September 5, 2017

On coffee

There are days that I say I love coffee and drink it and then there are days when I’m moved to write about it.

I remember as a kid, drinking a shot of coffee in sugar and milk. Growing up in a church, Coffee was an expectation after the service for the general congregation. My parents were already pot-a-day coffee drinkers, although like most people, they brewed one of those brands that was de rigueur of the time. In other words, coffee was normal in basically every part of my life even at a young age.

I remember a now-defunct coffee shop in Chicago called Jinx that solidified coffee’s place in my daily habits and social encounters. Hang out for my older sister and her friends, it was a place where our timely but drastic lack of things in common would be set aside to enjoy coffee and a cigarette together. The coffee was black as night and I have no recollection of their roast or brewing methods, but my friends and I remember it fondly, as most youths do with such things, through the rose-colored lenses of memory.

I remember when Starbucks was a novelty and a shop moving into an area was not an immediate sign of the death of culture, though still an unfortunate sign gentrification was likely to occur soon. The coffee was considered good by most, even those who considered themselves coffee snobs and the company still roasted things in small-ish batches. The interiors were made to look like sitting rooms, places you might actually want to spend an hour no matter the reason, with couches and comfortable chairs.

Say what you will about Starbucks now, but it brought the current coffee revolution into the minds of the general public. Until Starbucks made everyone with a preference a coffee snob”, the term was reserved for those who cared about where their coffee came from, how it was roasted, and how it was brewed; the definition now includes those whose Starbucks orders are more complicated than cream and sugar. Now, a person can order a complicated coffee at McDonald’s.

I have many fond memories of coffee and I continue to make them. A couple years ago, I started to collect coffee bag labels and I now have an extensive collection. Recently, in my travels, I am starting to collect coffee cup sleeves for those places where I do not purchase a bag of beans. Not all of the coffees were good, but they were each an experience; almost none of them are overly memorable, but they are some of the easiest representations of those experiences.

In a recent conversation with my father, we discussed coffee,1 the approach to coffee of many hipsters and millennials, and my personal thrust for quality in the coffees I drink and what I advocate for when drinking it with other people. Quality, in and of itself, is not about any one thing in coffee. The growing, harvesting, treatment, payment, roasting, and brewing processes each have their place in one’s assessment. The hundreds of millions of bags produced each year are not all created equal; don’t we all need to think a little more deeply about all of the possible permutations of such things?


  1. I don’t think of him as a coffee drinker, though he still drinks coffee every day.

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