Sunday, November 7, 2010

Coffee Musings

Jules: Mmmm! Goddamn, Jimmie! This is some serious gourmet shit! Me and Vincent would have been satisfied with some freeze-dried Taster's Choice, right? And he springs this serious gourmet shit on us! What flavor is this?
Jimmie: Knock it off, Julie.
Jules: [pause] What?
Jimmie: I don't need you to tell me how fucking good my coffee is, okay? I'm the one who buys it. I know how good it is. When Bonnie goes shopping she buys SHIT. I buy the gourmet expensive stuff because when I drink it I want to taste it. But you know what's on my mind right now? It AIN'T the coffee in my kitchen...
 --Pulp Fiction (from this scene on YouTube--Warning: racial epithet)

I have no idea what led my mind down this particular road except I've been experimenting with coffee-making for the past week--National Novel Writing Month, don'tcha know*--and you know me--one synaptic discharge leads to an explosion of synaptic discharges.

Up until I was about five, Dad was a traveling salesman for Goodyear (insert appropriate joke about possible half-siblings scattered across the country here) and whenever he made an overnight trip Mom and I had our Special Dad's Away Dinner: hot dogs; baked beans; lettuce, pineapple rings, crushed peanuts, and dollop of Miracle Whip for a salad; and, best of all, ice cream floats for dessert. In our household these came in two varieties: vanilla ice cream and ginger ale or chocolate ice cream and Coca-Cola. We never had any of these (except the hot dogs) at any other time; I'm guessing they weren't things Dad particularly enjoyed.

Ours was also a Coffee Household--coffee at every meal--and though I loved the smell, the few times I tasted it made me gag. Of course, I now realize Mom, being of the coffee-stunts-your-child's-growth generation, only allowed me sips of hers, which was black, no sugar, and of a now all-but-deceased brand loaded with chicory**. Bitter. As bitter as an unlaid Prom King.

Then I discovered (sound trumpets!) coffee ice cream. Not bitter! Sweet! Cold! Delectable, with a unique taste (well, unique to someone who'd only experienced chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio). I soon decided this stuff needed to go into a float and soon enough my favorite dessert was cic 'n' Coke.

For those of you who're grimacing at this point all I'm going to say is it's surprisingly good. Good enough that many years later the Coca-Cola people marketed Coca-Cola BlāK (circa 2006 and no, that macron over the "a" makes no sense to me, either), which was (duh!) coffee-flavored cola and, basically, a coffee ice cream float without the ice cream.
It wasn't bad at all, though dear sweet Lord you never wanted to drink it lukewarm (which may be why Anderson Cooper spit it out on Live With Regis and Kelly; see video***). Want to try it (it was discontinued in 2008)? I make it all the time. Here's the recipe:

1. Get a glass with at least 20 ounces of volume and fill it about one-third of the way to the top with ice.
2. Take a small amount (no more than half an ounce or about one tablespoon) of freshly brewed coffee and drizzle it over the ice.
3. Get a 12 ounce can of regular Coke (you can even use a generic store brand of cola if you really want to reduce the cost), open it, and pour it into the glass.
4. If desired, you can combine the flavors together more evenly by either swirling the glass around a little bit while you’re pouring in the Coke or by lightly stirring the beverage with a straw or spoon after you’re finished pouring in the Coke. However, be careful that you do not shake or stir the beverage too much because it can lose too much of the carbonation, which will make the drink taste “flat”.
5. Drink and enjoy! You can now feel like a “sophisticated” shopper without having to pay a sophisticated price.

As long as you do not use too much coffee****, I have found that the result tastes virtually identical to the retail version of Coca Cola Blak. Since the amount of coffee required is so small that its cost is practically negligible, it is now possible to make a homemade version of Coca Cola Blak for about the same cost as a regular Coke! Of course, you CAN put in more than 1/2 ounce of coffee, but I have found that if you do this, the stronger coffee taste will clash with the flavor of the Coke, leaving a rather bitter aftertaste that you may not find entirely pleasant. On the other hand, if you do use more coffee, you can add an extra jolt of caffeine to the beverage and experiment with different ratios of flavors and ingredients. But if you want to end up with something that actually tastes like the real Coca Cola Blak, I recommend that you stick to the 1/2 ounce amount or maybe a little less.

And speaking of coffee, I've finally... finally... learned to brew a decent cup for myself. My problems with almost all commercially available coffee-by-the-cup is twofold: the intense bitterness from sitting around too long (a little bitterness is fine; that's the nature of the coffee bean) and THAT DAMNED BURNED TASTE! Maybe people like it that way; I don't, and because I don't for years I drank coffee only when there were few to no other options. As it turns out, that particular flavor most often occurs with the (until recently) most frequent method of brewing coffee--the percolator. That, and beans roasted unto utter blackness.

The answer to all my at-home coffee needs has been the French press (aka the press pot or cafetiere); your mileage may differ (if you cannot abide the least little bit of sludge in your coffee this is not the route to go; that, and coffee preferences are highly individualistic, I've found)--simple, straightforward, surprisingly inexpensive thanks to Bodum and Target (though, as with most things, you can pay as much as you wish). I grind my own beans; fresh ground really does make a difference, but my taste buds can't tell the difference between an expensive burr grinder and an el cheapo Mr. Coffee blade grinder. That being said, I will point out that one's choice in beans is critical and, again, highly individualistic. I'm a fan of Blanchard's Coffee Co., a local business, and their House/Morning blend, for example; a friend of mine prefers the donkey kick of their Black As Black (which is good, just not something I'd drink day after day).

But here's where all the coffeenistas will get their hipster knickers in a twist--I drink mine with skim milk. Or (gasp!) Coffee-Mate. And Splenda. With fiber. Because at my age and with my cardiovascular condition I need all the fiber I can get.

Well, that's all the procrastination I dare indulge in this afternoon. Time for a cup of coffee...
*Motto For the Month: "Creativity (and drudgery) is (are) fueled by coffee!"

**Gill's Hotel Special
(when in the '80s Mom and Dad could no longer obtain the stuff locally they ordered it by the case from the manufacturer in Norfolk, VA.)

***Yes, I see the "ice" in their glasses. Dollars to doughnuts, under those hot studio lights they're using plastic ice cube simulacra.

****THIS IS CRITICAL!!! Too much coffee and, well, blecch!


Cathy VanPatten said...

I also use skim milk in my coffee, but no sweetener of any kind. In fact, I order my lattes with skim milk--foams up great and tastes fine. Can't abide CoffeeMate, though.

And now, I have to go refresh my cup...

Anonymous said...