Posted by: Adam Roper | June 20, 2009

The Art of Drinking, Part 1: Coffee

I thought it was about time to share with you my love for coffee, tea, wine, and every other drink that seems to inspire ones artistic side.

So this next short series will focus on drinks- how to enjoy them, and how they can inspire creativity. Rest assured, this will probably be the longest of all the entries in this series. If I come across sounding way too much like one of those pretentious chefs on the Food Channel who always, for some reason, wear white pants please tell me. That said-

Part 1: Coffee

Starbucks is like the MTV of coffee. Coffee has always existed, but it wasn’t a big deal until a big company came along and decided to make it fashionable so it could appeal to a large audience (the metaphor can go in any number of directions). Even so, the key thing that Starbucks did was bring to awareness the truth that coffee from South America tastes drastically different than coffee from Africa. Essentially they were the first big company to make a point out of telling you where the coffee your are drinking is from.

One simple truth- that can also be applied to chocolate and… everything really- is that when a corporation realizes they can get rich off a product they will do everything in their power to produce as much as possible, making the quality of a said product more of an afterthought than a priority. With chocolate especially, a product that should be savored as a luxury is mass consumed, and eventually the appreciation is reduced to a fast and easy consumption.

I say this because coffee is often written off as ‘just a product’ instead of being contentiously enjoyed. Coffee, like all other drinks, is a work of art in the way that it’s made, in the way it brings together community, and in the way that preparing it in the best possible way brings a warm roasted flavor specific to how, and where, it was grown and roasted. To never experience this side of coffee is to miss out on the very essence of coffee.

A Disclaimer: I don’t hate Starbucks, or the coffee they sell. What I’m suggesting is a slightly better, and more affordable, way to do coffee.

Here is some practical advice on how to enjoy coffee:

1) Use a French Press I have found, personally, that French Presses make the best coffee. I’ve also found that a smaller sized drip coffee maker (instead of the huge ones with the big glass pots) also make a good coffee. Just make sure to use acid-free recycled filters.  And if you can avoid coffee made in unholy giant metal urns! It’s ironic, really, that so many churches use these things. Bah.

1.2) Keep in mind that coffee starts to lose freshness a week after roasting, and even faster when it’s ground. So try to purchase whole bean coffee and grind it at home when you can. The exception is if you are making coffee for a large group, and the coffee will be used up relatively quickly. In that case buying pre-ground coffee makes things a bit easier.

2) Buy a locally roasted coffee. No excuses- every city in North America is sure to have a place that roasts coffee within a hundred miles from your house. And finding them should not be an exhaustive expedition.

3) Find a coffee company you like. My favorites so far, in British Columbia, are Level Ground Coffee, Salt Spring Island, Kicking Horse, and JJ Bean. Other companies I enjoy- which are more widely available across Canada- are Ethical Bean and Just Us! Coffee.

You can find these coffees at any local artsy coffee place, at Ten Thousand Villages, even at Safeway (which for me is a last resort, because they mark up the price of the coffees quite a bit).

3.2) Every city has its own unique coffee culture, with its artsy shops known only to the locals. If you are ever in a city (like Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, etc) try to find out where the good coffee is.

4) Insist on Fair Trade. In the coffee industry, for the growers specifically, the price of coffee is the difference between poverty and sustainability. If you want to get informed on how Fair Trade affects the farmers of coffee the best place to look is the documentary Black Gold.

Actually, you can watch Black Gold in it’s entirety on youtube, right here.

5) Enjoy. This is probably the most important piece of advice I can offer- Drink one country at a time. To start, try buying one pound of coffee from a specific country and drink only that coffee for one month (or however long it takes you to finish a pound). After that buy a different country and drink only that coffee and so on.

With the act of drinking one coffee coffee at a time you can start to see what makes the coffee/country unique. As well, after doing this technique of coffee drinking it becomes easier to notice the unique characteristics of each coffee. A great place to start is with Level Ground’s Cafe La’ Paz, or their Cafe Mbeya .

Now for some other fun resources / further reading:

1) on their website JJ Bean has a section titled Coffee Basics– a fascinating look at how to enjoy the taste of coffee in the best possible way. The following is an excerpt:

A practical way to think of a coffee’s flavor is to ask “what does this taste like?” Here is a narrow sample of the types of flavors you might encounter in coffee:

Earth: Soil, Clay
Smoke: Tobacco, Charcoal
Spice: Pepper, Cloves, Pine
Chocolate: Cocoa, Dark Chocolate
Berries: Raspberries, Black-currants, Strawberries
Citrus: Orange Lemon, Grapefruit, Bergamot Orange

2) The website “Stuff White People Like” features an article on Coffee.  And “Stuff Christians Like” posted an article awhile ago on why Christians like coffee.

Next Chapter: Tea… Stay tuned.

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Responses

  1. I really enjoyed this article Adam. I like what you had to say about the romance of coffee and about how it draws a community around it.

  2. Thanks for the article.

    I’d like to add a couple of great sources if you want to know more about Fair Trade:
    1 – Fair Trade Federation – great for finding Fair Trade organizations of all kinds throughout North America (www.fairtradefederation.org)
    2 – Fair Trade Resource Network – good source for Fair Trade educational materials (www.ftrn.org)
    3 – TransfairUsa – source for Fair Trade certified products (www.transfairusa.org)

  3. I enjoyed what you said here. Fresh is the most important element of good coffee. But a French Press can make the difference between good and really good. It brings out a whole new experience in your cup. I wondered how someone was referred from your blog to mind. It was automatically generated by WordPress on your blog. We post what we hope will be fun and educational coffee articles. Hope you have time to read it sometime. We have a roastery in Marion, IN we only do custom orders. Chemical Free single origins and Kenyan coffee is our specialty.

  4. I enjoyed the article, but regret not drinking coffee while reading it.


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