, much like some people are “social” smokers. My coffee drinking was limited to get-togethers with friends. I doted on my short, low fat lattes, and when I was feeling less than virtuous, I’d splurge on rich lattes made with half and half instead of milk. Starbucks calls them mistos, while Seattle’s Best calls them breves (BREH-vehs or BREH-vays. Damn good stuff with enough mouth feel to make me feel like I was licking silk.
My coffee drinking at home was limited to a 4-ounce cup every other day brewed via my now 11-year old French press. The fact that it’d reached that ripe old age was testament to the fact that I took good care of it or that it was hardly being used. Unknowingly, I’d been accumulating bags of ground coffee from numerous origins: Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Italy, and some really excellent coffee from Ya Kun in Singapore. I had roughly 11 bags of coffee in various grinds clipped tightly in their packaging that I kept in my cool, dry, and dark pantry. Even then I knew that light, oxygen, and moisture were enemies of coffee. But since I only brewed coffee about twice a week, I ended up storing some of those bags for over a year ”“ and yes, making coffee from them! For shame.
Come to think of it, I was pretty happy drinking coffee made from beans that had been ground over a year ago; ignorance is bliss and all that. My coffee-making method was simple: 1 standard coffee measure (2 tablespoons) of ground coffee of choice (I did have 11 bags to choose from after all), steeped in 6 ounces of boiling water in my French press for 3 minutes. Pour into cup of choice (I have quite the cup collection), and then stir in 1 tablespoon of Coffee-mate (can’t drink coffee without Coffee-Mate) and half a tablespoon of white sugar. Stir and drink leisurely while sitting in the lanai looking out over my garden. Ah, life was good!
Then sometime this year, something changed. The coffee I was making for myself just wasn’t rating too high anymore on my satisfaction scale. I yearned to make coffee that tasted as good as the stuff I bought from the coffee shops, a recreation of that “coffee shop experience,” if you will. I also noticed that lattes were becoming too milky for my taste ”“ a desire in me grew to taste more of the coffee, less of the milk. I switched to cappuccinos and found a middle ground.
In my travels this year to Vancouver and especially to Seattle, I enjoyed coffees so good that they made me want to weep. Why couldn’t I make coffee like that at home? Why? Why? Why! I screamed quietly at the coffee gods staring down at me amusedly from their perch up above, no doubt while nursing steaming cups of perfectly brewed Blue Mountain coffee .
Then back home in Manila, I chanced upon a book that changed my coffee life as I knew it. It was my “aha!” moment, my light at the end of the tunnel, the keystone that brought my coffee fascination to the fore.