Saturday, January 12, 2008

My Quest for the Perfect Cup of Coffee

Everyone who drinks coffee knows what it means to have the “perfect cup,” although what’s perfect for one person is not necessarily the same for another. For some, the rich robust taste of a strong pot of black coffee is all they need to get going. For others, the addition of a little cream and sugar adds just the right touch of sweetness to titillate their palettes. And then there are still others, myself included, who don’t really like the taste of coffee at all. We only use it as a resource for the Flavored Creamers, Splenda and other tasty powders we can add to it. This is not to say that coffee doesn’t play a large part in the taste of such a super sweet concoction; it’s just not the overriding theme.

My first introduction to coffee would have to be from my parents, who liked their java as black as coal, no milk or sugar added. To me, this tasted like mud. Or dishwater. (Not that I have a habit of tasting either, but you get the point.) I never understood why they liked to drink something so distasteful, until I began noticing their shift in mood immediately after consuming a cup.

My father was particularly obvious when it came to coffee’s effect on his psyche. He would wake up every morning at five or six to fix himself a pot of coffee and read the newspaper. So by eight o’clock when the rest of us woke up, he would already be through one pot and on to the next, his twittering behavior a clear indication of caffeine-infused veins. He also had a somewhat manic exuberance that reminded me of a Mexican Jumping Bean; he just couldn’t sit still. In fact, he usually chose this time to grill me on my previous evening’s activities, often sounding like a machine gun as he fired off questions in rapid succession. I don’t know if he even cared to hear the answers; he just like shooting off the questions. I had barely woken up and he was already interrogating me like a Drill Sergeant.

For that reason alone, I resisted the temptation of coffee until my junior year in college. Then, the quintessential “all night” study sessions made the need for coffee a mandatory obsession. By that time, I’d also discovered that by adding creamer and sugar to your coffee, it actually didn’t taste like coffee at all. But rather like a bland hot chocolate (minus the chocolate). I found that I could definitely stomach this type of mixture, though I still wasn’t completely sold on the taste.

Then came the advent of flavored coffee, which at least was a step up from the standard mud flavoring most coffee employed. But the absolute turning point for me came when Nestle introduced the Flavored Creamer collection (an off-shoot of the International Coffees Craze). With such tempting flavors as Hazelnut, Amaretto and Irish Cream, I finally had a reason to get up every morning and fix myself a cup of Joe. And now it not only contained flavored coffee, but flavored creamer to boot. If only I had a flavored sugar substitute as well, I’d be all set. (Which, of course, Splenda introduced several years later.)

But even with all that, I still searched for something I thought would make my coffee even better. My “perfect cup.” And one day, I thought I’d found it. A new type of powdered substance known as “Latte Creations.” Though it was meant to be used as a substitute for instant coffee, I actually added a spoonful to my regular cup of coffee (along with creamer and Splenda). The additional ingredient added a creamy consistency to the mixture that the flavored creamer alone couldn’t achieve. It was the Crème de la Crème of Creaminess. Pure Heaven. I’d finally created my “perfect cup.”

But then Nestle decided to discontinue the product for some reason, leaving me Latte-less and Creation-free. Discouraged, I went on a mad search of my local supermarkets to buy up any remaining inventory. I even scoured the internet and close-out stores, hoping to find any of the left-over stock before it disappeared forever. But the search has thus far been fruitless. “Latte Creations” is as out of date as last week’s underwear.

And don’t even get me started about Starbucks, whose regular coffee is way too strong for me, and whose specialty coffees like Caramel Macchiato are way too expensive. Starbucks may have a stronghold on the take-out coffee industry at the moment, but for me, a scoop of Taster’s Choice Hazelnut, 2 packs of Splenda, and a generous helping of Flavored Creamer is the best cup of coffee I can find. It’s not what I’d consider my “perfect cup,” but it comes darn close.

But that’s just me. What’s your “perfect cup” of coffee?


Jen Kerlin said...

My perfect cup of coffee is a mug of green tea. Most people tell you not to pour boiling water onto green tea, I boil the bag in the water. Then I heat milk and wisk it into a lovely foamy froth. Finally I add three teaspoons of Maple syrup. It's my perfct cup of green tea and so far almost everyone who tries it seems to agree.

Henson Ray said...

You know, that actually sounds good. I drank tea for a while back in high school, but always with lots of milk and sugar. But maple syrup sounds great. I'll have to try it. Thanks for stopping by.

Top View said...

Good article. I really like the coffee served by Waffle House. Haven't enjoyed a good cup since I quit smoking. Back then, I drank everything from gourmet to sludge.

BrentD said...

Straight coffee from Starbucks is like battery acid. The real reason they use paper cups is that their brew eats through styrofoam.

But when they add all the high caloric goodness, it can't be beat.

Unless of course, you're broke.

Henson Ray said...

Top View, I don't think there's a Waffle House nearby, but just the name made me hungry.

brentd, I couldn't agree more. I can't drink their regular coffee, but I know some people swear by it.

Joshua said...

Bad Ass's Kona coffee straight up. It puts hair on your chest, that does.

My wife and I met a girl there (coffee shop in Ventura, CA) who made something called a "rhino", but a favorite haunt of ours in D.C. called it a "chaipuccino".... That was good if you wanted something a little sweet with your blended coffee.

Henson Ray said...

Not sure I want a coffee that puts hair on my chest. (Or one any kind of physical manifestation, hair or otherwise.) But I appreciate your ability to drink it. "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!"

dano said...

I luv coffee and wish I cud afford to travel the world and enjoy all kinds of coffee. It's just not the same when you buy a bottle and brew a cuppa.

Henson Ray said...

When I went to Italy last year, I was told they had the best cup of coffee in the world. But to me it was very strong, and I had to water it down with milk and sugar. Hmmm...maybe I should just add milk and sugar to water...why bother with the coffee at all?

Top View said...

WOW! Off the cuff sounded so go in the e-mail, thought I'd come here and post it.

Some say there's a mickey in the taste for perfection. I say the chase has the seeds of it's own reward.