Gourmet Coffees From Unlikely Sources?

Gourmet Coffees From Unlikely Sources?

I have to admit that I have never been a big Starbucks fan. Having grown up on real Italian espresso, and cut my teeth on home roasted blends, I’ve been a spoiled coffee lover all my life. In the early 80s, long before Starbucks took over the continent, I discovered the Coffee Kingdom, a delightful little cafe tucked into the elbow of Pleasant Street in the most unexpected city of Worcester, Massachusetts. There, I learned about brewing methods and grinds and roasts and varieties, and further refined my taste for coffee. So Starbucks coffee, forgive me, has never been more to me than a gaudily packaged and sharply marketed affectation.

There is also the matter of finances. While I will happily pony up an extra few bucks a pound for Fair Trade Certified coffee in the interests of doing good, or for shade grown coffee in the interest of the environment, I really can’t justify spending three times more for my everyday brew than I really have to pay – especially since I’m the only one in the house who really cares about GOOD coffee. So while I will pay $5.99 a pound for Green Mountain Roasters coffee (Blueberry Cobbler, the one and only flavored coffee that I drink regularly), I just don’t see the point of paying $8.69 a pound for Starbucks coffee, no matter what the blend. It’s just not that good.

I work at home and tend to drink coffee all day long. That means that coffee has a pretty healthy share of my food budget. I had pretty much resigned myself to buying one can of GOOD coffee a week for the first morning pot, and then switching over to supermarket brands for the rest of the day – when I made the most marvelous discovery.

It happened when I visited my mother at Christmas. Now, Mom likes coffee all right, but she’s not a fanatic about it. Maxwell House and Folgers suit her fine, and while she appreciates it when I buy her special coffee blends as gifts, she’ll always tell me not to waste my money. Usually, after dinner coffee at Mom’s is ‘acceptable’ rather than outstanding. In fact, I almost always arrive with my own cup rather than drink hers. But that night – oh, my! I could tell there was something different even while it was brewing – and the sipping just confirmed my suspicion that Mom had gone out and bought the good stuff.

“This is -great- coffee, mom!” I exclaimed. “What is it?”
“Gourmet coffee,” she told me.

Well, yes, that much was obvious. But.. what -kind- of gourmet coffee? She just stood fast, insisting that it was just ‘gourmet coffee’ – and when she pulled out the bag from the cupboard, that is indeed exactly what the label said. “Gourmet Coffee” – a full two pound bag of it rather than the measly 12 ounce “pound” that you usually get in supermarkets these days. She had paid – are you ready for this? – $4.99 for it at the local Building 19, a New England warehouse surplus store.

“They don’t always have it,” she said. “But when they do, I always buy it. It’s good coffee, right?”

It was such good coffee – comparable to some of the blends I’d been buying from a local coffee shop – that I took the rest of the bag home with me. And I started keeping my eye out for special bargains.

Unfortunately, most of them are ‘grab ’em while they’re here’ deals at stores like Ocean State Job Lot and Building 19, the freight surplus stores. There is one standout exception – Target has begun branding their own gourmet coffees, including Single Origin and Peaberry coffees in designer tins. The price is spectacular, and the flavor among the best I’ve had.